People are uncomfortable talking about money. Judges, juries, lawyers, and clients are all uncomfortable talking about money. Society tells us that such talk is impolite. Maybe society is right. But the very purpose of our legal system in personal injury cases is to fairly compensate the injury victim for his/her injuries with money damages.
Accordingly, the goal of a Missouri personal injury lawyer is for the client to be monetarily compensated for his/her injuries. Because compensation is our lawyers’ goal, discussion of the value of your personal injury case is necessary. Accordingly, accident and injury lawyers need to move past this social custom and discuss the issues related to the value of your personal injury case. Accident and malpractice victims should have honest and detailed discussions with their personal injury lawyer about the settlement value and trial value of your personal injury accident or medical malpractice case. Ultimately, the question is quite simple: what is the value of my case?
Values of Serious Personal Injury Cases
Predicting the trial value or even settlement value of a serious personal injury case with precision is difficult. There are many factors that can affect the value of a case. Assuming the insurance company believes, based on past experience, that your personal injury lawyer is ready, willing and able to go to trial, the settlement value of a serious injury case is a prediction of what twelve Missouri jurors will believe your claim is worth because serious injury cases in Missouri invariably are decided by juries. The jury decides how much money to award you for your injuries. Accordingly, different juries will arrive at different verdicts under the same set of circumstances. Jurors bring with them, just as all of us do, their own personal biases that can either help or hurt you. Accordingly, this unpredictability leads to a wide range of results. So for settlement purposes, the accident lawyers and insurance companies take an average of what they believe a jury would award. If they generally agree on what that average is, the case will typically settle if the client agrees.
One fact of life in determining the settlement value of a personal injury case is that the value increases over time. More than 90% of the time, the value of a Missouri injury case will increase from the time before suit is filed to the time of (or day before) trial. Our accident lawyers have had cases where the pretrial offer was 20 times the pre-suit offer. This is particularly true in medicalmalpractice cases which are virtually impossible to settle without filing a lawsuit. In other injury cases, we have settled cases for hundreds of thousands of dollars when the pre-suit offer was zero. Our lawyers present the facts to the client, narrowly tailored to their specific case, and let our personal injury clients make the call whether to proceed or to continue to move forward with the litigation process.
The Factors That Matter in Personal Injury Cases
You need to discuss with your lawyer the specific facts of your personal injury case, the possible defenses that may be asserted by the defendant’s lawyer, and come to a conclusion about the value of your case. This discussion will also include the severity of the injuries you suffered, the amount of available insurance, how clear the causal connection is between your injuries and the accident, how strong your liability case is, the quality of all of the witnesses, and the expected jury perceptions of you and the defendant (a Missouri jury is not told in a personal injury trial that the defendant has an insurance policy).
This discussion with your lawyer will also include analysis of the venue where the case is being tried. In Missouri, the City of St. Louis is a favorable venue for plaintiffs. Conversely, in more rural areas of Missouri, such as Boone County or Monroe County, for example, the jury awards are more conservative. This is true not just in Missouri but throughout the United States — jury awards are typically higher in urban areas than in rural areas.
Value of Smaller Personal Injury Cases
It is not difficult to predict the settlement value of a smaller personal injury case in Missouri where the injuries are not substantial. Cases in Missouri where the value of the case is less than $25,000 cannot be predicted with exact certainty but an experienced injury lawyer in Missouri can predict the value to a reasonable degree of confidence within a relatively narrow range. Accordingly, if you know the amount of lost wages, the injuries, and the way the injured client will appear at trial, a seasoned Missouri accident lawyer familiar with the particular county where the case is being tried can generally make a close prediction as to how the outcome might be on that case.
How the Insurance Companies Determine Value in Accident Cases
Typically, most of the insurance companies our lawyers deal with in Missouri injury cases use computer software to determine the value of car, truck, and motorcycle accident cases. Most use a computer system called Colossus, which is reportedly used by more than 50 percent of the nation’s claims insurance adjusters. Many other insurance companies use a similar program. The insurance adjuster inputs the data received from your lawyers, your medical records and the amount of your lost wages. Colossus then considers the severity of the accident and where the accident occurred (or where suit could be brought). Colossus will give a higher value for a case in a venue considered favorable for accident victims, such as the City of St. Louis, than it would for the same case in, for example, Boone County, in Missouri.
Colossus and its progeny consider whether your accident lawyer has a history of successfully taking trials to verdict in Missouri or whether the accident lawyer simply settles all of his/her personal injury cases. Both the computer and the insurance adjusters know which lawyers just settle their cases without even considering a trial if the offer is unreasonable. This is one of many reasons why the quality of your accident attorney matters so much even if you intend to settle your case without filing a lawsuit or going to trial. Colossus then specifically looks to your injuries as described in your medical records.
One of the most important questions is whether the injuries are permanent. Colossus also gives higher values for objective injuries (broken bones, herniated discs) measured by diagnostic testing than soft tissue injuries. It does give, however, values for muscle spasm (for which Colossus gives particular weight in cases without a defined objective injury), restriction on movement, radiating pain, anxiety, depression, headaches, dizziness, and visual disturbance. Colossus also gives greater value in accident cases where the patient went to the hospital for initial treatment of the injuries immediately after the accident.
Colossus takes this information and generates a range of settlement values for that accident case. While Colossus and similar programs do have some value, the problem with them is they cannot grasp the complexity of a human’s pain and suffering. There is no computer that can ascertain pain and suffering or how an injury really impacted a person’s life. How much is it worth to not be able to pick up your newborn baby without extreme pain? There is no way a computer can answer this question.
This is why your personal injury lawyer must fully explain why your injuries are different or be prepared to file a lawsuit. When your accident lawyer files a lawsuit, the insurance companies will sometimes take a second look at the real trial value of the case, particularly when they know that the accident lawyers handling the case are willing to go to trial. While Colossus cannot appreciate pain, suffering and the true impact of the injury on the victim, judges and juries tend to listen to and consider many of the factors that Colossus ignores because it does not understand them. It is only a formula. Juries make distinctions on how much your case is worth based upon whether or not they think the plaintiff is an honest, good person who has suffered as a result of their injuries.
Clearly, the true value of the same injury can vary widely. If your injury is a scar on your face, the value a jury will place on the scar is going to depend on the Plaintiff. Sex, age, pride in appearance, all of these things are going to matter in determining value. The same goes for ankle and leg injuries where the victim can no longer run. If you are a couch potato, the value is different for you than for the client who can tell a jury they ran a marathon or played soccer every week in the yard with their kids just two years ago. These details matter to every juror but the computer tunes them out completely.
In reality, juries are in many ways the opposite of Colossus because juries respond to human pain and suffering. A jury may not award damages based on the nuances of a C4/C5 cervical (neck) herniated disc injury, but it will award damages because Mom used to be a shopaholic for her three kids at Christmas time but now cannot get off a bench at the mall because her neck hurts too much when she walks. A computer cannot understand this kind of impact and never will. The very purpose of a jury in our legal system is to take these types of intangibles into consideration to render a fair verdict.
Our Missouri personal injury attorneys handle accident, product liability and malpractice cases in Missouri and, in particularly serious cases, throughout the country. If you have been injured by a defective product, medical malpractice, or a truck accident, car accident, or motorcycle accident, call to speak to one of our malpractice or accident attorneys at 314-270-2273 for a free no obligation consultation.