There are an unbelievable number of variables involved in arriving at a settlement value for a personal injury case. Compensation offers vary wildly because there are so many different factors that have different weights attached to them.
But assuming there is no issue about the amount of money available* to pay on the claim, the single most reliable predict of settlement value is the type of injury. There are two key factors to consider when looking at the type of injury.
Is the Injury Permanent?
Whether the injury is permanent, this is the single biggest driving force behind how the insurance company values injures. Past pain and suffering, no matter how horrific, is easily overlooked. But an injury that lasts a lifetime is going to resonate with a jury. I tell jurors the truth. “Twenty years from now you will forget the name of the woman in that civil case, who got her leg crushed in that pedestrian accident. Honestly, I hope I won’t, but I might. But she is going to get out of bed and limp to breakfast. And she is going to limp all day while we go about our normal lives.” It is a powerful argument, and I’ve never seen juries accept the injury, without accepting that argument.
My partner and I were preparing for trial in a case last month. We were “100 percent” sure the case was going to get tried. Why? The offer was zero. The defense expert said she just had a back strain of unknown etiology from the car crash. But then the same expert testified in his videotaped for trial testimony that the injury was permanent. The case settled for over a half a million within the week. I think the take home message is: from a jury’s view – a permanent injury related to an accident – trumps everything.
Is the Injury Objective?
We are talking about the settlement value of a claim. What the insurance company is willing to pay. The insurance company’s willingness to put real money on a case is closely tied to whether the injury is objective. Is their an x-ray, MRI or some other clear, objective evidence of the injury that can be proved beyond the victim’s say so? The reality that Plaintiffs’ lawyers ignore is that fraudulent claims are a real problem in personal injury cases. But insurance companies have over-learned this lesson to the point of wearing blinders when it comes to injuries that cannot be objectively proven with diagnostic evidence. The fact that the injury can not be objectively proven should be a piece of a larger puzzle. Insurance companies in 2015 consider it the entire puzzle in serious injury cases.
Does this mean that largely or completely subjective injury claims do not have real value? Of course not. But usually, you are not going to get anything resembling fair value for a case like this until the eve of trial. While juries are skeptical of Plaintiffs whose injury claims rest solely on their subjective report of pain, this skepticism can be overcome by the evidence, a credible and honest Plaintiff with a real story to tell.
Settlement Value By Type of Injury
It is hard, really hard, to estimate settlement value of serious personal injury cases. We try to give victims (and lawyer and insurance adjusters) some idea of values on our website by breaking out specific injuries and providing verdict and settlement statistics and looking at sample cases and seeing how much money the insurance company or jury gave the Plaintiff. Certainly, seeing how much money juries have given — or insurance companies have agreed to — in similar cases should be a great predictor of settlement value. But cases involve a myriad of factors that cannot be easily summarized and it is impossible to tell which facts mattered to a jury or if we even know what those factors were. So if you want to research the value of cases based on particular injury, as we do on our site, take it with a caveat that you cannot figure out the value of a case solely by looking a settlement statistics and similar verdicts.
*No matter how severe the victim’s injury may be, the top settlement value is invariably restricted by the financial resources available — insurance or otherwise — to satisfy the claim. This post looks at value assuming that the policy limits and Defendant’s personal assets are sufficient to satisfy the claim, and there is no liability dispute as to who is responsible for the injuries or that the injuries are causally related to the negligence.