Valuing Your Case
As most clients will tell you, “It’s not about the money.” A lawsuit helps people regain some sense of control at a time when they feel powerless. An accident can destroy a person’s independence or livelihood. So when our clients tell us that it’s not about the money, we understand what they mean. But, ultimately, a positive result in a lawsuit does come down to a monetary value and having a ballpark figure about the value of your case can save you from making a costly mistake. Everyone knows about high profile verdicts like the one received by the woman in Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants who suffered third degree burns after spilling hot coffee on her lap. The jury awarded the plaintiff a judgment against McDonald’s for punitive damages in the amount of $2.7 million (the amount McDonalds made selling coffee in two days). Verdicts like these tend to skew people’s expectations for settlements too high. What people might not realize is that the judge reduced the award and McDonald’s appealed the decision. The resulting settlement was less than $600,000.
A case’s worth is determined by several factors and I’d like to discuss them a bit here. Please keep in mind that every case is different and that individual results will vary.
The most important determining factor in valuing a case is how much money is available either in the form of an insurance policy or a defendant’s assets. Even if you receive a million dollar verdict at trial, if the defendant doesn’t have the money to pay you, you will not be getting a million dollars.
Another factor is the severity of your injuries and the amount of pain, suffering and expense they have caused you. Are they permanent? How long will you need to continue with treatment? Generally speaking, breaking your toe is not worth as much as breaking your back. If your injury will require future treatment, this added expense should be taken into account when discussing settlement.
A third thing to consider when valuing a case is how much income the plaintiff has lost or stands to lose. If a highly trained neurosurgeon is left unable to return to her duties she will likely be losing more future salary than a truck driver. This is not to say that a truck driver’s injuries are in any way less significant or disruptive than a neurosurgeon’s, it’s just something to keep in mind when you think of the value of your case.
Comparative negligence is also something to consider when valuing your case. Did you contribute in any way to your injuries? If a jury finds that you are 30% responsible for an accident, for instance by not looking before crossing a street, then any verdict received from them will be reduced by 30%. A verdict of $100,000 would be reduced to $70,000. Going to trial is essentially a wild card. A recent study of jury verdicts found the defense won 50 per cent of the time resulting in no recovery. Verdicts for the plaintiff in injury cases averaged under 30,000. This dispells the popular notion that juries commonly give million dollar verdicts. We live in a conservative area filled with working-class jurors. They don’t hand out million dollar verdicts often. This is a crucial fact to keep in mind when considering settlement offers.
If you’ve been hurt, please give us a call to talk to our knowledgeable, experienced attorneys. At James Morris Law we always fight to achieve the best results for our clients.