What's the Formula to Settle My Case on My Own?
People contact us all the time, wanting to know what the "formula" is for settling a personal injury case. They want to know this formula so they can apply it to their own injury claim, and settle their case. Many people think there is such a formula, like "three times the medical bills," or something similar. Well, there really is no "formula" for settling personal injury cases. But here's the good news: there is a method by which personal injury cases are settled. In this article, I want to share that method with you. If this helps you settle your personal injury claim on your own, that's fantastic.
OK, so What's the Methodology For Settling Cases?
You have probably heard that most personal injury claims are settled out of court. Indeed, over 95% of all these cases are settled and never go to trial. Yet, the method for settling injury claims is based on one thing and one thing alone: how would a jury decide the case. How can this be?
Here's the deal: if an injury case is not settled out of court, it will be decided by a jury. That's the end game. So, let's take your injury claim as an example. If you knew what a jury would award you, then this would be an easy process. If the insurance company offered you the jury-decided amount or more, you would take it. If they offered you less, then you would go collect the higher amount from the jury.
The problem is that you don't know what a jury will do with your claim - how much they will award you, or even if they will award you anything at all.
Because of this, the entire methodology of settling personal injury cases involves a guess at what a jury is most likely going to do with your claim. I use the word guess, but most of the time expert insurance representatives and experienced lawyers do this work, so it's more of a reliable estimate than a pure guess.
If you don't have a lawyer and want to try to settle your own injury claim, here's what you need to know about how expert lawyers and adjusters come up with their reliable estimate. While the methodology I'm laying out in this article is what lawyers use, you probaby won't have the resources to be able to use every part of the method. But, this should give you some very good information that you will be able to use to try to settle your own claim.
1. Who was at fault in Causing your Accident?
Let's start with a motor vehicle accident. Sometimes it was clearly the other driver's fault, which will make this part of the evaluation fairly easy. Other times, fault is not so clear. If a police report was made, and a ticket was given to one of the parties, that helps the jury decide who is at fault. If the police weren't called to the scene of the accident, or they came but were unable to determine how the accident was caused, then your job becomes harder. You might have to hire an accident reconstruction expert to come up with how the accident occurred to show the jury.
One of the things a jury would decide is fault - and they can spread fault around if they want. They can divide it up any way they want, 50/50, 70/30, 90/10, 47/53 - any combination of percentages as long as they total up to 100%. What you need to know is this: whatever percent fault a jury puts on you, then your compensation is reduced by that percent. So, if a jury says you are 50% at fault and awards you $250,000, then you can only take home half - only $125,000.
Please note: I am using the term "fault," but the legal term for what you have to prove is negligence.
If your accident was not a car or truck wreck, then the fault / negligence determination is likely going to be more complicated. For example, it's often more difficult to evaluate fault or negligence in cases involving work injuries, offshore injury & Jones Act claims, and defective product cases.
2. What are your Injuries?
Orthopedic injuries are often categorized in to two groups: surgery cases and non-surgery cases. Surgery cases are almost always evaluated higher. If you had a different type of injury, the evaluation process is more difficult. This would include the following other types of injuries: brain injuries and burn injuries. Perhaps the most complicated types of injury claims to estimate are wrongful death cases. Those require many experts to determine not only what happened, but how much your economic and personal losses are. Wrongful death cases are very complicated and typically take a long time.
3. How Much are Your Medical Bills?
You will need to know how much your doctors have charged you so far. Also, it will be very useful for you to know whether you will need to keep seeing doctors in to the future, and how much that treatment will cost. A jury can award you compensation for these past and future medical bills (in our cases, we often hire a life care planning expert to support your claim for future medical treatment). How much they award you is highly dependent on the details of your case. Are your doctors credible and qualified? Do your doctors come across well to a jury? Are your medical records tidy and accurate, or are they a complete mess? How do your MRI films or other medical films appear? (Yes, a jury would be able to view these films for themselves, so it matters.)
4. Did you Miss any Work Because of Your Injuries?
A jury would have an opportunity to compensate you if you missed work while treating for your injuries - the term for this is "lost wages." They can compensate you for work not only that you have missed in the past, but also for work you may miss in to the future (in this situation, we always hire economic and vocational rehabilitation experts to support your future wage loss claim).
5. Do you have any permanent limitations from your injuries?
Some injuries heal up completely with medical treatment over time. Other injuries leave you with one or more permanent limitations. If your injuries leave you with one or more permanent disabilities, your claim will have a much higher value. Often, your doctors' opinions are going to help you substantiate such a claim. Examples of injuries with permanent implications include: injuries to the discs in your spine (often requiring surgery); spinal cord injuries such as paralysis; disfiguring burn injuries; amputation injuries; and head & brain injuries.
6. Other Important Considerations:
If you don't have a lawyer, the opposing party will take it into consideration and will try to get off cheaper because they assume you won't know the value of your claim. If you do have a lawyer, the insurance company will consider who your lawyer is when determining their offer. Hopefully you have an attorney with a lot of experience - if so, odds are your case will be valued higher. If you have a lawyer who has gone to trial on lots of cases and obtained great results for his or her clients, that will help get your case settled for a fair amount. On the other hand, if you end up with an attorney who has not set foot in a courtroom in years, and who has a reputation for settling all of his or her cases for anything the insurance company offers, then don't expect to get much on your claim.
If your injury claim has been filed at the courthouse, consideration will be given to the judge's identity. Some judges are known for being better for injury victims, while others are known for being more favorable for insurance companies and corporations.
The state and county where your claim would be filed (or where it is on file) matters as well. Some venues are better than others for someone in your position - this is based on the demographics of the county, which tells us the likely makeup of a jury that would hear your case.
Hopefully this information will help you settle your personal injury claim on your own. The truth is, if you have a relatively small claim, then you can probably follow the above methodology and get your claim settled. But, if you have a significant injury, you will be best served by interviewing some attorneys and then hiring the lawyer who you believe is best for your case.
I wish you the best of luck. If you would like us to give you a free case analysis, contact us and we will help you determine if you need a lawyer for your claim.