HOW MUCH IS MY CASE WORTH?
One of the most common questions people ask me is "how much is my injury case worth?"
The answer to this question is far more complex than many people realize and involves multiple elements that affect the value (and success) of a case.
- Before we can evaluate the value of a case, we have to determine if will be successful. Illinois courts apply the doctrine of comparative negligence to negligence cases. This means that if the plaintiff or claimant (the injured party) is more than 50% at fault for his or her own injuries (as determined by the "trier of fact," also known as the jury or judge), that party loses automatically. A good example of this is when a person turns left in front of oncoming traffic. While the person may be horribly injured, there may very well be no recovery from the parties who struck him or her, due to the fact that the left turning vehicle has the legal duty to wait for the intersection to clear prior to proceeding.
- If the injured party is 50% or less at fault, their victory recovery is reduced by their percentage of fault. This is often the case when a person trips or slips on a floor and the judge or jury determines they should have been more careful.
- Once we assess the liability angle, we move to what damages are available. These can be quickly summarized as the following:
- Medical Expenses--the injured person is entitled to the entire amount of their bills that are reasonably and causally related to the incident and are determined to be reasonable and customary. A $10,000 MRI probably will not be considered fair and reasonable, much as a hospital visit for the first time a year after an auto crash would likely not be deemed related.
- Future Medical Expenses--if there is medical testimony that the person will require future care and treatment, this can be an element of compensable damages sought.
- Pain & Suffering--just what it sounds like; the pain and discomfort of the injuries sustained. These often are looked at through the prism of "how long" and "how bad." A person who could not use his hand to pick up objects for 3 months will likely garner more damages for P&S than one who merely claims "it hurt a bit" to use that hand for a day or so.
- Loss of a Normal Life-this element mostly deals with things you "cannot do at all anymore" or "could do but had pain doing" following the incident. Most of the time, it is important to compare and contrast the injured person's activities prior to the injury with those afterwards. For an active person who ran marathons and worked a job requiring standing for 8 hours a day and heavy lifting who injured her back in a car crash, this would include the inability to exercise, stand up in the shower, lift her child out of a car seat, and the like. One of the most important elements of this section of damages is activities of daily living (ADL), because many people are shocked at how difficult it is to perform basic daily activities like shaving, putting on make up, sitting at a desk, carrying groceries, or driving, following an injury.
- Lost Wages and Income-If a person misses work following an injury, it can be compensable. This is especially true if there are doctor's orders prescribing that they do not work. Even if the person is paid sick/personal/vacation/short term disability while off, the value of these paid days is still recoverable.
- The most important factor in determining what a case is worth is the insurance coverage. There are, unfortunately, many cases involving horrific injuries where the person who caused the incident had minimal insurance and no personal assets. In these cases, the injured person might have what is known as an Underinsured Motorist (UIM) claim for the difference between the tortfeasor's (person who caused the incident) insurance limits and their own. Illinois is a mandatory insurance state. While this sounds good on paper, it means that there may be people insured with liability limits as low as $25,000 per person per incident. A fractured leg with surgery alone can generate bills alone far in excess of that amount!
This just touches the major factors that go into the valuation of an injury case. There are easily hundreds more, and the insurance companies know all of them and how to exploit them in their favor to limit your recovery.