How Is the Value of a California Car Accident Lawsuit Determined?
When you are injured in a California car accident, you may face overwhelming financial challenges. If you suffer any sort of significant injury, including traumatic brain injuries, damage to your spinal cord, severe breaks or fractures of bones, loss of use of one or more extremities or other severe injuries your medical bills can easily reach into six figures. Because most people who suffer these types of serious injuries are either unable to continue working or forced to seek other types of employment, this can result in pressure on a car crash victim to settle a personal injury case quickly often without the assistance of an experienced California car accident lawyer.
Auto Insurers Count on You Not Knowing the Value of Your Car Accident Claim
If you settle in auto accident with an insurance company without obtaining legal advice from an experienced California auto accident lawyer, it is virtually impossible for you to determine whether the settlement being offered by the other driver’s insurance company is fair. Because insurance companies know that non-attorneys are at disadvantage in litigation and lack the experience to evaluate a car accident claim, they frequently take advantage of unrepresented car accident claimants by exacting pressure to accept substantially less than the actual value of their claim. The insurance company is well aware that car accident victims face severe financial challenges and frequently relies on this financial coercion to persuade accident victims to settle their case for pennies on the dollar.
An insurance company will often try to persuade a California auto accident victim that there is a simple standardized formula for determining the amount of an insurance claim so it is unnecessary to obtain a car accident attorney. The insurance company adjuster may even suggest that retaining a personal injury lawyer will only result in a reduced net recovery because you will have to pay fees to your personal injury lawyer. This is a trap, and the insurance company is hoping you fall for this bad advice.
Evaluating a Car Accident Claim More Art than Science: Subjective Damage Factors
Experienced and skilled car accident lawyers know that proper determination of the value of an auto accident lawsuit in California is much more of an art than a science. There are many subjective factors that are relevant to the proper estimation of the value of a California car accident lawsuit. The variety and subjective nature of many of these factors make it extremely difficult for a non-attorney to accurately estimate the value of a California car accident claim. Some of these subjective factors include:
- Moral outrage created by the at-fault driver�s conduct
- �Likeability� of the accident victim
- Individual life experiences and impact on the victim�s quality of life
- Persuasiveness and advocacy of your personal injury attorney
- Closeness and quality of an injury victim�s marriage before and after the collision
This certainly is not an exhaustive list of the subjective factors that are relevant in determining the value of an auto collision claim in California, but what should be obvious is that these types of factors do not lend themselves to simply being plugged into an algebraic formula. The weight, relevance and impact of these factors are largely dependent on effective litigation strategy and persuasive advocacy. This is why it is not realistic that you will be able to obtain a settlement or verdict on your own that will exceed that which an experienced auto accident lawyer would be able to obtain even after deducting attorney�s fees out of your recovery.
When an insurance company tells you that they determine the value of your claim by use of a mathematical formula, this is misleading. The insurance company will often multiply your medical costs by a factor based on the seriousness of your injuries. For example, the insurance company may multiply all of your medical expenses by 1-3 for minor injuries, 4-6 for moderate injuries and 7-9 for serious injuries. The insurance company adjuster may add to this total lost wages, property loss (i.e. vehicle damage) and make an offer to settle your case based on this calculation. Many car accident victims presume there is some validity to this method of calculating the value of a car accident claim and settle their case based on this simplistic approach to determining damages.
Key Types of Damage & Factors Comprising a Car Accident Verdict
Unfortunately, we see many car accident victims throughout California who make the terrible mistake of settling their case based on this simplistic calculation who are left with no long-term financial means to deal with permanent disability. There are many factors that must be weighed and many components that make up any damage award in a personal injury case that must be considered including the following:
Special Damages (Economic Loss): This type of damages includes actual quantifiable loss or costs including medical, hospital and rehabilitative expenses, lost wages, vehicle damage and future lost income. Even this more objective aspect of damages can be complicated to calculate. There is often substantial dispute over the degree that your future earning capacity will be impacted by your injuries. Experts like vocational counselors and forensic accountants are often necessary to litigate this portion of a damage calculation. Other special damages might include the cost to hire someone to help with household chores.
General Damages (Non-Economic Loss): These types of damages are often hard to quantify but are often greater in value. This type of loss includes items like pain and suffering, diminished quality of life and other intangible forms of financial loss. The persuasiveness and skill of your personal injury lawyer often is the most significant factor in evaluating this type of damages. The degree to which a jury understands the richness of one�s life experience and your limitations and pain following an accident will have much to do with the amount of damages awarded for this type of loss. Our California car accident lawyers often use the testimony of family, friend and the accident victim as well as high quality movies showing the victims life before and after the accident. These videos sometimes referred to as �Day in the Life� videos help a jury understand the degree to which an accident victim�s life has been impacted.
Loss of Consortium: This measure of damages compensates an accident victim for the loss of services or companionship of a spouse. This may include impairment in intimacy, emotional bonding, household tasks and a myriad of other factors that impact a marriage. The value of this aspect of a damage claim is also based largely on the effectiveness of the advocacy of your California car accident lawyer. The insurance company often will attempt to show that a marital relationship was strained to reduce the amount awarded for this type of damages. It is important to provide evidence that establishes a high level of intimacy, emotional attachment and companionship to maximize the value of this aspect of a damage award.
Punitive Damages: This type of damages is not appropriate in all California car accident lawsuits. Punitive damages (also called �exemplary damages�) are awarded when the conduct of a defendant in a California car accident lawsuit is particularly objectionable and either reckless or intentional. The purpose of this type of damage award is to discourage conduct that is particularly unsafe and inappropriate and punish the wrongdoer for undertaking such a course of action. Punitive damages awards often reach into the millions of dollars. However the jury will typically award a substantial amount of punitive damages only if they feel a sense of moral outrage and anger at the conduct of the defendant, which also means that the applicability and value of a punitive damage award is closely tied to the effectiveness of courtroom advocacy.
Other Factors: As indicated above, the jury�s relative opinions or feelings toward the parties in a California car accident often have a substantial impact on a car accident verdict in many California lawsuits. If a jury does not find an accident victim very sympathetic, this may make the jury less likely to be as generous with a verdict. By contrast, a defendant who is arrogant and has engaged in extremely reckless behavior like speeding and weaving through traffic while intoxicated may face a substantial verdict. The age of a car accident victim also impacts the value of a claim because the life expectancy of the plaintiff is relevant to the length of time that pain and suffering and diminished life experiences must be endured. The California car accident victim�s life expectancy will also be important to a forensic accountant when calculating future lost earnings.
Balancing Liability vs. Seriousness of Injuries: The degree of dispute around the issue of liability will also have a substantial impact on the preliminary determination of the value of your auto accident injury case. If liability is clear, such as when a drunken driver runs a red light and plows into you, the value of the case will be relatively high even with less severe injuries. If the question of liability is very much in dispute, your California car accident lawyer may view the value of the case more conservatively even when the car accident results in serious injuries. Our car accident attorneys will typically advance the cost of litigation and will not be paid if they do not recover. Because car accident lawyers assume the risk of spending tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation costs, they must weigh the likelihood of potential recovery against the amount of that recovery. This really is similar to making any other investment.
Defenses: The at-fault driver or other defendants in a car accident lawsuit case in California will also allege defenses that may impact the value of your car accident claim. For example, the attorneys for the other driver�s insurance company may claim that you contributed to your own injuries by not wearing a seat belt or failing to pay enough attention. This type of defense is called comparative negligence. If the jury accepts that you shared fault for the accident, your recovery may be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you. The value of your car accident case will also be impacted by the availability or strength of potential applicable defenses.
Our experienced California car accident lawyers zealously pursue the greatest compensation possible for our clients whether in Los Angeles, San Diego or anywhere throughout California. We have successfully represented thousands of California car accident victims in obtaining the compensation and justice they deserve. It is critical not to be fooled by insurance company adjusters who seem amicable and ready to help because their goal is to take advantage of the fact that you do not know the true value of your California auto collision lawsuit.
Our car accident lawyers provide thorough investigation of the facts, expert knowledge of the law, innovative litigation strategies, effective negotiation and persuasive advocacy. When evaluating the factors above so that we can provide a preliminary estimate of the value of your California car accident lawsuit, we also research past cases involving similar facts and injuries to provide the best possible estimate of the value of your car accident claim. We urge you to call us today to obtain an analysis of your rights and options.