If you are reading this article, you have probably been in an accident of some sort, maybe a car accident, a bike accident, a construction accident or some other type of accident with injuries. You may have a lawyer or you may be taking matters into your own hands. Regardless, you are now trying to figure out what the value of your non-economic damages are, i.e., the value of your pain, suffering, disability and maybe disfigurement. Let me try and help.
First, let me try to get the bologna out of your head:
- There’s no such thing as a settlement calculator. For lawyer/law firms or anyone else who advertises this, they are snake oil salesmen. Run; don’t walk; run away from them.
- Beware of lawyers who will quickly give you monetary figures of what your case is worth on a quick phone call – the guy who says “I just handled a case like yours and got my client a hundred thousand bucks.” Run. Run quickly. Don’t look back.
- There’s no such thing as “three times specials” or “three times the medical bills” anymore. There used to be. There’s not anymore, not for a long time. Lawyers (or anyone else) who talk about multiplying specials or medical bills as a way to determine the value of pain and suffering are plain and simple, out of touch.
How much is my pain and suffering worth?
Potential new clients ask me all the time, “What is the value of my injury case, of my pain and suffering?” It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. My answer is usually the same, whether someone suffered from whiplash as a result of being rear ended in an automobile accident or whether someone was catastrophically injured as a result of medical malpractice.
I explain to them that the value of their case is based upon several things such as liability (what happened?). If you have two identical people who suffer identical injuries, one was in a car accident and one was in an airplane accident, the one who was in the plane accident probably has a more valuable case. Strange, but true. What happened matters, i.e., the nature of the event that caused the injuries is very important.
Location, Location, Location!
I tell them that WHERE the accident took place matters. For instance, take two identical people who suffer identical injuries, both in car accidents. If one happened in let’s say Cook County, Illinois and the other happened in Dupage County, Illinois, the guy with the Cook County case has a more valuable case. Cook County jurors are just more liberal than Dupage County jurors. Since how a jury would evaluate a case is different from county to county, location of the litigation, or where the litigation would take place if a lawsuit was filed, is significant.
Next, I explain that insurance coverage matters. For instance, if someone is in a clear liability car accident and the at fault driver carried only $50,000 in liability coverage. Let’s say the injured victim didn’t have any underinsured motorist coverage at all. Then, best case scenario, even with catastrophic injuries such as loss of limb, the case is probably worth no more than the insurance coverage, i.e., $50,000.
Lastly, I discuss the elements of damages. I usually write out what a jury verdict form would look like. I scribble:
Medical expenses (past and future) $_________________________________
Lost wages (past and future) $_________________________________
Pain and suffering (past and future) $_________________________________
Loss of a normal life (past and future) $_________________________________
Filling in the Blanks
I then tell the person, “Let’s fill in the blanks so we can figure out the value of your case. How much are your medical bills?” Usually, he shrugs his shoulders. I then ask, “Will your doctor state to a reasonable degree of medical and scientific certainty that you will require future treatment and how much that treatment will cost?” I usually get something like, “Huh?” At that point, the potential client usually has realized by now that calculating dollar amounts for pain and suffering is quite complicated and stops looking for magic answers about how to calculate pain and suffering amounts. In general, the more the medical bills and lost wages, the more you can get compensated for pain and suffering. Usually, but not always.
There are no books out there… but there is Colossus
There are no books that exist that say, a case involving a broken arm is worth $50,000 and a case involving a broken leg is worth $60,000 and a case involving a broken neck is worth $100,000. I wish there was but there is not and there never will be (unless some joker with no conscience is looking to make a profit I guess). Some insurance companies use computer software to determine value (called Colossus) but it’s not very good in my opinion and better off the subject of a different article.
Now of course there is precedent out there. Most types of accident and injury cases have happened before and injury lawyers with solid experience generally know if a case has value worth taking. Think about it – Would a contingent fee lawyer (a lawyer who only gets paid if he obtains money for you) take a case if he thought it didn’t have value? Since decent personal injury lawyers are contingent fee lawyers who generally advance the costs associated with pursuing a personal injury case, if he takes your case, he thinks it has value. Exactly how much value is another question.
The big picture is that every accident, injury and thus settlement is different.
The point I’m trying to make here is that calculating the value of things such as pain and suffering or even the value of entire personal injury case is somewhat complex. There are many factors, some mentioned in this article and some not. Steer clear from folks who offer settlement calculators. Steer away from folks who are willing to give you case values without reviewing the evidence. Careful of the people who tell stories about a friend of a friend who got a million bucks for a sprained finger.
If you have a case, talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer with a track record of success, both in and out of the courtroom. You’re welcome to call me personally at and I’m glad to help you evaluate your case. Just please don’t take shortcuts, don’t go to snake oil salesmen or look for magic answers. You deserve better than that.