I recently Googled “how much is my injury case worth?” and got over 707,000,000 results! Some of the legal websites simply had attorneys say you should call them and they would tell you; others had “injury calculators” or “settlement calculators” and a few others just told the plain truth…no one can tell you what your case is worth, especially through a first phone call or meeting. Every case is different, even those that share similar fact patterns.
One lawyer’s website claimed the question was answerable, but not by a lawyer or an insurance adjustor… or even a judge. The question of how much a case is worth, he claimed, could only be answered by members of the jury. Now there is much truth to that statement but it confuses two distinct concepts… what an injury is worth and what a case is worth.
Let me give you an example. One of the most difficult and gut-wrenching cases I ever handled was that of man, in his mid sixties, who was struck by a car while crossing the street in a crosswalk. The injury was horrendous. He became paralyzed from the waist down. There was no question the driver of the vehicle, Juan Rivera, was at fault. I sent a letter of representation to Mr. Rivera’s insurance company and they replied with a letter that contained good news and bad news.
The letter stated they were ready to settle and included a check for $10,000 along with a “declaration sheet.” A declaration sheet is the insurance company’s proof of how much coverage their policyholder carried. This was around the late eighties when New York had a minimum insurance requirement of only $10,000 per accident victim.
Of course our office did an asset search of Mr. Rivera. It turned out that he was unemployed, owned no property or bank accounts… in other words, judgment proof! He had no assets besides his $10,000 insurance policy. As my client had been transferred from the hospital to a nursing home, I had the client’s wife come to my office to give her the bad news. As you might expect, she was very upset, even more so when I gave her a release for $10,000 I wanted her husband to sign.
That release remained in my client’s file and went unsigned for over one year. Finally the reality set in that there was nothing further to be done. My client accepted the settlement. Of course there was no way, in good conscience, I could take a fee on such a case.
Now, if you gave me the details of that accident and the resulting injuries, I would have told you it’s a million dollar case. If we had sued Mr. Rivera and a jury had made a decision, they undoubtedly would have returned a large award. My client would have had a piece of paper saying Mr. Rivera owed him millions, but he would never have collected one dime more than the insurance policy!
The lesson here is that an injury may be worth one thing, and a case another. So “how much is my case worth?” It’s worth as much as you are able to collect! If you contact a lawyer and he tells you he knows what your case is worth… he either doesn’t know what he is talking about or you have such a good case he is willing to do whatever he can to secure you as a client! Be leery!