Every case is different, but there are several general rules that can be used to “evaluate” a personal injury case.
- “Value” is ultimately determined by a jury. Whether a case ever gets to a jury trial does not change the fact that everyone involved in your case attempts to determine the value of the case through the eyes of 12 potential jurors. This includes insurance companies, your attorney, and it should also include you.
- Determining who is that fault. Under Pennsylvania law, “negligence” is broken down in terms of percentages. This is true whether the case is tried in front of a jury or for purposes of valuing the case at any time during settlement negotiations. Starting at 100%, the jury (and also an insurance company as well as any attorneys involved in the case), must determine who is at fault and also must determine their degree or percentage of fault. The defendant may be 100% at fault or may be found to be less than 100% at fault. A plaintiff, you, may also been found to be at fault. This is typical in a situation where the plaintiff is one of the drivers in the accident and there’s a dispute as to how the accident occurred, or it is also typical in a situation where the plaintiff is claiming an injury because he or she fell on someone else’s property. In those types of situations the defense argues that the plaintiff was some degree of fault. So long as the plaintiff is not found to be 51% or more negligent, the plaintiff is generally entitled to “recover” or be compensated for his or her injuries. For instance, if the jury finds the injured plaintiff to have injuries that are evaluated at $1,000 but finds the plaintiff 50% at fault, the plaintiff is awarded $500 in terms of a jury verdict. As another example if the jury finds the plaintiff to have injuries that they feel should be valued at $1,000 but finds the plaintiff 10% at fault, the plaintiffs is awarded $900 in terms of the jury verdict. Both sides go through this exercise throughout the settlement negotiations.
- Medical bills, lost wages, future lost wages, and “out-of-pocket” expenses. These items are also used to evaluate a personal-injury case. Typically unpaid medical bills are what a jury will see. Judges usually do not allow juries do see the full amount of the medical bills if some of those bills were paid by other insurance coverage. An itemization of the time you missed from work, what that cost you, as well as what might be expected in future lost wages is also an “element” of damages. In addition, any “out-of-pocket” expenses are also items for which you can seek reimbursement. Therefore it is a good idea in any personal injury case to keep receipts for any expenses that you incur during the entire time from the beginning of the case to the end of the case.
- Of course, your injury is one of if not the most important aspect in determining “value” in a personal injury case. The more serious the injury or injuries, the higher the value of the case. You will be asked to testify about your injuries. Your testimony will take place in a “deposition” which is a pre-trial statement under oath. We will prepare you for the deposition and will, of course, attend with you. If your case goes to trial, you will testify again about your injuries. Your doctor(s) will also be asked to testify at trial. Your doctors can use their office notes and reports in your medical chart to refresh their memory about your care and treatment. Thus, it is very important that you thoroughly and completely tell your doctors about all of your ailments related to your accident case throughout the treatment period.
- The location of where the suit is filed also has an effect on the value of your case. It is well known amongst insurance companies and attorneys that some communities are more conservative, some more liberal. Therefore, the “jury pool” from each community goes into the evaluation of the personal injury case.
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.