The one question that I get nearly ever time a prospective client comes into the office to discuss their personal injury case is always “how much is my case worth?” This seems like a simple enough question, but in reality it is a complex question and the answer is based on multiple factors. Here are some of those factors:
- Your medical bills:
The first consideration in the value of your case is how much are your medical bills. This is generally the starting point for a damages award in personal injury cases. Of course, it is never that simple. Oklahoma, recently, passed a law that only allows for the amount of your medical bills that was actually paid to be considered in calculating damages and not the amount charged by the medical provider. So, for example, if you went to the emergency room right after the accident and the ER billed $5,000.00 for their services, but your health insurance only paid them $1,000.00 and the remainder was “contractually adjusted” or written off by the ER, you would only be able to claim the $1,000.00 that was paid for your personal injury claim.
- The extent of your injuries and the quality of your care:
As one would imagine, if you are more seriously injured, your case is likely to be worth more. For example, if you have broken bones or torn ligaments, your case will be worth more than if you just have whiplash or “soft-tissue injuries.” The reason for this is pretty simple, injuries that a jury can “see” are more powerful and, as a result, typically result in larger jury verdicts. Likewise, if you receive treatment right after the accident from an emergency room or you go to an orthopedic surgeon for intensive care or surgery, your case will be worth more than if you just went to a chiropractor and received a few adjustments.
- You waited to get medical treatment:
Lots of times potential clients will come to my office and tell me that even though they were hurt immediately after the accident and have been hurting for weeks or even months, they have still not sought any medical treatment. The reasons for doing this are rarely nefarious; typically, people just don't have the time to go the ER or simply believe that their symptoms will go away on their own. Unfortunately, waiting to receive medical treatment is one of the most common ways people cause the value of their case to decrease. Insurance companies look at someone that waited to get treatment for several weeks or months as someone that must not be very hurt – in their eyes, if someone is hurt that badly, they would have immediately gotten medical treatment. As a result, the insurance company is likely to discount any medical treatment they ultimately received or even to completely ignore it.
- Lost wages:
If you missed time from work, you are entitled to recover your lost wages under Oklahoma law. As a result, the amount of time you missed from work because of the injuries you sustained in the car accident typically has a direct correlation to the value of your case.
- The damage to your vehicle:
It may seem like this would have no relation to the value of your personal injury claim, after all these are separate claims and issues, but they are not! Insurance companies closely look at how much damage was sustained by your vehicle. If the car has very minimal damage, or by extension if the impact was minor, they will argue you should not have been injured. This is a very powerful argument – juries tend to look at pictures of vehicles with very minor damage and believe there is just no way someone could have been injured in such a minor accident. As a result, if your vehicle does not have extensive damage, the value of your case is likely to be less, regardless of your injuries.
- Who's fault was the accident:
Obviously, if you are at fault for the accident, your personal injury claim would have zero value. This is because insurance companies are only required to pay in situations where their insured was negligent and at-fault for the accident and for your injuries. This becomes a big issue when there are questions as to whose fault the accident was. In some situations, both drivers are partly at fault for an accident. When that happens, the value of the case goes down correspondingly.
Unfortunately, there are many other miscellaneous factors that can affect the value of your personal injury claim. For example, under Oklahoma law, the insurance company is now allowed to factor in whether or not you were wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident. As you can imagine, if you were not wearing your seat belt, your case will be worth less, because the insurance company can argue that you would not have been injured if you had been wearing it. Other considerations that attorneys typically have to pay attention to are your personality and likeability to a jury; the personality and likeability of the other driver; who your doctors are and are they good at testifying, if necessary; and even something like the relationship between your attorney and the insurance company's adjuster can affect the value of your personal injury case.
The bottom line is personal injury cases are complex and to maximize the value of your personal injury claim and to get everything that you are entitled to according to the law, it is in your best interest to get an experienced personal injury attorney working for you as soon as possible. Here, at The Cotton Law Firm, we offer free initial consultations, so that we can discuss the details of your particular case and give you the best chance to maximize the value of your case.