I’m a personal injury attorney. We’re asked this question every day. The phone rings. We hear about a wreck, a tragedy that changed the caller’s life. We’re then asked the dreaded question: "What do you think this claim is worth?" The caller then waits expectantly while we try to explain that we have don’t (yet) have a clue.
Here’s what’s going through our minds:
1. The value of your claim depends on who was at fault:. If the "other guy" did something stupid (negligent) that hurt you, the law requires the other guy to pay your claim. Read that last sentence again: ONLY if the other guy did something stupid – and it hurt you – is the other guy responsible for paying your claim. I sometimes get calls from folks who hurt themselves – driving stupidly – and they want to know what I can do for them. The short answer is "nothing – you hurt yourself." They don’t seem to grasp that tort law (personal injury law) exists to right wrongs , not to hand out money just because somebody got hurt.
2. The value of your claim depends on how badly you were hurt: If you were hurt just a little, you have a little claim. If you were hurt really badly, you have a large claim. The duration of your hurt is also a factor. How old are you? Can you expect to have problems for another 60 years (until you die) or another 10 years (if you’re in your 70’s). Medical records and bills must be examined by the attorney before he can give you a ballpark opinion on what your claim is worth.
3. The value of your claim depends on whether there are resources to pay your claim: Even if the other guy was negligent and you are seriously hurt, there may be no insurance or resources to pay your claim. In other words, if the other guy has no insurance, we’ll have to file a claim against your own Uninsured Motorist (UM) insurance. Beyond that, you are out of luck. This is the foundation for the "deep pockets" argument. What attorney worth a hoot would advise a client to sue somebody who has no money to pay the judgment? Go ahead and scream about "only deep pockets get sued" – and the simple fact will remain that plenty of "shallow pockets" simply get away with hurting innocent folks like you.
4. The value of your claim depends on the jury: After the McDonald’s "Coffee In The Lap" case – juries across America got cheap. The insurance industry profited mightily while juries gave little or nothing to injured folks just like you. This truth is the flip-side to conservatives screaming for "lawsuit reform." That "reform" means folks can run over people like you – and not be held accountable.
Finally, I need to know about you. I need to know how the injury actually affected your life. For example, if my knee was hurt in a car crash, and it took one second off my ski-time, it wouldn’t amount to much of a claim. I’m a terrible skier. I scare children on the slope and (usually) end up rolling down the Bunny Hill. At the same time, what would one second be worth to an Olympic hopeful?
Or, if a wreck put a big scar on my cheek … it really wouldn’t matter much. Only my mother and my wife think I’m handsome – and I suspect they’d continue deluding themselves even if I had a big scar. Yet, what if you put that same scar on Cindy Crawford or Julia Roberts? See the issue? The value of any personal injury claim depends entirely on how it affects YOU.