Answer: Like much in life, it depends. If you have been injured or your loved one is gone due to the wrongful conduct of others, you likely have questions about whether it is worth pursuing a claim or how much it might be worth if you do. The question presented in this post deals with the six or so factors that the settlement or trial value will depend on.
#1 — How Strong Is the Liability Case? Meaning, how easy will it be to show someone else caused your injuries? For example, in a car accident, one of the strongest or most obvious liability cases is the rear-end crash situation. Most often, the person hitting a vehicle in front of them is issued a citation or ticket for ‘improper lookout’ or ‘failure to keep a proper lookout.’ This nearly always leads to the cited driver being 100% liable for the accident. A second example shows how this liability question and percentage of liability gets muddy really fast: assume that a car accident occurs at an intersection but because of conflicting evidence (testimony and crash evidence) the police do not issue a citation and both drivers claim the other one was at fault. In this case, the liability may be weak and the percentage of fault either divided or contrary to you. This affects the settlement value of a case and, ultimately, the trial value of a case.
#2 — How Serious Are Your Injuries? It may seem obvious, but the seriousness of your injuries provides a measure for your potential recovery. The “no harm, no foul” proverb applies here. It could be the most horrific crash caught on film but if you walk away without a scratch, your recovery will be necessarily limited. This does not mean that you may not be entitled to some mental harm related to the crash and/or injuries of your loved ones around you but it will certainly be less than if you had a brain injury. See Seattle OKs record $65.7 million settlement for attorney injured in crash with Fire Department ambulance (attorney suffered severe brain injury in crash with ambulance).
#3 — What Is the Amount of Medical Costs for Your Injuries? This is related to #2 in that the settlement value of your claim is often tied to the amount of medical costs involved in treating it. This does not apply to a wrongful death claim where medical costs are often negligible. Wrapped up in this number is how much in future medical costs you may expect to incur during your lifetime to treat and manage your injury.
#4 — Are There Lost Wages or Lost Earning Capacity? When you are seriously injured, you often miss work, whether it is directly due to the injury or for treatment purposes. Those lost wages are reimbursable damages. Also, many serious injuries cause either temporary or permanent long-term harm to your ability to earn a living. These are lost future wages or lost earning capacity. Take, for example, the settlement cited under #2. The injured person was a top-tier, nationally recognized attorney at a large law firm. Her income was off-the-charts and her settlement was commensurate with her damages. Together with medical costs and future medical costs, lost wages and earning capacity form the foundation of your settlement claim.
#5 — Who Is the Defendant? Meaning, who injured you or caused the death of your loved-one? And, just as importantly, is there insurance to cover the harm caused? Finally, what is the policy limit on the available insurance? Let’s go back to the example in #2. The injured lawyer was hit by a city-owned ambulance. The city has insurance and money to pay a large judgment or settlement. If the unfortunate injured driver had been hit by an uninsured driver or minimally insured driver, her damages could have been estimated to be in the hundreds of millions and it would not matter because if there is no insurance or no person at fault who can pay the judgment then it falls under the proverb “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.” In Utah, the minimum bodily injury insurance limit is $25,000. If you are injured by a driver carrying the minimum limits insurance, your recovery could be limited– that is, your insurance recovery. This does not mean that a recovery could not be brought against the driver but usually if someone is carrying the basement limit, they have no assets to pursue.
#6 — What Evidence Is There? Did the accident have witnesses who are able to testify? Is there video of the accident? For example, we handled the wrongful death of a pedestrian hit and killed while crossing a road. There was surveillance video of the accident. The video spoke volumes about fault and was a major factor in obtaining a very favorable settlement for the pedestrian’s family. If there are witnesses, does their testimony support your version of events? Are they contradictory? These are issues that affect case value and whether a case gets settled early or requires a trial.
Call Me. You likely have more questions than this post or the other information on this website can provide. Every situation is unique. If you have been injured, feel free to reach out to me to discuss your circumstances further. You cannot make a good decision if you do not get competent advice from a qualified, experienced attorney. You need to protect yourself and your loved-ones from the often devastating effects of permanent injury or death. You do this by pursuing what you are entitled to. Call me.