Some clients will ask me at our first meeting for a personal injury compensation claim: How much do you think my case is worth? That is a very difficult answer for a lawyer at a first meeting because usually we see clients right after an accident and we do not know the full extent of your injuries for at least a few months. Some injury victims can have broken bones, disfigurement and very visible injuries while others have more muscular and ligament damage. The insurance companies that we constantly negotiate with on injury cases evaluate cases differently than the plaintiff lawyers.
Of course, the insurance companies are in business for one reason, to make money, to make a profit. So, they want to pay out on these injury claims as little as possible. While the plaintiff lawyers, like myself want to get the absolute highest settlement possible in each case. It is our job to work as hard as we can, day and night to represent our injured clients. I take great pride and passion in my work and want to get the best result for my clients which usually means the highest and largest amount of money I can get for my clients. My job is to do one thing: negotiate the highest settlement possible for your case or file a lawsuit instead.
When an injured victim has less visible injuries, like soft tissue muscle damage or ligament damage, and has minor property damage to his or her vehicle, then these are the most difficult cases to achieve high settlements. On the other hand, if you have a high impact case with large property damage to your car, over $10,000, let’s say, then your injuries are easier to prove in court and to the insurance companies’ claim’s adjuster.The claim’s adjuster is the first line of defense for the insurance companies and claim’s adjusters are trained to out certain small cases in a different category where they will be a thorn in our side throughout the whole process. For example, when one car hits another car from behind and there is say only a few hundred dollars in damage to the injured victim’s car, this will be a case where the insurance companies will attempt to argue that there could not possibly be an injuries from such a low impact, damaged car.
On the other hand, I have see hundreds of clients get into low impact accidents who later went on to discover that there injuries were in fact much more serious. So, in those first few weeks, the full extent of your injuries will not be revealed. It takes a few months at least to treat with your medical providers and find out exactly what is related to the accident and what injuries or issues may not be related to the accident. This time period will test your patience as you have to let time pass, get treated by your doctors, and physical therapists, chiropractors and others who specialize in injury cases. A lawyer like myself will get an idea what he wants to ask for somewhere in the first few months after treatment. This gives the doctors the time to perform any MRI’s, X-Raya, CT scans, etc. If those exams reveal internal problems that are caused by your accident, then we have good medical evidence to argue for higher damages and a higher settlement amount. But, when all your X-rays, MRI’s, CT scans come back negative and don’t reveal any injury, then of course your case will naturally be worth less money than someone who has positive results on these tests.
The key also is to prove that your injuries were caused by your accident and not something in your past history. If you had another accident 6 months ago, and just get into another one, then it can be difficult to separate the injuries and damages from both accidents which happened so closely together. Thus, the injuries in each separate case would have to be apportioned. The insurance companies would require us to apportion your injures as a prerequisite to settling one or both of your cases. Your doctor is very important in proving your injuries and how “permanent” they will be. Your doctor is also the one who will have to prove that your injuries are a direct result of your car accident. After you are done treating, the doctor will place you at MMI. MMI is maximum medical improvement. After you are placed at MMI and basically told there is nothing more that can be done for you, I will ask the doctor to do an impairment rating under the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. This large book is like a Bible that shows your doctor how to rate each part of your body to arrive at a percentage of impairment. I can use this impairment rating to negotiate a higher settlement for your case. Insurance companies place more value on car accident cases where a doctor performs an Impairment Rating.
So, there are many factors that go into the value decision of your case. One is how the accident happened. Was fault squarely based on the other driver’s actions or did you do something wrong to partially cause the crash. If you did something to contribute to the crash, then you will be found comparatively negligent. Your comparative negligence will not bar your case completely but will reduce the amount of your monetary damages based on the percentage of negligence applied to you. For example, failure to wear a seatbelt can be considered to be comparative negligence on your part. The insurance company will argue for lesser damages if they know or can prove that you were not wearing a seatbelt. So, always wear your seatbelt!
Normally, in a personal injury case, like a car accident case, you can recover compensatory damages. What are compensatory damages? These are damages which are meant to make you “whole” and to try to put you back into the situation you were before your accident. That means we have to put a dollar amount on each compensable element of damages, such as the damage to your car, the cost of your medical care, lost wages in the past and in the future. These types of damages are fairly easy to prove as one knows what their medical bills are because they arrive in your mail. The more difficult damages to prove to an insurance company are damages like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and psychological issues. These have to be proven with great help from the client who is actually suffering these type of losses. If you cannot perform at work, around the house or in hobbies that you enjoy, then you have sustained damages for loss of enjoyment of life and pain and suffering, etc.
Thus, the value of your case finally comes down to who was a fault, what was the cause of your injuries and the seriousness of your injuries: are they just temporary or permanent? Permanent injuries will be worth more money than temporary injuries. Normally, an injured victim who treats with a doctor for 6 months is going to recover more money than a similar client who only treated with a doctor for 1 month. So, the more treatment and more medical bills that an injured victim incurs, generally the value of the case goes up in these circumstances. Everyone has to remember that no case is the same. In personal injury law, every case is different, the facts are different, the injuries are different so each case is going to have a different monetary value and that value either is mutually determined between me and the insurance company and if we cannot reach an agreement, then we go off to the local courthouse and file a lawsuit.
A personal injury lawyer with over 20 years of experience, Doug Allen serves Colorado Springs with honesty & integrity.