FACTORS AFFECTING THE VALUE OF YOUR UTAH PERSONAL INJURY CASE
Our clients always want to know how much their personal injury case is worth. The answer is always the same: it depends. Every accident case is different. Each case involves different plaintiffs, defendants, liability issues, medical bills and future treatment needs, among many other factors. As a result, cases values can vary wildly, even for cases that appear to be somewhat similar on the surface.
Outlined below are many of the factors that may affect the value of your personal injury claim in Utah.
To get a free consultation with Utah’s top injury attorney regarding the value of your personal injury claim, call or text us at (385) 429-9960.
THE TIMING OF THE SETTLEMENT
The value of your claim greatly affected by whether you want to settle the case without going to trial or if you want a jury to determine the true value of your case at trial. The value of your personal injury case at trial is potentially much greater at trial, but going to trial comes with significant risks, including, among others, increased costs; long delays; and the risk of losing if a jury finds in favor of the defense.
WHO IS THE PLAINTIFF?
The settlement value of your claim depends on who you are. It matters a lot. Imagine if you were on a jury and the plaintiff who had been badly injured in a motor vehicle accident was none other than LeBron James. Imagine his injuries were such that he could no longer play sports or do endorsement deals. How do you think the value of his personal injury claim at trial would stack up to a mere mortal, like one of us?
Some of the factors that insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, mediators, judges and juries will look at when assessing the plaintiff are as follows.
Will the jury like the plaintiff? Is he or she a likeable person or is the plaintiff someone who will inherently rub the jury the wrong way?
The plaintiff’s age is a factor. If the plaintiff is too old or too young that can affect the value of the claim. The ideal age range for a plaintiff’s case value is 25-65 years old.
The plaintiff’s educational background is a factor. The more education the better. Better educated plaintiffs generally present better in front of insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, mediators, judges and juries and generally can establish more significant damages.
What does the plaintiff do for work? Does he or she have a significant income? Those could be critical issues affecting case value.
How solid is the plaintiff’s employment history? It is important. It tells insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, mediators, judges and juries something about who the plaintiff is and how reliable and trustworthy he or she is.
Appearance is important. Like everyone else, insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, mediators, judges and juries make decisions about people based off appearance. A well put together plaintiff can make a difference in case value, especially at trial.
The plaintiff’s prior health is also a factor. The value of a personal injury case is all about quality of life and how that quality of life has been affected by the accident. As a result, the parties closely dissect the plaintiff’s prior medical records. If the plaintiff had similar pain complaints prior to the accident, the defense will attempt to seize on those issues at trial.
Or did the plaintiff have pre-existing medical conditions that were asymptomatic before the accident, which then became symptomatic as a result of the accident? If that is the case, the plaintiff’s attorney will make sure the insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, mediator, judge and/or jury understand that the accident caused those pre-existing medical conditions to become symptomatic when they never were before.
Non-accident-related problems may also affect the value of a case. Has the plaintiff had health problems subsequent to the accident that are also contributing to a decline in his or her quality of life? Maybe the plaintiff’s life is worse since the accident, but the decline can be attributed to other health factors.
Has the plaintiff had any subsequent auto accidents? Subsequent accidents can create significant problems for a plaintiff’s claim, especially at trial. Defense attorneys will do everything within their power to convince the jury that the subsequent accident (not the original accident) is to blame for plaintiff’s injuries.
A plaintiff’s criminal history can also affect the value of a case. If the plaintiff has prior felonies, those convictions may be an issue, especially at trial. Do the felonies involve crimes of dishonesty? Those can be a big deal, especially if the jury is required to make a judgment call on whether the plaintiff is trustworthy.
WHO IS THE DEFENDANT?
This question is also an important one for insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, mediators, judges and juries, although generally not as important as the above-referenced factors regarding the plaintiff.
Is the defendant an individual or a company?
If the defendant is an individual, the same factors will be at play that we discussed for the plaintiff, namely the defendant’s age, educational background, appearance, employment, criminal history. As mentioned, those factors are not as important for the defendant as they are for the plaintiff, but they still can affect the claim.
Is the defendant a government entity? Historically juries have been a little wary of claims against government agencies like police departments, although some of that has been changing with recent events.
Maybe the defendant is an insurance company? Juries (like everyone else except defense attorneys) do not like insurance companies. As a result, if you can bring a claim directly against an insurance company it is likely to be well-received by the jury.
If your case goes to litigation, venue and jurisdiction of the court can be critical factors affecting the value of your case.
The venue of your case can make all of the difference. If your case is in federal court that will certainly affect the value of the claim. In Utah, federal court requires a unanimous jury verdict unlike state court. And it draws from a much broader jury pool geographically which makes it more difficult to have a good sense about what type of jury you are going to get.
Also, there is no right to voir dire in federal court, which can me a significant limiting factor at trial.
What about the judge? Does the judge limit voir dire? What kind of evidence does this particular judge allow in opening and closing? Does the judge have a bias for the defense? For plaintiffs?
Or maybe the case is in binding arbitration. Arbitration is quicker and more efficient but the awards are generally much lower.
LIABILITY AND CAUSATION
Liability and causation are also critical factors affecting the value of your case.
Is liability disputed by the defense? If so, do you have favorable witnesses? If liability is disputed and you have favorable witnesses, the case is even more valuable at trial than if the defense admitted to liability. Juries tend to return larger verdicts in disputed liability cases—assuming, of course, that you are able to prevail on the disputed liability issue. Once you do that, the jury is likely to reward you with a strong verdict.
What if you do not have any witnesses on a disputed liability case? That is difficult and could make your case tougher at trial.
What if there are witnesses but they are unfavorable? Attorneys are generally able to deal with one unfavorable witness. Two is much more difficult. More than two unfavorable witnesses becomes very tough to deal with at trial.
Defense attorneys love to fight over causation. Causation is a legal element of plaintiff’s injury claim, requiring the plaintiff to provide that the accident was the proximate cause of his or her injuries?
In defending the causation element of a plaintiff’s claim, the first thing defense attorneys look at is when the plaintiff’s symptoms first started?
Did the plaintiff tell the officer at the scene of the accident that he or she was “fine” or that “no one was injured.” Did the officer note any of plaintiff’s injuries or symptoms in the police report?
Did the Plaintiff immediately go to urgent care or the emergency room? If so, do those records reference the accident and plaintiff’s injuries or symptoms?
If plaintiff’s injuries show up early in the records for the case (i.e. the police report or ER records) that can greatly increase the value of the plaintiff’s case, especially if there is a consistency of diagnosis throughout all of the Plaintiff’s medical records from the first medical encounter following the accident to the last.
The quality and quantity of expert witnesses at trial is important in disputed liability cases. Are the plaintiff’s experts as good as the defendant’s experts? Do their opinions of plaintiff’s experts hold up on cross examination? Will the jury like plaintiff’s experts better?
Maybe one of the experts did not do reliable work and you are able to convince the judge to prohibit that judge from testifying at trial on a motion in limine.
Or maybe you can prove that one of the experts is nothing more than a hired gun who will say anything for money. Maybe the defendant’s attorneys have a long history of working with that expert because he will way what the defense attorneys want him to say because they send so much work his way.
Comparative fault can destroy a case at trial. Comparative fault looks at whether the plaintiff is also at some fault for the accident.
If the plaintiff has too much fault in a case it can be devastating. Juries generally do not like to award plaintiffs large sums of money if they played a significant role in the accident.
But remember in Utah, a plaintiff need only prove that the defendant is at least fifty-one percent liable to recover damages. So while a plaintiff’s comparative fault may affect the overall value of the claim, it does not prohibit plaintiff from recovering an award at trial so long as the jury determines that the Defendant(s) are at least fifty-one percent liable.
Are there any aggravating factors in the case? Aggravating factors can greatly affect the value of your case.
For instance, was the other driver distracted? Texting or otherwise using his or phone? Juries do not like distracted drivers and will increase the amount of the award in plaintiff’s favor at trial.
Was the defendant under the influence? Of course, juries are especially sensitive to accidents caused by drivers under the influence. If the defendant was impaired at the time of the accident, you can expect the jury to punish him or her with a substantial verdict.
These factors (distracted, texting, impaired) can dramatically increase the value of your personal injury claim by as much as 20, 30, or even 50%, especially at trial.
There are a few miscellaneous factors that could also play big at trial.
Did the plaintiff get too much medical treatment for his or her injury?
Or maybe not enough?
Was the plaintiff’s treatment self-procured or attorney referred? Defense attorneys love to make a big deal out of this one, suggesting to the jury that the plaintiff’s attorney is orchestrating unnecessary care. It’s not true, but defense attorneys will try to make a big deal out of attorney referred treatment.
Does the claim involve a workers compensation claim crossover? That can be a negative factor at trial affecting case value.
Does the plaintiff’s claim involve psychological claims? Anxiety, PTSD, depression, negligent infliction of emotional distress? Those claims are hard at trial and can be difficult to prove.
A critical factor affecting your case value is the amount of insurance available. You may have a great case, but if the party who injured you in uninsured, you won’t get very far. Or maybe the at-fault party has insurance, but the policy is a small one for only $25,000.00 Or maybe your own insurance policy applies, but it is only $50,000.00.
Alternatively, you may have a great case and the defendant has a $1 million dollar insurance policy. The amount of that $1 million dollar insurance policy significantly affects the value of your personal injury claim.
WHICH INSURANCE COMPANY IS INVOLVED?
Which insurance company(ies) are involved in your claim or personal injury lawsuit? Some insurance companies are notoriously more difficult to work with to achieve a fair result. Others are more reasonable in assessing the value of personal injury claims. The insurance company(ies) involved may greatly affect the final value of your claim.
If you would like a free consultation with Salt Lake City’s best personal injury attorney about the value of your case, call or text 385 429-9960. We would be happy to go over it with you in greater detail without charge.