Clients often call an attorney early after an accident wondering what the potential value of their injury claims might be. Evaluating an injury claim is an art not a science and many factors go into such evaluation.
I will list a few of such factors here.
Liability, along with insurance information, is the first thing most atorney’s look at. Liability simply means who is at fault in an accident. In my state, California, we have a concept of comparative fault which means that the courts and juries assign what portion of responsibility each party has in causing an accident. If the other driver is 75% at fault and you, the client, are 25% at fault, your verdict or settlement will be reduced by 25%.
Insurance is an issue in all cases. Even if there is 100% liability of the other party, if they have no auto insurance, the client may not be able to recover. It is because so many drivers are without insurance, that we encourage people to purchase uninsured motorist insurance which takes over when the other party is not covered.
Venue is always a critical factor. Venue means the jurisdiction where the case may be filed. Some counties are known to be more conservative..and some very liberal.
Who is the client? The nature and presentation of the injured party is always an imprtant factor. If the client is hard working, a family man or a mom and has many friends and family members to back them if necessary in court this will be an imprtant factor in valuing the claim. On the other hand, if the client has a long criminal record, or changes jobs often or has a history of many other accidents, this will usually adversely affect the value of the case.
Who is the defendant? If the defendant presents well and has a solid history, the jury will take that into account. Similarly, if the defendant is a drug dealer or looks like he came from skid row, that will tilt strongly in the injured party’s favor.
Who are the Plaintiff’s and the Defendant’s attoneys? Is Plaintiff attorney a member of ATLA and does he actually try cases? How many large verdicts or settlements has he obtained? These are all facotors insurance company’s look at.
Special Damages are all damages suffered in an accident with the exception of what is known as “pain and suffering” which is considered General damages. In general, a client will be entitled to all of his special damages such as past wage loss, past medical bills as well as past and future medical expenses. There are more stringent standards for recovering future expenses which the attorney wil have to evaluate.
General damages depend on the believability of the client and the witnesses that support him. Friends and neighbors may testify how the injury the client suffered has impacted his life. Medical Doctors may sketch out the liklihood of future pain and suffering.
There are many other factors that go into evaluating the worth of a claim. An experienced personal injury attorney should go over all of them with his client.