We have probably written about this before, but there are many ways to approach the issue of evaluating an injury claim's value.
Many times, a client consulting with our office will ask about the potential value of an injury claim. To be fair, it is impossible, based on an initial interview with a client, to give an accurate answer. Only when we have performed a comprehensive investigation of the liability issues, and no the full nature and extent of our client's injuries can we give some kind of estimate as to the value of their claim.
In the end, an injury claim is worth what a jury thinks it is worth. As I tell my clients, we do not know who that jury is until the morning of trial. Juries act as a body of one in making a decision, and one jury will have a completely different take on the value of the case than another jury. Nonetheless, because we have over twenty years of experience dealing with juries, we can give a reasonable range as the potential outcomes on any given injury claim.
Sometimes, it may appear a bit crass for somebody to ask about the value of an injury claim from the outset. However, if you have ever been on the other side of that conference table in a law office, you will know that serious injuries can significantly affect not only the client, but their whole family. There are immediate concerns, like income replacement and medical care, and big picture concerns, like long-term health and ability to earn a living.
Here are a few factors that govern our evaluation of a case's value:
When we talk about liability, we are talking about fault. In other words, are we able to prove that the person who caused our client' is injury is legally responsible, or at fault. In an auto injury case, there are rules of the road that tell us all how we should behave behind the wheel. If we violate the rules of the road, and cause an injury, then we are responsible, or at fault. In other cases, the issue may not be so clear. For example, in a premises liability case, we may have to show that the property owner knew or should have known of a hazardous condition that ended up causing an injury to our client. Sometimes, the injury occurs in the context of a "special relationship," like a doctor-patient, or attorney-client relationship. Those kinds of special relationships create legal responsibilities, and if the professional person violates these responsibilities, then there may be a claim for negligence.
Technically, the issue of liability has nothing to do with the issue of damages. However, if a person's behavior is reprehensible (think drunk driver), that may affect a jury's thinking on the issue of damages.
Nature of Injury
This is probably obvious, but the more severely a person is injured, the more it is going to affect their life, and as a result, the more money it will take to make up for those losses. However, there's a little bit more to it than that. For example, if a medical provider feels that our client's injury is permanent, then a jury will be able to consider not just the effects of the loss of health from the injury up until the date of the trial, but also how that loss of health is going to affect our client for the rest of their life. In legal terms, and medical terms, we call this "permanency." Certainly, compensating somebody for the loss of their health for several decades will involve a greater amount of money than compensating somebody who was fortunate enough to only suffer a mild and temporary injury.
Every client is different. So, the effect of an injury is going to be different on every client. Two different clients may suffer a similar injury, but that injury may significantly affect one client's life in a permanent way, and perhaps have so much affect on another client's everyday life. An analogy can help explain this point. If a concert pianist suffered a finger injury that significantly affected her ability to perform at the piano, this could have a devastating effect on her future earnings, and take an emotional toll. However, if our client, a blue collar worker, is able to continue with his line of work with little pain or discomfort, the relative loss to this individual will not be as great. This is not to minimize our blue collar worker, but simply to illustrate that the same injury can affect different people differently.
Future Care Needs
Similar to the issue of whether an injury is permanent, a case's value can be significantly affected by the need for future medical care. We have represented people who have been rendered paraplegic as result of their injuries, and face a lifetime of medical care needs. In those kinds of cases, we will consult with experts to develop a life care plan which outlines the future cost of medical expense over the lifetime of our client.
Future Lost Earning Capacity
This kind of loss can also significantly affect the claim. It somebody suffers a permanent injury that affects their ability to earn a living in their profession, they may be able to make a claim for future lost earning capacity. In these kinds of cases, we confer with economists who are able to give us an estimate as to the future lost earnings or future lost earning capacity of our client. Again, this is linked to a case involving a client who has suffered a significant and permanent impairment as a result of their injury.
The Type of Injury
Some injuries are more obvious than others. Probably the most common example I can cite is the difference between a fractured bone and a severe sprain or strain injury. In some cases, a bone fracture will heal, and that remodeled bone tissue may even be stronger than the original tissue after everything is said and done. However, if somebody suffers a severe strain and sprain injury, there is a chance that this person may be left with debilitating long-term pain. However, establishing the nature and extent of that kind of injury can be challenging. Some physicians simply do not believe that these injuries cause permanent impairment, and these physicians can often be found testifying for insurance companies at trial. Other physicians cite the wealth of medical literature that confirms a significant minority of people suffering these strain and sprain injuries, also known as soft tissue injuries, can develop permanent impairment as a result. So, it is unfair but true that the nature of the injury can sometimes have an impact on the value of the claim.
If you are facing a significant injury claim, and are not sure how to go about assessing the nature and extent of your claim, call us at 503-325-8600. We have over twenty years of experience helping people navigate their way through an injury claim.