If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, you may have a personal injury claim1 against that person. One of the most common questions people with personal injury cases have is how much their case is worth. The most honest answer and one lawyers frequently use and non-lawyers hate to hear is – it depends.
But it really is true. The value of your personal injury case depends on a number of factors. Those factors include the facts of your case including how you were injured, the severity of your injuries, your prior medical history, how good of an impression you make on others, your diagnosis and prognosis, the total amount of your medical bills and lost wages, the impact your injuries have had on your quality of life, and who is responsible for your injuries.
All of these factors and many others are relevant to determining how much your case is worth because ultimately your personal injury case is worth whatever a jury of your peers decides it is worth. In Georgia, if you file a personal injury lawsuit against the person(s) or company responsible for your injuries, you have a right to present that case to a 12 member jury who will decide whether the other person(s) or company is, in fact, responsible for causing your injuries and, if so, how much they should have to pay you to compensate you for the damage they caused.
How Does A Jury Determine The Appropriate Amount of Damages?
The jury that will decide these issues is a jury in the county where the person(s) or company that caused your injuries lives or has their primary office. That may be a completely different county from the one you live in or even the one where the injuries occurred. The values and views of the citizens who will be summoned for jury duty in that county when your case is called for trial may be very different from those in your county or in other neighboring counties. If you presented the exact same case to juries in ten different counties across Georgia, you would likely get ten completely different results that could vary by tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Because it is impossible to know in advance exactly what a jury will do, no attorney and no insurance adjuster can tell you exactly what your case is worth. Instead, attorneys and insurance companies make educated estimates of what your case is likely worth based on the strength of the evidence in your case, on their past experience, and on verdict data from similar cases that have previously been tried in that county.
That information typically guides both sides in settlement negotiations. The more evidence that has been developed in your case, the better your attorney is able to provide you an educated estimate of the likely value of your case. If the evidence is strongly in your favor that can increase the value of your case compared to a case where the evidence is weak or could go either way. The stronger the evidence is in your favor the more likely it is that a jury would award you a significant verdict and vice versa.
What Kind of Information Helps My Personal Injury Case?
If your medical records make clear that your injuries could only have been caused by the other person or company you are suing, that can increase the value of your case compared to a case where the doctors are less certain about what caused your injuries or where you had a similar previous injury. If your medical bills are very high or you are dealing with a permanent injury or disability, that too can increase the value of your case because a jury is likely to return a higher number when they hear that information.
In other words, the more information your personal injury lawyer and the insurance company have about your accident and case, the more accurately they can predict how a jury would likely value your compensation. Though personal injury attorneys and insurance companies will often disagree on value even with substantial information available, one of the reasons both sides have an incentive to settle a case without letting a jury decide its value is a settlement eliminates the risk a jury could decide the case is worth substantially more or substantially less than the sides have estimated.
How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help Me?
The information and evidence necessary to provide an educated estimate of the value of a personal injury case develops at different times in different cases. In certain cases, the attorney may know enough to provide a solid estimate within days or weeks of the injuries occurring while in other cases it may take months or well over a year before enough is known about the severity of the injuries and treatment prognosis to provide a reasonable value estimation. The dollar amount of your medical bills and lost wages is usually the foundation of the value of your case.
Thus, while you are still treating for the injuries suffered, it can be difficult and risky to try to value your case for settlement because you may still have significant medical expenses in your future which would increase the value of your case. This is why insurance companies are often eager to settle your case early because the more medical expense you incur, the more expensive your case can become to them down the road.
Armed with this information, you should be very wary of any attorney or insurance representative who tries to tell you the exact value of your case during the first phone call. Without having all of the necessary evidence and making sure enough time has passed to ensure your injuries have been fully diagnosed and properly treated, any attorney or insurance representative attempting to value your personal injury case could be seriously undervaluing it and costing you money.
1A “personal injury claim” just means you have a valid legal basis for filing a lawsuit against a person or company based on the facts of your injury. Personal injury claims are often first asserted as pre-lawsuit demands to see if the person at fault (or in most cases their insurance company) will agree to pay a settlement to avoid a lawsuit becoming necessary. Personal injury claims can also be asserted as a lawsuit against the person(s) or companies responsible for your injuries.