What Is My Case Worth?

Jennifer Coughlin

LEARNING WHAT YOUR AUTOMOBILE PERSONAL INJURY CASE IS WORTH

What is my personal injury auto claim worth? That is the question that's most often on people's minds, but most are hesitant to ask for fear of appearing "greedy" or presumptuous. At Hawn & Coughlin, we understand this hesitation and therefore work closely with you to communicate what our experience tells us your case may be worth. It is only when clients are empowered with that information that they can decide whether or not to pursue legal action against the negligent driver who injured them.

You can hire an attorney to handle your case, or you can handle the negotiations with the insurance company on your own. If your medical expenses for injuries related to the car accident are greater than $1,000, it is likely that the counsel and assistance of an attorney will be beneficial to you. It is important to hire an attorney who is well experienced in personal injury litigation. Don't be afraid to ask questions!

We assist our clients in estimating the value of their cases by conducting a thorough initial interview, where we encourage the client to tell us all about the incident and their injuries. As part of this initial interview, we begin a Case Assessment. It may not always be possible to complete the Case Assessment at the initial interview, and it is our custom to keep clients informed about the status of their case and any changes to the Case Assessment as investigation and review are undertaken.

A Case Assessment analyzes all aspects of the case, from its beginning through its possible conclusions. It is very helpful and enlightening in determining how to proceed. The components of a Case Assessment are: 1) Summary of Facts, 2) Liability, 3) Damages, 4) Settlement Prospects, and 5) a Recommendation of How to Proceed.

  1. Summary of Facts: This is an overview of the case, where clients tell us the story of what has happened to them. For example, where was the accident? What time of day? Was snow or ice a factor in the accident? What was the property damage? These questions, and many more, are discussed in the summary of facts portion of the Case Assessment. We get to know our clients, and make sure we listen when they talk!
  2. Liability: Liability lies with who caused the accident. For example, if the other driver received a traffic citation for causing the collision, that is important information to share with your attorney. Any apportionment, or sharing, of fault, will be discussed. We discuss with our clients any possible defenses that we anticipate will be raised with regard to issues of liability.
  3. Damages: Damages are the financial payment that a defendant's insurance company will make to reimburse our clients for their medical expenses, pain and suffering and loss of earnings. All medical bills and loss of earnings will need to be totaled in order to determine the amount of "economic damages." But, "non-economic' damages, which include pain and suffering, stress, inconvenience in one's life, depression, and other intangible damages to one's life, will be discussed in a Case Assessment. We encourage our clients to keep a journal after the accident so that the "non-economic" damages, or the effects on one's lives, are easily recalled. If the client is still receiving medical treatment for the car crash, it may not be possible to assess all the damages until he or she fully recovers.
  4. Settlement: We discuss with our clients the potential drawbacks and benefits to settling a case prior to filing a lawsuit. We can determine the value of a case at settlement by performing a Settlement Equivalency Chart. For instance, if we value a case at $100,000 for trial, we also know that $10,000 in costs may be incurred in preparing for trial, and that may erode the value of the case while waiting for trial. That must be reflected in a settlement discussion. Again, we communicate with our clients at every stage of the settlement and negotiation process.
  5. How to Proceed: It's important for every client to always remember that he or she is the boss, but we do provide clients with recommendations on how to proceed at every juncture of their case. In general, risk averse clients may feel more comfortable settling their claims. Clients who are absolutely averse to litigation may also prefer to settle. Those who are willing to take more risk may choose to go to trial no matter what settlement offer has been made by an insurance company. Obviously, we do not recommend our clients settle unless the settlement offer that has been proposed is at or near the value of the claim.