Many clients want to know how much their case is worth. This question gets asked more often than not in the initial stages of the case and before all of the medical information is obtained. In such a situation, it is difficult to assess the value of the case. In fact, it is impossible to give a one hundred percent accurate answer to that question because there are so many factors involved in assessing the value of a case. Really, there are only two groups of people who can give a one hundred percent answer to that question, and those two groups are: (1) the employees of the insurance company who make the final determination of what they will pay without trying the case; or (2) the twelve (12) people sitting on the jury who ultimately decide the case.
How do we, as your attorneys, value your case? We look at many factors. First, we look at the liability issue. Who was at fault in the accident? If liability is clear, we can move straight to what the damages are and the value of the case. If liability is fuzzy, i.e.: maybe you were partially at fault, we have to take that into consideration. In Alabama, this is a huge issue. We are a contributory negligence state which means that if you are one percent (1%) at fault, you cannot recover for your injuries.
Once we look at liability, we look at your injuries. If you are still treating, we cannot begin to assess the value of the case without knowing the extent of your injuries so we must wait until the treatment ends or until the doctors can give us a good prognosis of your recovery or permanent injury. At that point, we can look at what your medical bills are to try to quantify what those damages are. This can be misleading because Alabama has abolished what is known as the “collateral source rule”. Consequently, the defense attorneys can tell the jury that your medical bills were paid by insurance, and we can only tell the jury that if they award a verdict, the health insurer must be paid back.
After looking at your medical bills, we look at whether you have a permanent impairment. If so, we look at your life expectancy and how long you will have to live with this permanent impairment. In some situations, we hire a life care planner to let us know what kind of costs may be involved in taking care of you or your loved one for the rest of your life. We also look at your lost wages. You should recover any lost wages you have.With respect to your life care and lost wages, we sometimes employ an economist to help us determine the present value of the cost of these damages with respect to inflation and taxes as well.
Finally, we look at any other costs you have incurred as a result of the accident. In addition, we look at past jury verdicts in the venue where the case will be pending as well as the venue itself. We consult with other attorneys about the venue, and we even look at what judges might be overseeing the case.
As you can see, a lot goes into attempting to value a case. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does give you an idea of the process.