This is the ultimate ‘frequently asked question’ in our practice. As an initial matter, your case is probably worth more than the insurance company is offering. It is in their financial interest to pay you as little as possible. From the moment the insurance company learns of the claim, their goal is to control the claim to pay as little as possible.
The full value of your case must necessarily include all elements that the law entitles you to recover. The law requires the responsible party to pay you the fair value of your property damage, your medical bills, your lost earnings and any other out-of-pocket expenses. The law also provides for a fair amount for the actual pain and suffering that you have experienced and may continue to have. You are also entitled to payment for any other intangible loss.
Each of these elements is further broken down into subcategories such as past lost earning and future lost earnings; a value for the medical expenses you’ve already incurred and a value that will fully cover all reasonably anticipated future medical expenses that you will incur.
A far more complicated, and ultimately far more important, set of losses and harms are those which you have personally experienced and may deal with in the future. These are usually referred to as “pain and suffering”. Certainly, the most important element in any case is the actual pain you or your loved one experienced. This is the element that will actually compensate you. Money for medical bills simply pays the doctors back for their work, money for lost earnings simply gives you your paycheck back. Money for pain and suffering is intended to cover the actual harm and loss that you have personally sustained and encompasses elements such as loss or impairment of the enjoyment of life, and loss or impairment of the ability to perform the usual daily activities of life. This will cover the routine daily activities we all engage in from personal hygiene, to negotiating the stairs, to driving. But it is also intended to compensate you for the unique activities you derive enjoyment from; whether that is fishing, golfing, playing ball with your son, or babysitting your grandchildren. The law recognizes that being robbed of the ability to engage in the unique pleasures of life due to an injury caused by another is a primary element of harm that should be compensated.
In turn, all the elements of damages in a case are influenced by a number of other factors. Is there a pre-existing injury? Was there a delay in medical treatment, or a significant lapse in treatment? Are there multiple defendants (such as in a chain reaction rear-end collision) pointing fingers at each other? Conflicting witness statements? A claim of governmental immunity or a waiver of liability? These are all factors that the insurance company will use if at all remotely applicable, with the goal of minimizing the value of your claim. Depending on the facts, these can all be legitimate defenses that require a professional on your side to address.
Further, all of the above can come crashing against the rocks of inadequate insurance limits. As an example, assume you have been in a car accident and have suffered injuries necessitating treatment of over $70,000 in medical bills, and have documented $12,000 in lost earnings. Assume further that you have uninsured motorists coverage of $25,000 available, you’re hit by an uninsured/uncollectible driver, and there is no other available coverage.
In this example, we have not even begun to explore what the full value of your case is, but we know the most you’ll ever get is $25,000. Obviously this doesn’t even cover your medical bills. Worse, if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance that has paid some of these bills, the current law in Ohio permits the health insurer to cut in front of you in line and be paid back in full prior to you getting a dime. In this example, if the health insurance had paid out $30,000, they will in all likelihood make a claim for that full amount, thus jeopardizing your ability to recover a single dollar. You need a professional on your side scrutinizing every clause in that insurance contract, every case coming from the courts, and every applicable statute to fight for you to insure that as much of that recovery goes to you as possible.
When it appears that there is inadequate insurance coverage, your attorney should conduct a full search for other sources of insurance coverage. Is there an excess or umbrella policy? Was the other vehicle owned by the same person that was driving it? Is there more than one household involved? Was the other driver on the job? If so, was he or she self-employed or working for a larger company? Driving a fleet vehicle? These are just some of the many questions that need to be addressed in order to verify that every possible source of coverage has been identified.
Finally, the earlier we are involved the better able we are to maximize your recovery. Clients often have to choose between missing work and getting the treatment they need. We can help with your employer so that you can get the treatment you need, when you need it, and the insurance company can’t later point to a “gap” in treatment to argue you really weren’t hurt. The simple fact is that you will be inundated with inquiries and papers to sign from every auto and health insurance company involved, and every provider you see. Signing some of those papers is necessary; while signing others can be devastating to your claim. The more missteps that are taken without attorney advice, the less likely an attorney will be able to secure you a full recovery.
Ultimately, the case is worth what a jury says it’s worth. There are many factors that go into determining the value of a case and ultimately the jury is a variable as well. An experienced trial attorney knows what issues the insurance companies will push at trial in an effort to minimize the value of the case in the jury’s eyes. Getting competent experienced trial counsel on board with your case at the beginning can help eliminate many of the issues that the insurance companies could push at trial. There’s an old saying that has been proven time and time again: Cases prepared for trial settle, and cases prepared to settle go to trial. If the issues an insurance company wishes to discuss at trial are eliminated, they are more likely to settle the case.
There are many factors that go into determining a value for a case. Some you have control over and some you do not. Two cases that appear to be very similar at first glance can have varying results. There is no magic formula for driving the value of a case but knowledge, experience, and hard work can influence the value. Please feel free to make an appointment to discuss the particular facts and value of your case.