How do I know if the offer of the insurance company is fair?

This is a difficult evaluation to make unless you have extensive experience in dealing with such cases.  Many variables go into evaluating what a case is worth.  First, there is the issue of whether it is clear cut that one party or a group of parties are responsible for the collision and second that the injured party is in no way responsible.  Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia have unique and unfortunate laws in this regard.  Each of these jurisdictions has a doctrine called contributory negligence.  What this means is that even in circumstances where one party is overwhelmingly at fault for a collision and the injured party is only to a small degree at fault, laws of these jurisdictions will make it so the injured party will not receive any compensation whatsoever.  In most jurisdictions in the United States a doctrine called comparative negligence is used in the law.  As the name suggests this doctrine compares the conduct of the injured party with that of the other driver or drivers and if the injured party is to some degree at fault it reduces the level of compensation they get.  Thus, for cases in Maryland, the District Columbia and Virginia it is important that you consult a lawyer experienced in trying these cases who can identify the issues that may confront the case down the road and affect your receipt of fair compensation.

The second factor after an evaluation of the responsibility for the collision is the severity of the collision.  While it might seem ridiculous, judges, jurors, and insurance companies place a great deal of importance on the extent of the damage to the vehicles involved in the collision.  Where the damage to the vehicles appears small in pictures and results in low repair estimates, jurors often have difficulty accepting that serious or permanent injuries can result from those collisions.  Most major insurance companies have categories by which they evaluate cases and specifically focus on paying minimal amounts for low impact collisions. 

Once the liability has been evaluated and the severity of the collision demonstrated, the evaluation of the injuries and damages takes place. 

Where injuries are clear cut (broken bones, loss of limbs, internal organ damage or death) evaluation is somewhat easier.  For all injuries, immediacy of medical care is an important consideration.  If you are injured severely in a collision and go to the hospital from the scene or within twenty-four hours then those injuries reported in the initial hospital records will be treated more seriously than the ones that crop up down the road.  Many people sustain severe neck, back, knee and arm injuries, the extent of which are only revealed much later.  That is why it is important to document as early as possible any suspected injury and to receive appropriate medical treatment from a capable specialist who can evaluate and document the existence of such injuries.   The basic rule of thumb is that if your injury is not clearly in the medical records, insurance companies, judges and juries will not believe that it is related to a collision.

In evaluating the relationship between injuries and collisions, your past injury history is also important.  If you have injured a part of body before the collision, it will be a natural tendency on the part of insurance companies, judges and jurors to believe some of your present injury problems are associated with the collision for which you are making a claim and some of it is from your prior injury.  Thus, it is important to get good and accurate medical documentation of any differences between the injuries you had had before to that part of the body and the injuries you have presently.  Very often diagnostic tests such as x-rays, CAT Scans and MRI’s will show that your present problems are not anything like the ones you had before the collision.  Insurance companies invariably try to argue that a second, third or fourth injury to the same part of the body is not worthy of fair compensation.  Successfully pursuing such cases requires experienced lawyers who are aware of the best way to portray evidence in a light most favorable to you. 

Once the specific injuries you have sustained are established it is important to assess all compensation that can flow from such injuries.  Obviously these will include the medical expenses you will have incurred, prescription costs, lost wages or loss of income earning opportunities, parking costs, traveling to and from healthcare providers.  This can also include expenses for future medical treatment, lost wages and loss of society and companionship or enjoyment of life.  Many of these damages will need to be substantiated through medical reports and medical testimony.  It is important that you have a lawyer who is experienced with working with doctors to obtain the correct information that will permit you to successfully pursue such claims.

With regard to future medical expenses including proposed surgeries, insurance companies, judges and juries will often make a vigorous attempt to disregard such claims.  The basic rule of thumb is if you have not had the surgery the jury is unlikely to give you the money to have it at some future time. 

Obviously the process of evaluating a claim’s worth is very complex.  It is not a scientific process, and the knowledge and experience of your lawyer will be vitally important to receiving the maximum offer possible and to understanding whether an offer is fair or not.  Many injured people read about large verdicts in the newspaper and feel that their injuries should result in multi-million dollar recoveries in their own cases.  Unfortunately, the reality of jury verdicts across the nation is that very few cases result in large verdicts.  In addition, various laws in different states and jurisdictions limit the amount of damages one can recover.  In Maryland in particular, there is the so-called Non-economic Damages Cap.  This cap essentially limits the amount one can recover for pain and suffering very strictly.  In 2008, a client of the firm obtained a verdict in excess of Ten Million Dollars and yet was limited to less than 10% of that amount because of Maryland’s Non-economic Damages Cap. 

It is important to work with experienced attorneys such as Clark & Steinhorn who are aware of the best ways to present cases to ensure that you can obtain the maximum recovery.