This is often one of the first questions that I am asked. I understand why my clients want to know the answer. They want to know what to expect in order to plan accordingly. Unfortunately, there is no formula for evaluating a case and it takes some work to get to the point where an evaluation can be made. The insurance company has already tried to reduce case valuation to a science in order to simplify their process and estimate costs. This system ultimately fails because each case is unique.
That being said, I will explain some of the factors that go into the evaluation of a case. First, there must be money to pursue, which is generally insurance coverage. Timing is critical in evaluating a case’s value. The insurance company will write you a check for the case and then be done with it. You waive all rights to future litigation when you cash that check. Consequently, if you want to place a value on your case, then your treatment should either be done or it should be clear what your future treatment will include.
If you have gotten to the point where you know the extent of your injuries and treatment, then you are likely able to make an evaluation of case value. The gateway issue as to whether your case has any value is the issue of “liability” or legal fault. By “liability” I mean who violated the law in causing the injuries. Washington is a state which is strictly comparative fault which means that if you caused the auto accident then your judgment is reduced. For example, if you are partially at fault, 20% at fault, then you will recover 20% less than you would otherwise. If you are 100% at fault, then you will recover nothing.
As long as the other opposing party is at least partially at fault, there are two major areas upon which your recovery is based. First, you can recover for any “special damages.” Special damages include your medical expenses past and anticipated, any wage loss and out-of-pocket expenses. You can only recover for those expenses directly caused by the inappropriate act of the opposing party — e.g. person who caused the auto accident. (*Note: this is often an area where the insurance company will disagree with you).
The second area that you can recover for is the area of “general damages” or pain and suffering caused by the injury producing event. This includes the impact that it had on your life. Questions an attorney may ask are: 1) What activities did you do prior to the accident that you are no longer able to do?; 2) How has the auto accident affected your family/social life?; 3) Has your sleep been disturbed by your symptoms? This is just a sample of the questions that need to be asked. The key in this analysis is to look at all of the concrete things that you can point to that show the impact the injuries had on your life.
I have explained the basic factors that go into an evaluation. When I evaluate a case, I carefully examine all of the relevant factors and review those with the client. I am always open to a conversation regarding my valuation. If you don’t have an attorney, then this is one of the major roles of your injury attorney—knowing what the case is worth. Of course, the attorney must be able to then get that value if the insurance company refuses to pay it. If you have significant injuries, I would recommend that you speak with an attorney, get a proper evaluation, and have someone working on your side who can get that money from the insurance company.