This is a very common question that we get from our potential new clients and our current clients. It is also one of the most difficult questions to answer. In the end, your car accident case is worth what a jury will award you at trial. But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it?
Car Accident Basics
Before I discuss what your car accident case is worth, I want to walk you through a few things when it comes to car accidents. Some “rules of the road,” if you will.
We Always Prepare as if We Are Going to Trial
The first thing you need to understand is that we always anticipate that your case is going to trial. We NEVER bet on the fact that your case will settle. If we expected every case to settle, then we wouldn’t be diligent in our work and could find ourselves unprepared in the event the insurance company decides not to pay what your case is worth.
Our due-diligence-never-settle attitude means that from day one, my firm will work hard to make sure we have all the facts necessary to prove that you were not at fault for the wreck. We will also conduct a thorough investigation to ferret out facts and evidence that establishes that the defendant was negligent (aka at fault). When we refer to the “defendant,” we mean the person who caused the wreck, not his or her insurance company. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to, we cannot sue the insurance company for the person who caused the wreck, we have to sue the individual. This is because Texas is not a “direct action” state. It is important that you understand that we are suing the at-fault driver, but it will be his insurance that is paying any settlement or judgment (a judgment comes after trial a settlement comes before). The reason why will be discussed later.
Most Cases Settle
Now, all that being said about investigation, and direct versus non-direct action states, you should be relieved to know that 90% of all car accident cases settle before going to trial. Some cases, say 20% or so, settle before suit is filed. However, the majority requires a lawsuit to be filed before any “real” money is offered. If you see a firm representing a higher pre-suit settlement statistic, you should be wary. Pre-suit settlements typically mean less money to the client. But, just because a suit is filed doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to trial. Again, to reemphasize, most car wreck cases settle before trial.
Car accident lawsuits often settle at something called mediation. Mediation is a fancy word for “settlement conference.” The mediation will typically be conducted after both parties have had an opportunity to depose the witnesses and review all the evidence, including the Plaintiff’s medical records and billing records. However, sometimes an insurance company will propose an “early” mediation, meaning suit was just filed or is about to be filed and they want to see if they can get the case settled without spending a lot of money on insurance defense attorneys’ fees.
Regardless of when it occurs, the mediation will typically take place at a neutral, third party location – usually the mediator’s office. A mediator’s job and duty is to get the case settled. While a mediator doesn’t have to be a lawyer, we prefer all our cases be mediated by a mediator who is or was a lawyer who practiced the same type of law involved in the case he or she is mediating. The typical players at a car wreck mediation are you, your attorney, the defense attorney and the adjuster for the defendant’s insurance company. Remember, the insurance company decides how much to pay on your claim, so typically the defendant doesn’t attend the mediation. On rare occasions, when the defendant is a company, a representative from the company will attend the mediation.
A mediation typically begins with an opening session which means that all the players meet in one big room and begin by exchanging “pleasantries.” We then begins by telling your side of story, including how the wreck happened and the harms and losses you have suffered. Following the our statements, the defense attorney will say a few things. Following the opening session, the parties will break up into different rooms where they will stay for the remainder of the mediation.
Once the parties are in different rooms, the negotiations begin. If no demands or offers have been made, the Plaintiff typically begins the negotiation process. If demands and offers have been exchanged prior to mediation, the party who made the last move typically does not make the opening move at mediation, the other side does. (Please note that Plaintiffs make “demands” and Defendants make “offers”). Regardless of who makes the first move, its typical that the first offer and demand made at mediation are far from what the parties will actually settle for. A lot of the process is a game to see what the other side will give or accept. Patience is a virtue at mediation. Demands and offers will be exchanged for the remainder of the day and the goal of the mediator is to find the final number from both parties that will get the case resolved.
Now, on to what you were really looking for in this article: What is My Car Accident Case Worth? Again, there is no bright line rule. But here are some factors that the insurance company will look at:
Factors to Determine Car Wreck Case Worth
- Paid or Owing (aka “Past”) Medical Bills
- This is usually the primary factor that an insurance company looks at when determining how much they will pay on a case.
- Often clients come in and tell us that they heard their case is worth two to three times the past medical bills. That’s not necessarily so. We’ve settled cases that resulted in less than two times the past medicals and tried and settled others that resulted in over one hundred thousand times the past medical bills.
- The insurance company will take a hard look at the “type” of medical bills. Insurance companies usually always give credence to ambulance and hospital bills (Who can dispute those right?) and give less credence to chiropractor and therapy bills. This is because insurance companies think people only see chiropractors and therapist in order to collect money. It’s hard for insurance companies to accept the fact that someone suffered neck, back or other spinal cord injuries. Jury’s differ on their views on chiropractic and therapy bills. Some juries will award all the bills, some not so much. Though, we have found that juries tend to be much less skeptical than insurance companies. Remember, if your case goes to trial, a jury determines how much a case is worth, not the insurance adjuster.
- Future Medical Costs
- Future medical costs are an important factor in determining the value of your case, but they have less teeth than medical bills that have already been incurred when it comes to an insurance company’s evaluation of your car wreck case’s worth.
- Like past medical bills, insurance companies value different types of future medical treatments differently. For example, future chiropractic treatment is usually given less credence by an insurance company than future surgeries. Juries have differing opinions on this issue, but we have found that no matter what the treatment is, juries will award future medical costs when they substantiated.
- Venue is the county where the case will be tried. Insurance companies keeps all kinds of statistics on venues. Insurance companies love to argue that Tarrant County is a conservative venue and Tarrant County jurors are stingy. While it is true that Tarrant County is conservative county (second most conservative county in the United States behind Orange County) we’ve found that Tarrant County jurors are great about doing what’s right. When someone has a valid, substantiated claim, Tarrant County juries seem to always do what’s right. Dallas juries tend to be more liberal and you can typically see an insurance company’s evaluation of a case rise in Dallas County.
- The Parties
- By the time mediation rolls around, the attorneys will have had an opportunity to size up the parties – i.e. the Plaintiff and the Defendant. Sometimes when you go to trial it just comes down to likability and credibility. Which party does the jury like more? Which side seems more believable? If you have a slimy, slick defendant who would insist that the sky is green no matter what evidence is put in front of him, his own insurance company is probably going to offer more money than they would if their client was Mother Theresa. Same thing holds true for the Plaintiff. If you have an innocent mother of three who can’t tell a lie, her case is usually valued higher by an insurance company than a three time felon.
- Pain and Suffering and Mental Anguish
- Three elements of damages that are typically plead for in a personal injury case are pain, suffering, and mental anguish. As a general rule, insurance companies value these elements of damages far less than juries. Typically, an insurance company’s case valuation is done by a computer program. Sure a computer program can calculate hard number like past and future medical bills, but it experiences a lot of difficulty putting a number on pain and suffering and mental anguish.
- Therapy and changes in life activities matter. Picture this. When an insurance adjuster sits down to evaluate a case’s worth, the adjuster sits in front of their computer and inputs data into a insurance computer program. After the data is input, the program spits out a figure, which is the maximum that the adjuster can offer on the case. When it comes to calculating pain and suffering and mental anguish, the computer can’t analyze you like a person. It can’t see the pain and suffering on your face or hear it in your voice. (Sometimes we feel an insurance adjuster can’t think like a person either, but that’s a different story). Now, the computer does accept some things though when it calculates mental anguish and pain and suffering. For example, did you have to go to cognitive or psychological therapy for your injuries? If so, how many times? Was it a psychiatrist (M.D.) or a psychologist (Ph.D.)? Think of each of these questions as a check box or a multiplier. A medical doctor usually gets you a higher multiplier number than an Ph.D. The computer also looks at things you could do before the wreck that you can no longer do or that you do with difficulty now. During your deposition, the defense lawyer will undoubtedly ask you, “Sir, can you please list for me the things that you could do before the car accident that you can no longer do or that you do with difficulty?” They ask as if you can list off the top of your head all the ways in which the wreck has affected you. It’s countless, right? Yet the insurance defense attorney expects you to rattle off all the items. Then, to make matters worse, after you’ve listed off all you can think of under the pressure of a deposition, the defense lawyer will say, “Is that it.” Well no, that’s not it. But that’s all you could think of at the deposition and therefore that’s the only factors the computer will consider.
In conclusion, the cards are stacked against you if you got at this alone. I’ve tried to provide you a road map to help you understand what your car wreck case may be worth, but ultimately I can only give you factors that are used to determine the worth. Of course, we always try to get the most for our clients. Shoot for the moon and hope for the best, we always say. But we also usally follow the age-old wisdom, that if both parties leave mediation unhappy or both aren’t totally satisfied with the settlement figures, then its probably a decent settlement.
How to Contact a Fort Worth Car Wreck Lawyer
If you like what you’ve read hear and you want to know more or you’ve been involved in an accident, feel free to give us a call at (817) 820-0100 or fill out a free case evaluation form online.