The loaded question that every personal injury client wants to know is: How much is my case worth? While you are entitled to maximum compensation for your accident, it’s not always easy to understand what that means in terms of actual dollars.
The ultimate answer is “it depends.”
No personal injury lawyer will be able to tell you how much your injury is worth at your initial consultation. To accurately value a case, many factors have to be considered based on information that isn’t available at the outset. However, the amount that your case is worth is generally centered around three elements— liability, damages, and coverage.
The first element of any personal injury case that needs to be determined is liability.
New York State follows the rule of comparative negligence — this means even if you’re partially at fault, you can still recover if someone else is also responsible for your injury. In such instances, your recovery will be reduced by your share of fault.
The circumstances surrounding the accident should be carefully considered in determining liability. How did the accident happen? Was it a clear cut rear-end accident that occurred when you were stopped at a red light? Or is liability murkier, such as in the case of a pedestrian who tripped and fell while talking on the phone, running, or after having a few drinks? In such cases, the injured party may also have been negligent.
In the above example, if the pedestrian did nothing wrong, they would receive 100% of the recovery from the party responsible for the accident. If the pedestrian’s actions somehow contributed to the fall and the sidewalk defect wasn’t significant, their recovery would be reduced by the amount they were at fault. This means that if they were found 75% negligent, they would only recover $25,000 in a case valued at $100,000.
There are many types of damages a client may recover in a personal injury action, but they can be broken down into two broad categories — economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are out of pocket costs that the injured party incurred, including:
- Lost earnings
- Future lost wages
- Unreimbursed medical expenses
- Future medical bills
- Loss of household services
Some types of economic damages are straightforward and don’t involve much litigatation, such as those involving past medical bills or lost wages. The same is not necessarily true for lost future earnings, future medical bills, or loss of household services, all of which are not concrete numbers.
If you’re injured due to the fault of another, you’re entitled to compensation for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. Pain and suffering damages can be awarded from the injury date to the present as well as for the accident victim’s entire life expectancy. Evaluating pain and suffering damages is often the most contentious part of litigating a personal injury case.
To value pain and suffering, an attorney will analyze the severity of the injury, how long it takes to heal, the plaintiff’s age, and how it affects the plaintiff’s life and livelihood. Prior injuries to the same body part must also be considered to ascertain whether the pain and suffering is attributable to the accident at issue or a previous one.
While most cases involve a defendant’s insurance policy and carrier, the amount of available coverage is critical in valuing a case. For example, if you have a case worth $1 million and there is only $100,000 in coverage, your recovery is limited to $100,000 unless the defendant has substantial assets.
Despite what you may read in the paper about multi-million dollar verdicts, the fact remains that insurance policy limits aren’t enough to cover the full amount of damages in many claims, resulting in plaintiffs getting far less than what they deserve.
While you can pursue an action against the defendant individually, they can always declare bankruptcy. Regardless, most defendants wouldn’t have enough assets to cover the full value of the case.
Even when the insurance coverage limits are adequate, insurance companies often base their settlement offers on a percentage of the available coverage. This is why it’s critical to have a seasoned lawyer on your side who knows how to find all the available coverage information concerning your claim.
Contact an Experienced New York Personal Injury Attorney
Valuing a personal injury case is a complex process — there are many variables in determining how much an injury is worth. We regularly secure millions in compensation for our clients due to our extensive experience, skill, and ability to properly value their cases.
Located in Manhattan, The Edelsteins, Faegenburg & Brown LLP have been handling personal injury cases throughout New York City since 1937. Call (212) 425-1999 to schedule a free consultation today.