Many factors are at play in determining the value of a car accident bodily injury settlement amount.
Some of the factors are objective facts surrounding the accident and injury, while others are subjective based upon the perspective and interests of the involved parties.
Before diving into an analysis of settlement value, it is important to note that not all factors are always known and are almost certainly unknown early in the case.
Only after full discovery and only after a complete analysis by a licensed and highly experienced attorney can a true opinion on settlement be rendered by a lawyer for their client. Even then, calculating settlement value is speculative and based upon many shifting variables that may change during the course of the negotiation to arrive at the final settlement.
Remember, no one knows the future and both sides must find common ground to arrive at a settlement. If the opposing party or their insurance carrier refuses to negotiate a fair settlement in good faith, no matter how experienced or savvy your attorney may be, your case will not settle. At this point hard tactics litigation will be the only mechanism to force the other side to negotiate in good faith and offer a fair compensation package that covers, both the injured party’s economic and non-economic damages along with lost wages.
One common formula employs a multiplier and your medical expenses to come up with an estimate of non-economic damages (money for your pain and suffering). Adding this figure to your economic losses (medical bills, property damage, and lost income) gives you a dollar amount from which to negotiate.
The following factors provide guidance on how to have a meaningful conversation with the firm providing representation to the injury victim.
Factors Determining Car Accident Settlement Amounts
Fault – Where fault, also known as liability, falls on the other party without dispute, settlement value will depend mostly on the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. Where fault is not clear or likely to be split equally between the two parties to the lawsuit, value will depend on the severity of the injuries plus either an offset for comparative fault or a discount on the basis that liability could go against the plaintiff.
When considering a settlement, consider whether fault is clearly against the defendant to the insurance claim or legal action. If it is, move to the next factor. If liability is clear or partially against the plaintiff, talk to the lawyer about what kind of discount must be taken on the basis of risk of losing the case outright.
Nature and Extent of Sustained Injuries – Next consider the nature and extent of the bodily injury suffered as a result of the car accident. Severe injuries that are permanent in nature and that are not relieved by cheap and/ or conservative medical treatments are generally worth more money. Consider what body part was damaged and to what extent there is objective medical evidence of injury.
If the injury victim complains of severe pain in the neck but comes out with a clean MRI, that person must face the fact that the value of their case may not be as much as someone with an objective disc herniation or fractured vertebrae. So credibility surely affects the final settlement amount.
While neck strain/pain is worth something, the cost of medical care usually (not always) drives claim value in personal injury auto collision claims. Where the harm causes an objective need for surgery, that injury is considered to be more severe. The more objective finding and the more severe the subjective pain and suffering it causes, the greater the case value. If liability is clear and the nature and extent of injury are also severe, consider it a bigger case. BUT BEWARE the amount of the ultimate settlement can be reduced by what is known as pre-existing medical conditions that cause the same or closely similar symptoms or pain.
Defendant’s pocketbook and net worth –One must consider whether the party at fault or offending tortfeasor has adequate insurance coverage, money, assets or resources to cover the cost of the plaintiff’s injuries. If the defendant is poor or without insurance, there is no money to collect even if liability is clear and the extent of injuries are severe.
Suing is not worthwhile if the insurance policy is minimal, non-existent or the entity that caused the accident is without an insurance policy at all, already in bankruptcy proceedings or files for bankruptcy. Your attorney should be able to investigate the insurance policy of the defendant party at fault prior to a settlement demand to discover exactly what type of recovery is possible despite liability and extent of the harm.
Subjective Factors – Sometimes a party fights a claim extra hard for reasons beyond the understanding of the opposing party. For example, some insurance carriers decide to litigate cases despite clear liability. This means the plaintiff is going to have to prove their case in the face of what is seen as obvious. This can happen for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes the insurance carrier has limited exposure and doesn’t mind exposing its insured to the risk of a jury awarded greater than the policy limit.
In California, this could open the insurance company up to paying an amount greater than their policy. In other circumstances, the lawyers for the insurance carrier have no incentive to settle early since they want to rack up larger legal bills before conclusion of the matter.
This overbilling by insurance carrier lawyers has the effect of driving up the cost of litigation since the injured plaintiff has to expend a great deal more money and time on his/ her case than would have been the case had the insurance carrier acted in good faith from the onset. The delay eventually adds more costs for expensive experts, deposition transcripts, court costs, filing fees and other incidentals.
Free Consultation with an Experienced Attorney
Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC offers free case consultations to victims involved in motor vehicle collisions and accidents of any kind.
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