Value Of Your Automobile Accident Lawsuit

Whether handling an automobile accident settlement on your own or engaging the services of a lawyer, the time will come when you need to know the value of your case.  This is true whether you are attempting to settle the case with the insurance adjuster or the defense attorney, or whether you need to tell the judge or jury what the verdict should be.

There are a number of factors that go into determining case value—the reality is that every case is different and it can be a mistake to compare current cases to past cases.  Even a single difference, such as venue (what county the case would be heard in) can make a significant difference.

The Case Value Calculation

The calculation itself is simple, and most personal injury cases include the same broadly defined categories:

Case Value = Economic Damages + Noneconomic Damages

Economic Damages

Economic damages are those losses and harms that can be calculated with mathematic certainty.  In the average case, there is little dispute about what the economic damages are.  The dispute tends to be whether claimed economic losses were caused by the negligence.  In larger, catastrophic injury cases where an economist is necessary to however, the damages are sometimes contested based on the methods used by the economist to reach the present-day value of future expenses and lost wages.

Economic damages often include the following:

  • Past medical expenses
  • Future medical expenses
  • Property damage (damaged vehicle or equipment in a wrecked vehicle, for example)
  • Past lost wages
  • Future lost wages

There is no limit to the amount of economic damages a victim can claim in a lawsuit, unless he or she agrees to limit the amount (for example, by filing a case in the faster district court).

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages are the losses and harms that cannot be precisely determined.  The value given to noneconomic damages are dependent on the value that the judge or jury, after hearing all of the evidence, believes they are worth.  These types of damages include (both past and future):

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Inconvenience
  • Physical impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium

Settlement Value

The settlement value of a case is distinguished from the trial value because it gives something extra—security.  All parties to a settlement may rest easy knowing that the risks of trial will not be realized.  For a plaintiff, those risks include the possibility of a defense verdict or a verdict less than the settlement.  For a defendant, those risks include the possibility of a plaintiff’s verdict higher than the settlement amount, and litigation expenses.

The settlement value is, simply put, what two sides will agree on.  The settlement value of two cases that are identical in every way can be different if one factor is changed—for example, a different insurance adjuster.  From a plaintiff’s perspective, the settlement value could be said to be “the bottom line.”

Trial Value

If a victim is willing to forgo settlement (or, if settlement is not an option), then the victim will take the case to trial.  The trial value is the expected or possible value of a case at trial.  It is often used as bargaining power to change the other side’s position on the settlement value.  For example, a defendant in a medical malpractice case might try to lower the plaintiff’s expectations of settlement value by informing them that most medical malpractice trials are defense verdicts.  Likewise, a plaintiff in an automobile accident case could try to increase the settlement value of his case by arguing to the insurance company that case’s venue, a major urban City, is historically favorable to plaintiffs.

A Final Note About Value

The settlement value and trial value of a case should not be confused with the value of what the victim went through.  In many, if not most cases, plaintiffs would not take any amount of money to voluntarily experience their losses and harms.  This is particularly true for the most serious of cases—wrongful death claims.  It is impossible to place a realistic value on the loss of life, but there is no other recompense possible with our legal system.  A claim’s legal value is simply our best understanding of how people (judges, juries, insurance adjusters and lawyers), place a monetary value to real life situations.