As a personal injury attorney, I am regularly asked “What is my personal injury case worth?” According to various self-help websites, the answer should be based on a formula: three times the medical bills plus lost wages. That answer is completely misleading, and should not even be used as a barometer.
Whether making a demand for settlement from an insurance company, or asking for money from a jury, it is important that a reasonable and responsible request is made. If you make a request too low, you will be undercompensated. If you make a request too high, the insurance company will refuse to pay, or the jury will misread the victim’s intentions.
When making a request for compensation, it is important not to just pull a number out of thin air. Various self-help books and websites suggest that a fair value for settling a personal injury case is to add up all of the medical bills and multiply by three, and then increase it by lost wages. For example, if you had $15,000 in medical bills, those sources suggest you should hope to settle your case for $45,000 plus lost wages. This answer could not be any further from the truth.
The flaws in this formula are obvious. It is not uncommon for someone in a truck accident to be taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room such as UC Davis, and undergo expensive diagnostic testing such as MRI’s and CT Scans, only to find out that they only have minor neck strains and are medically cleared a few hours later. It is not uncommon for medical bills from this quick hospital stay to run well over $25,000.
In contrast, it is not uncommon for someone that suffers a herniated disc that restricts their activities for the rest of their life to opt not to have surgery because of the high risk of failure. This person with a lifelong injury that did not go to an emergency room may only have $5,000 in medical bills.
Following the formula, the individual with a three hour hospital stay and no problems should settle for $75,000. Likewise, the person with lifelong problems should settle for $15,000. Obviously, this result is not proper.
To determine what a personal injury case is worth requires a careful examination of many factors. While those factors include the costs of medical bills, there are many other important factors such as: the extent of actual treatment compared to just diagnostics; the duration of the treatment; the invasiveness and/or pain associated with the treatment; the likelihood of pain or discomfort not only the near term future, but in the later stages of life; potential earnings losses; and how the injuries impact a particular persons enjoyment of life.
Besides calculating the extent of damages, valuation of a case must also be adjusted based on the likelihood of establishing fault upon the other person, as well as the economics of insurance policy limits, and/or collectability.
Just as it is not advisable to perform your own dental work, it is generally advisable to try and handle your own personal injury claim. Three times medical bills might be a great settlement in one case, and may be a horrific deal in another. Rather than just guess at the value of case, please contact myself or another personal injury attorney in our office for a free consultation.