I serve as counsel for a local homeowner’s association and there have been several times when the president of the board has asked me for my legal opinion. Before I can respond he jokingly says that he already knows my answer. He claims it is the same answer every lawyer gives no matter the question. The answer is, “It depends.” The same is true when a client asks me to give them a value on their injury case. There are numerous factors running through my head as the client or potential client is telling me about their case. Let me try to shed some light on the things I’ve seen that add or detract from the potential value of a personal injury case. Below is a list of the top five things that add to or take away from the value of your injury claim.
Number 1: YOUR LAWYER
I’ve put this at the top of the list, and I’ve used all caps. I hope that makes it clear to you as you read this that your lawyer is of utmost importance to the value of your case. Many attorneys are not providing their clients with the settlements or verdicts that their clients may deserve. I run into some attorneys who haven’t considered taking a case to trial in many years. No matter what the offer from the insurance company, these attorneys know at the end of the day, they have to settle, because there is no way they are going to court. Some attorneys are afraid of court. Some don’t like the risk of going to court. Others are too lazy to go to court. There are any number of reasons that attorneys don’t go to court, but if you have an attorney who hasn’t been to court in years, you can be sure the value of your claim is far less than it should be. The insurance company knows your attorney doesn’t go to court. The insurance companies are constantly tracking which attorneys will go to court on behalf of their clients. These are the lawyers who receive the larger settlement offers, because the insurance companies know that if they don’t make a fair offer then this attorney will be ready for battle in court. When you go for your initial consultation be sure to ask your attorney how often they go to court, and how successful they have been when they’ve gone to court. We regularly take cases to court and have only ever lost one injury case. Even in a very conservative area such as Western Maryland, which includes Hagerstown and Frederick, we have had some of the largest settlements and judgments in the entire state. Having an attorney who regularly goes to court and has been successful in the past, does not guarantee future success for your case. Each case is unique. However, your chances for success and a higher value settlement or verdict are greatest when you hire an experienced trial lawyer.
Number 2: Your injury/treatment
It sounds twisted, but broken bones and torn ligaments are worth more to the insurance companies than a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Why, you might ask. The reason is the broken bone or torn ligament can be shown visually, and to a judge or jury, it looks painful. A TBI rarely shows up on any scan. The same is true of any kind of psychological injury. There is no doubt that many seriously injured people deal with very serious emotional problems as a result of their injury, but how do you visibly show that? It’s much more difficult. There is room for the insurance company and their team of attorneys to put doubt in the mind of a judge or jury. No matter the injury, you should seek treatment immediately and follow through completely on the treatment plan laid out by your doctor. Long gaps in treatment, missed appointments, and failing to follow through on recommendations by your doctors will absolutely kill your case. You also need to review your medical records for errors or missing information. You would be amazed how many times I see glaring mistakes in medical records. My client may have an injury to his or her left leg and the medical report from the doctor is talking about the right arm being injured. It really can be that bad. Each time you go for treatment you need to make sure to disclose all symptoms you are experiencing, even if they seem minor or you aren’t sure that they would be tied to your accident (e.g., headache, bouts of dizziness, a change in your vision, a pain in your calf muscle or lower back, etc.). If you don’t constantly remind the doctor, you can be sure he or she will forget that your injury was a result of an accident and the insurance company will use those records that don’t mention the accident or your symptoms against you. Everything has to be in writing in your records or, when you get to trial, the other side will say, “It’s not there. Clearly, it didn’t happen or she/he didn’t have that medical problem”. You also need to be sure to tell your attorney of all medical appointments or treatments you have had during the past 4-5 years from the time of your injury, whether or not you believe that type of doctor’s visit is important to your case. For example, if you find you are having significant problems with your eyesight after a car or truck crash and have been visiting the eye doctor, your attorney needs to have that record, too. If you had any type of ongoing medical issue before your accident, your attorney needs to know that and have the medical records pertaining to your diagnosis and treatment. If your attorney is 100% in the know regarding your medical history, he/she will be prepared for any attack by the opposing side.
Number 3: Your damages
It’s all about documented proof when it comes to calculating damages. You need proof of your lost wages directly from your employer. This can be a problem if you aren’t tracking this immediately after your accident. I have also seen it become a problem with people who are self-employed. Bottom line is that you need to have clear documented proof of how many hours or days you missed from work and be able to have your employer translate that in writing to total wages lost. The same is true for your medical bills. It is best for you to begin collecting and keeping track of these bills as soon as possible. When you go to meet with your attorney take all the bills and records you’ve collected along with explanation of benefits paperwork you should have received from your health insurance. If you haven’t told your doctor about your injuries and symptoms and followed up with treatment you may be very injured, but your case could have no value.
Your medical records need to reflect:
- the injuries you’ve sustained;
- the symptoms that have resulted from the injuries;
- the cost for the treatment you have undergone; and,
- any future treatments or therapy the doctor believes you will need.
Plenty of people do not like going to the doctors and I can understand that, but you are killing the value of your case if you delay treatment or miss appointments. It is an absolute must for you to follow through with all treatment recommended by your doctor until you have fully recovered, and if your doctor isn’t providing the treatment or advice that you feel you need to properly recover, be sure to seek a second and even third opinion. You know your body better than anyone else.
Number 4: Your insurance company/the other party’s insurance company/how much coverage is available
The longer I practice, the less it seems to matter which insurance companies are involved. They are all largely terrible. I’m in my sixth year of practice, and Bruce Poole, the senior partner at the Poole Law Group, has been practicing for well over thirty years. Most attorneys who have been practicing for more than a decade tell me that they can remember that some insurance companies used to be pretty reasonable to deal with. Not anymore. Since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, beginning around 2008, all insurance companies have become awful in the way they handle their claims. It doesn’t matter if you are making a claim against the at fault party’s insurance company, or perhaps you have already recovered against the other party’s insurance and you are now pursuing a claim against your insurance company because the insurance coverage for the other party was not enough, you can be sure that you will be treated terribly. Personally, I find it most deplorable the way a person’s own insurance company treats them. You have an agent you’ve worked with for years, you’ve always paid your premium when due, you’ve been a model customer, and then one day you make a claim. You are now the enemy of your insurance company. They will do whatever it takes to deny your claim. They want to hold on to their money, which is really your money, for as long as possible. This way they can invest your money, earn interest, and only pay out the claim when they have no other option. Insurance companies are in business to take in as many premiums as possible and pay out as few claims as possible. It’s pretty simple. That’s how they make money. This makes their interest directly opposite of yours. They will call you a liar, claim you are faking, have you followed, track your activities on social media, hire their well-paid professional medical experts to examine you, and then issue a report that miraculously always finds that you aren’t really hurt. Those are just a few of the terrible tactics the insurance industry will use against you when you make a claim. So, no matter who you have for your insurance, you know you will be in for a 15-round fight and you need a good attorney.
The best thing you can do is make sure you have paid for high policy limits on your policy so that there is something out there for you to recover at the end of the 15-round fight. If you have the minimum state policy of $30,000, and you are seriously hurt, you are usually going to be completely out of luck. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make sure you have looked at your auto policy and increased the coverage to at least $250,000. The cost per year to increase your policy from $30,000 in coverage to $250,000 in coverage is minimal and it will make all the difference in the world when you are hurt.
Number 5: Your location
There is no doubt that the same case in Hagerstown, Frederick, or Cumberland is worth much less than it would be if it was filed in Baltimore City. Juries in Western Maryland are known for being very conservative. On the other hand, juries in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County are known for being very generous in their awards. In most cases, you will have to try your case in the area where you were injured. Your attorney can’t do anything to change that. So, what can you do about this as a client? You need to have proper expectations. The more rural the area where your case is being tried, the more likely it is that the jury award will be more conservative. Again, making sure you report and document all symptoms you are having at each appointment, following through with your doctor’s treatment plan, and tracking your bills and lost wages are so important to improving the value of your case.
Note: The factors I’ve included in this article are important because they will have an effect on a judge or jury if your case goes to trial. They are also very important to your case’s settlement value. A computer program with the name Colossus is used by most insurance companies to value your case. The value Colossus assigns to your claim depends heavily on the factors listed above along with many others that are too numerous to list. Insurance companies don’t see you as a real person with a real injury and real problems. They view you simply as a set of data to punch into their computer program Colossus. Many times, Colossus, instead of a human being with the ability to think rationally and reasonably, will be the one to value your case and establish settlement parameters. The factors I’ve outlined above are some of the most important factors considered by Colossus.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or if you or a loved one have been injured be sure to give the Poole Law Group a call at 301-790-3600. We are there for you when it matters most.