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By Rex Bush
‘What is my case worth?’ is a question clients often ask their injury attorney.
Here are eleven questions you need to ask and answer to properly value your claim.
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF YOUR INJURIES?
This is the most important factor. If you have a serious injury that has a big effect on your life you should expect more compensation than someone who has a minor injury that heals up quickly.
A disc herniation that may require surgery is more valuable than a herniation that won’t require surgery. And, a herniated disc is more valuable than a mere bulge.
The job of an injury attorney is to take your case and do his best to find out all your injuries and make sure they are properly diagnosed and treated.
ARE THERE PREEXISTING CONDITIONS?
Under law you are entitled to the fair value of the aggravation of your preexisting conditions.
However, if your preexisting conditions were “asymptomatic” (no pain or other symptoms) then you are entitled to compensation for pain and disability when the accident ‘lights up’ those conditions.
In ancient England there was a man with a paper thin skull. Another man accidentally struck him on the head causing serious injury. The courts said to the at-fault person: ‘tough luck, it doesn’t matter that you did not know of his vulnerable condition, you take your injured person as you find him’.
HOW MUCH ARE YOUR MEDICAL BILLS?
In the old days (20 years ago) case valuation was easy: you totalled up the medical bills and multiplied them by three and that was the value of the case.
Those days are gone.
The system got abused by people who ran up bills artificially. Insurance companies caught on and today no longer will automatically pay ‘three times meds’.
Still, the amount and the nature of your medical bills are factors. Surgery bills (so-called ‘hard meds) carry more weight than diagnostics. Chiropractic bills have value but not as much as those from an M.D.
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE ACCIDENT?
If your car was rear-ended by a tractor trailer driver with a blood alcohol level of .08 your case is going to be more valuable than if you were hit by a sober off duty nun driving a Chevette.
If the at-fault person was on the job it tends to add value.
On the other hand, slip and fall cases, by and large, tend to bring a lower value than the same injuries incurred in a clear liability auto accident case.
DO YOU HAVE LOST INCOME?
You have a right to be paid the full value of lost wages or other income that was caused by the accident.
But you have to prove it and if you haven’t filed tax returns for the last ten years even the finest injury attorney is going to have a hard time getting the money for you.
The reasonable value of future lost income that you can prove is also yours to claim.
WHO IS THE INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE PERSON AT-FAULT?
Some insurance companies are more generous than others and insurance companies go through phases.
State Farm was the least generous at one time. Then Allstate tightened up on the purse strings. Farmers was the last of the big three to see an end to a very generous era. Progressive has followed suit in recent years.
The number of insurance companies that can really be considered generous have grown small in number.
WHAT ARE THE POLICY LIMITS OF THE PERSON AT-FAULT?
Policy limits are a factor too. Even if your injuries are very serious, if the at-fault driver has minimal limits (25K here in Utah) then all you are going to get is 25K from his carrier.
You aren’t going to go after him personally, no matter how rich he is. From experience, I can tell you: you just won’t do it.
An experienced injury attorney can make sure that the settlement for policy limits with the other carrier does not preclude your right to bring your claim for underinsured motorist benefits.
WHAT ARE YOUR UNDERINSURED MOTORIST POLICY LIMITS?
Once you’ve recovered the policy limits from the other driver you will want to make a claim on your own underinsured motorist coverage.
If you’ve planned wisely you’ll have very high underinsured limits. That way you can make a claim for and get fully compensated for the full extent of your injuries from your underinsured motorist coverage.
If, on the other hand, you’ve gotten the cheapest insurance you could get, then your underinsured motorist coverage may be $10,000 or less.
An experienced injury attorney can sometimes uncover more than one available policy to tap into so as to maximize your recovery.
WHAT ARE YOUR UNINSURED MOTORIST POLICY LIMITS?
If the other driver was uninsured you must look to your own policy to recover for bodily injury caused by an uninsured motorist.
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT MONEY AND GETTING COMPENSATED FOR YOUR INJURIES?
If you’ve watched or read ‘The Secret’ this won’t be much of a stretch for you but the fact is that your attitude about your case, yourself and money are factors that determine the outcome.
If you don’t believe in your case it is going to be tough for any injury attorney to get fair value for you. If you have a hard time accepting money, once again the attitude will reflect in the case result.
If you have a personal injury case, this would be a great time to explore how you feel about yourself and money.
Most people are in delusion about their true feelings on money. If you are not already a millionaire, you have some negative money feelings holding you back.
If you have feelings of low self-worth or of not deserving money this would be a great time to release them. Many great tools exist to help you though this.
WHAT WOULD A JURY AWARD IN YOUR JURISDICTION?
What a jury would award is the gold standard. Both sides are considering their experience with and knowledge of local verdicts while negotiating a settlement.
Let’s face it 99.9% of injury cases are settled short of trial. But those few that go to trial have a huge effect on the settlement values of the other cases.
Here is a simple way I’ve developed over the years, as a personal injury lawyer in Utah, that works quite well to help a client develop a sense of the worth of his case.
Imagine you are on a jury in the county where the accident happened. You and seven others are deciding the value of a personal injury case that involves your exact injuries, treatment and medical bills.
What would you and the seven others award that person?
I have used this approach time and again with clients and, amazingly, the numbers they come up with are actually quite close to the value I put on the case.
Try this exercise. Then compare your valuation with that of an experienced personal injury lawyer. You just might find that your value and his are not that far apart.
There you go, some, but definitely not all, of the factors that influence the amount of compensation that you will be able to get on your injury case.
About the Author: Rex Bush is founder of Bush Law Firm near Salt Lake City, Utah where he handles personal injury cases in Utah and throughout the United States and Canada. For more information on personal injury issues visit his website: Utah Injury Attorney
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