When clients come to see me shortly after having been involved in an accident, I am often asked what the value of the case is. This is a legitimate question, but one that is very difficult to answer early on. It becomes an easier question to answer as time passes. Let me explain.
Every personal injury case has two basic parts. The first part is liability, meaning who is at fault for the accident. The second part is the damage resulting from the accident. When a client first comes to see me, I need to learn about how the accident happened and who may be at fault. Sometimes it is easy to assess the liability, but other times it is more difficult. In a simple rear-end car accident; liability for the accident almost always rests with the driver that hits the other vehicle from behind. In fact, under Florida law there is a presumption that the rear-ending driver is at fault. In other types of cases, however, liability may be more difficult to determine. Photographs of the accident scene, including skid marks, may need to be analyzed and witness statements may have to be obtained before a clear picture of how the accident occurred can be made. It is not uncommon to have to hire an expert; often times an engineer, to take all of the available information, analyze it and have them issue a report with opinions regarding the cause of the accident. In products liability cases the product that caused the accident may have to be examined and taken apart by an expert to determine if it failed or if there was some inherent design defect with the product. This process can take months before it is completed. Therefore, depending on the type of case you have, the question of who was at fault for an accident may not be able to be answered early on and, therefore, the value of your case may not be able to be determined early on.
Likewise, the damages resulting from an accident are often difficult to determine early on. Some people recover from an injury better than others. It is difficult to know early on what the cost of medical care will be for someone into the future. Often the need for surgery, which significantly impacts the value of the case, doesn’t arise until months of conservative care fails to improve the patient’s condition. Injuries affect people differently and even the same injury can have a significantly different impact on one person’s life than another. For example, if I am hurt due to someone else’s negligence and I lose the tip of one of my fingers, the impact it has on my life will be far different than the impact it would have on the life of a professional baseball player or a professional violinist. If I lose the tip of a finger I can still practice law and do most of the activities of daily living I need to complete. The impact the injury will have on my ability to earn a living as a lawyer will probably be modest or nonexistent. Not so for the professional baseball player or professional violinist. The injury may prevent them from ever practicing their chosen profession again and could result in the loss of millions of dollars of income.
Another consideration in determining the value of the case is the insurance coverage that is available from the at fault party. Until this information is obtained, it is difficult for a lawyer to accurately value the case. Unfortunately, I have been involved in many cases where the liability is clear, the damages are significant, but there is very limited insurance coverage. Generally speaking, trying to get money from someone personally, over and above their insurance coverage, is a very, very difficult task, and even though in the case may have significant value, ultimately the recovery will be limited to the amount of the insurance coverage. It can sometimes take up to several months to learn the amount of coverage a potential defendant has.
Just as every person is different, so is every case. Evaluating a case early on is a very difficult thing to do and the valuation made by a lawyer early on can quickly change as time passes and the facts of the case are more fully developed. When someone is injured, physicians usually agree that it can take at least six months for the injury to improve and stabilize. Until that time, a doctor will have a very difficult time making an accurate prognosis for the future. A lawyer’s valuation of a case is very dependent on the prognosis given by a doctor for a patient. Therefore, if the doctor’s prognosis is tentative because the patient hasn’t had time to recover, a lawyer’s valuation of a case based upon this prognosis is very iffy.
If you have been involved in an accident and you need help with your claim, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of The Law Office of Eric H. Luckman, P.A. at (561) 867-6010