At Clark and Steinhorn, we are often asked about the value of car and truck accident cases. Sometimes, these questions occur at the initial interview with the client and we invariably answer the case the same way, "I don't know".
This occasionally disappoints our prospective clients but we always elaborate on the difficulties associated with case valuation at any stage of a case much less at the beginning, before anyone knows the extent of the victim's injuries.
So let's turn our attention to how case values are arrived at. There are a number of important variables. In this article we identify the primary factors. Liability, injury, economic impact, and location.
First, the concept of "liability" or legal responsibility.
In Maryland and the District of Columbia, the laws applicable to victims in car and truck accidents.are particularly bad as the doctrine of contributory negligence exists. That doctrine suggests that even where one driver is overwhelmingly at fault, if the injured victim's "negligence is a cause of their injury", they cannot recover a verdict for their injuries. So if one driver is 95% at fault and the other 5%, the 5% driver cannot recover anything no matter how catastrophic their injuries. (For more go to:http://www.maryland-law.com/library/maryland-car-truck-accident-lawyer-dc-car-crash-attorney.cfm)
As one can imagine the liability piece of every case is vitally important in such jurisdictions (Forty six states have a superior alternative system, comparative negligence). Thus an analysis of case value first focuses on whether the injured party could be seen in any way to have "contributed" to the happening of the collision. If it seems clear from all the available evidence that the injured victim in no way contributed to the crash then we move on to the next factors to be considered.
The next factor is the nature of the injuries sustained in the accident. The more "objective" the injuries the greater the value. As an example a broken leg can be viewed on x-ray and has known undisputable, objective consequences, whereas a back strain is more difficult to show diagnostically and its persistance for months will always draw a skeptical response from insurance companies and sometimes jurors.
There is a continuum of values for different injuries. Severe spinal cord injuries that lead to quadraplegia or paraplegia. mean a lifetime of medical expenses and disability and have tremendously greater value than a broken leg or back strain. Wrongful death deprives family members of financial and emotional support and are also on the high end of the continuum of case values. There is no hard and fast value for a particular injury or cluster of injuries, however an experienced lawyer can give a highly accurate range of value based upon their experience and knowledge.
Another highly important factor involves the economic consequences of a particular injury. For example, a back injury culminating in surgery may knock a lawyer out of work for some period of time whereas it may end the career of a construction worker involved in physically demanding laborious work. Thus, clients with identical injuries may have markedly different expectations concerning the value of their cases. In the previous example, the lawyer may make more money than the construction worker per week, but the total lost wages for the lawyer may be for a month and for the construction worker for a lifetime.
Another variable involves the total medical expenses incurred with regard to a particular injury. In thirty six years of representing accident victims, this author has seen many cases involving the same or similar injuries, wherein the medical expenses incurred by the victim are significantly different. Some people recover better than others, some doctors charge more than others, some people are susceptible to reinjury and this can dramatically impact how much money is spent in pursuit of returning to pre-accident health.
Cases with virtually identical, initial injuries can go down many different paths. Your broken leg may require multiple surgeries owing to the nature of your work, pre-crash health or the skill of your doctor, whereas another car accident victim may require minimal surgical intervention. A plaintiff with $100,000.00 in medical expenses will almost always receive greater compensation than one with $30,000.00.
The bottom line, the numbers matter. If you have medically supportable expenses and lost wages, you will get higher offers and verdicts than a person with the same injuries who doesn't have such support.
The final variable is where the case can be brought into court. The fact is that some courts are better than others for injured victims of car crashes. While each case rises and falls on its own merits, there are general rules that effect decision-making on what court to bring a case in. Rural counties in Maryland tend to produce lower verdicts than more urban ones. Some cases can be brought in stae or federal court and in some cases that will lead to higher settlement offers and/or verdicts.
That is where having an experienced, knowledgeable lawyer is extremely important. Federal court is sometimes off-putting to some lawyers but if you can expect a substantially greater offer or verdict then that is where the case belongs. The accident may have happened in Cecil County but if the negligent driver lives or works in Prince George's County, then you may be better served bringing the case there.
Robert Clark sucessfully litigated the most important, recent Maryland case on where a case can be brought ( See Nace v. Miller 424 Md. 56; 33 A.3d 982). The decision on where and when to bring a case, may have a dramatic impact on the value of the case and its prospects for settlement. In the Nace case, the defendant vigorously sought to move a case to Montgomery County, Maryland and keep it there .Ultimately the trial court and appellate court recognized the case belonged in Prince George's County where it was ultimately concluded.
At Clark and Steinhorn, LLC, we understand what needs to be done to document and support your car or truck crash claim. We read your medical reports and if something is missing or incorrect, we notice and tell you and if necessary, tell your doctor, to ensure that the medical records accurately reflect your medical situation and that you receive fair compensation. We help you support your lost wage claim, whether through ensuring your doctor's address your need to be off workand/ or through obtaining the supporting documents from your employer. We find the witnesses and we do the due dilligence to ensure you receive fair compensation.
So, if we duck your initial question about the value of your case, understand that when all of the information about liability, injuries, economic damages and long-term consequences are in, we will tell you what your case is really worth and we will pursue it wherever it takes us.