Valuing car accident cases for settlement in Maryland is a challenge. The most important thing in any case is the severity of the injuries. That is probably all that should matter. But there are many more variables that drive how much money the insurance company will offer to settle an injury claim before a lawsuit is filed. This is a list of 12 factors that really matter in determining the settlement value of any auto collision injury claim:
- Is the defendant’s liability clear? Many of our clients come to us and say this will be an easy one, the defendant has already admitted liability. While insurance companies are known for changing their mind about taking responsibility, liability is not contested in probably 95% of our auto tort cases. The real battle is putting a dollar figure on the injures and the suffering. Still, getting liability clearly established is a good way to start off a case. In a car crash case, most insurers simply deny liability if they think the defendant did nothing wrong or if the plaintiff contributed to the crash (the latter is Maryland specific because of contributory negligence).
- Where is the case? Serious injury and death cases in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County have a greater settlement value than cases in any other jurisdiction in Maryland. If your case is in Howard, Montgomery, Charles, Anne Arundel or Baltimore County, you are basically in the second tier of “good” jurisdictions for plaintiffs (I may be being charitable to Howard County). Every other jurisdiction goes in the third tier.
- How significant is the property damage? You could trot in 1,000 experts – defense or plaintiff, depending on the damage — to say that there is no correlation between property damage and injury. The jury is still going to think that property damage correlates to injury. Why? Because when they drive by a fender bender, they feel pretty sure the occupants of the cars are all right. But if the cars are torn apart, jurors (and insurance adjusters) correctly fear someone may have been badly hurt or killed. Now, you can still explain to a jury why your minor property damage case caused significant injuries. But you only have hope with the jury. Adjusters are
almostnever going to give you what you believe to be fair value for the claim if the property damage does not correlate with injuries but you believe that it does. There are just some cases you have to forget about settlement and you are going to try to the case. Our firm does not handle a lot of low property damages cases anymore. But when we do, we just assume we are going to try the case. Maybe they see the value of the case on the eve of trial but that is really your only chance of getting a good settlement.
- Did you have any prior injuries to the area of your injury from the automobile accident? After a lawsuit is filed, the insurance company will do discovery to try to determine whether the injury is fresh or derivative of another injury. Pre-suit, insurers tend to assume that the prior injury is the primary cause of the problem.
- Who are your lawyers? The insurance companies know the lawyers who are who willing to try, and do try personal injury cases and who does it well. Some insurers have this information calculated in a computer database. Others just know who is who. Either way, it makes a real difference in how any personal injury case is evaluated.
- Is how the accident happened going to make the jury mad at the defendant? We overlook this as a critical factor because we sometimes forget juries are human beings that are not looking at a case the way a lawyer often does. Ironically, you want something that is bad but not too bad? Why? The fact that the defendant was drunk and loaded with heroin is not going to be admitted at trial in Maryland. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have tried every way possible to get this evidence in and trial judges and appellate courts have said no. There are no backdoors to admitting this evidence, I am now convinced. But almost every judge is going to allow you to tell the jury how the accident happened because it gives the jury some context. So if you can pinpoint a poor choice the defendant made, especially if that choice involved a cell phone, then you are going to be able to power a little bit of animosity against the defendant.
- Is there a corporate defendant? Our first case at Miller & Zois, we tried a zero visible property damage case in Baltimore City and got $300,000. We kept both the roofing company defendant and their driver in the case. After the trial, the jurors asked whether poor Mr. Smith was going to be required to pay any of the verdict. Because jurors in Maryland are not told that the defendant has insurance. They suspect it. But since it never gets mentioned, the jury is confused. Sometimes, one juror will set everyone straight. Other times, they give a verdict in fear that they are ruining someone’s life by giving them a debt they could never pay. Moreover, juries just feel better when there is a corporate defendant to blame. It just feels less personal to them.
- Will a jury like or dislike the plaintiff or the defendant? Both sides are in the blind on this before a lawsuit is filed. The insurance company only knows the plaintiff’s biographically; we really cannot predict how the defendant will present to the jury until we are able to conduct depositions after suit has been filed. So for settlement purposes, the insurance company just relies purely on the biographical information. If you are a medical doctor plaintiff, you are going to get a bigger offer than someone who is unemployed with a criminal record.
- Is there an objective injury? Insurance companies hate objective injuries because they make “the plaintiff is exaggerating/faking” argument that much harder.
- How old is the victim? The younger the victim, the more valuable a permanent injury or death case is going to be. Older victims do better in less significant injury cases.
- Is the plaintiff a liar? If the plaintiff can be caught within the records, a recorded statement or anywhere as being casual with the truth, that is going to deflate settlement value and make it more likely that a lawsuit needs to be filed.
- Where was victim going/coming from at the time of the crash? If it was 2:00 a.m. and you were leaving the club, sober or not, that decreases the value of your case. If you were leaving church, that is going to increase the value of the case.
Which Factors Matter the Most
Which factors matter the most depends on the case. Significant prior injuries to the same body part that is the subject of the claim, for example, can kill a case when all of the other factors line up perfectly. But pre-suit, what matters are the injuries and whether they are objective, the venue, and whether the plaintiff had any preexisting conditions.
Getting a Lawyer to Handle Your Case
Our law firm handles car accidents that result in serious injury or death. While we try auto accident cases on a regular basis, most of our cases settle short of the courthouse steps. Call Miller & Zois at 800-553-8082 to get a free no obligation evaluation of your claim or reach us online for a free, confidential claim review.