Most people injured in a car crash want to know “what’s my claim worth?” Too many people have heard the old myth “3 times medical bills” and believe it’s true. It isn’t. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, most cases went to trial. Many were worth 3 times medical bills because the juries thought 1/3rd for the injured party, 1/3rd for the doctors, and 1/3rd for the lawyers. Those days are long gone and the “3 times medical bills” theory is wrong more often than not.
Think about these two cases:
- A drunk driver crosses the center line and hits somebody head-on. The claws of life are used to extract the victim who has lost a lot of blood and has iffy vital signs so a Life Flight is brought in. The person is hospitalized overnight and a battery of tests and x-rays are done. Turns out, but for some cuts and bruises, the person has come through this disaster with no real injuries. They have run up medical bills of $60,000 though. A 24-hour disaster is unlikely to be worth $120,000 on top of the $60,000 medical bills.
- Consider the same accident but here the victim losses her dominant arm. Presume the medical bills are about the same, but this case is likely worth more than 1 million dollars.
What a Case is Worth
So, what is a case worth? Ultimately, it’s worth what a jury says it is worth. There are three elements to any claim.
- Was somebody negligent-did they do something no reasonable person would do or fail to do something any reasonable person would do?
- Did the negligence CAUSE injury-causation? and
- Damages. A jury never gets to consider damages unless the claimant proves that the wrongdoer was negligent and that the negligence caused the injury.
Then and only then does a jury trial determine the case’s worth.
Damages including Pain & Suffering
Damages consist of past, present, and future medical bills, and wage loss, and non-economic damages which is each and every way the injuries have impacted your life, as well as past, present, and future pain and suffering. A permanent injury to a young person is obviously a more substantial claim than one that fully resolves within a week or a month or even a year.
Location of the Accident
Where the accident happens also has a huge impact on the case’s worth. A Multnomah County jury is likely to give a bigger award than a Washington County jury based on the demographics of those counties. A Washington County Judge told me recently that after sitting on the bench for almost 30 years, “a great case in Multnomah County is a good case in Washington County, a good case in Multnomah County is a fair case in Washington County and a fair case in Multnomah County is a case the defense wins in Washington county”. So, part of what a lawyer does is to try and assess what a jury will give someone based on a huge variety of factors. The likely jury pool, the age of the injured party, the nature and extent of the injuries, the ability to prove they were caused by the wrongdoer and not to some preexisting condition, the facts of the accident, and the amount of property damage caused by the impact are all considered when trying to set a value on a case.