1 – How careless was the defendant?
You have no personal injury claim unless somebody hurt you by being careless. The easiest cases to show carelessness are car accident cases. Why? Because immediately after they happen, a professional in the form of a police officer shows up, collects evidence, diagrams the scene, takes statements and demonstrates who was at fault.
2 – What if you have a bad injury but you can’t prove anyone was at fault?
We turn down hundreds of big injury cases every year because no one was at fault. The best and most common example is a certain kind of trip and fall at a supermarket. Let’s say you slip on the floor at a supermarket, break your hip and need surgery. However, you have no idea what caused you to fall. You saw nothing on the floor like mustard, water or a piece of produce-you just fallen. You don’t have a case. The store was not careless and did nothing to cause your fall. You just experienced an unfortunate event. Yes, you had a big injury with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. But there is no careless person from whom you can collect.
On the other hand, if you think you fell on water from a leaking freezer or some grapes that the store allowed to sit on the floor for more than 30 minutes, to name a few examples, you may have a great case.
3 – What kind of injury you suffered affects the amount of your settlement?
According to the Insurance Research Council , the biggest factor that determines the value of your case is your injury. Bottom line: the more severe the injury, the more you will collect. The average auto insurance bodily injury settlement in the U.S. for 2021 is less than $18,417 dollars.
Most bodily injury cases from auto collisions (car wrecks) are back strains or whiplash. These cases settle for the most part for under $25,000 dollars. Broken bones, torn ligaments, and cuts that require stitches and leave a scar obviously are worth more. As a general rule, insurance companies pay more for a broken arm than for a neck strain.
4 – Do insurance companies pay for what could have happened?
No. Often, when we talk to clients about what we think is the value of their whiplash case, they say: “But,I could have died in my wreck.”. That is true. But the law allows you to recover damages for what did happen, and not what could have happened.
5 – You have only a 25% chance to get a payout of $100,000 dollars or more for your Georgia or Tennessee personal injury if you don’t need surgery.
I looked at Georgia and Tennessee jury verdicts and settlements for the last ten years and here is what I found:
– In 75% of the cases with a verdict or settlement of $100,000 or more, the injured person needed surgery as a result of his or her accident. In the other 25% the victim did not have surgery, but—the injury victim either had a brain injury, a broken bone that didn’t require surgery and/or a lengthy hospital stay
6 – What kind of injury will result in a $50,000 dollar or more verdict or settlement for your Tennessee or Georgia accident?
So what kind of injury results in a payout of $50,000 dollars or more? Again, looking at Tennessee and Georgia verdicts and settlements, 59% of the injury victims that received $50,000 dollars or more broke a bone. The following are other injuries that resulted in a verdict of $50,000 dollars or more:
- A brain injury
- A herniated disc
- A serious eye or facial laceration
- Two or more tears to a ligament or tendon.
7 – Do medical bills have a big effect on a personal injury settlement or verdict?
In a smaller personal injury case, such as where your injuries are, bruises, strains and sprains, you may get more for the cost of medical treatment than your pain and suffering.
In cases with serious injuries, your pain and suffering damages will be higher than your medical bills.
In Tennessee and Georgia, the at-fault insurance company and the uninsured motorist carrier (if they are involved) must pay the actual billed medical charges and not the discount rate your health insurer pays. If you have and use your health insurance you walk away with about 50% more money in your pocket than if you didn’t use or have health insurance. Why? Because medical providers give health insurance companies huge discounts-those discounts go into your pocket.
8 – What happens to your settlement or verdict if you were partly at fault?
Any contribution your behavior made to the incident that injured you will reduce your settlement or verdict by the percentage of your fault. This is called comparative fault. In Tennessee and Georgia, if you are more than 49% at fault you will receive no award—$0.
One typical instance of where charges of comparative fault arise is in trip and fall or slip and fall cases. Insurance companies almost always claim that the victim was partially at fault for the fall by claiming he or she wasn’t watching where she was walking. Here is an example of a slip and fall where it is hard for the insurance company or corporation to claim the victim was at fault:
One of our clients was shopping at a local supermarket when she slipped on water leaking from a cooler nearby. You see, the grocery store had a white floor and water is hard to see on a white floor. When she fell, she broke her tailbone. We received a $50,000-dollar settlement and the grocery store did not argue that our client should have seen the water on the floor before she fell on it.
Most slip and fall cases are not as simple as the one above. If you bring a slip and fall or trip and fall case, you can expect the insurance company to reduce your settlement (if you get one) by some percentage of comparative fault.
9 – Can children be comparatively at fault?
Tennessee and Georgia use the Rule of Seven. Courts in these states have ruled that a child under the age of seven does not have the capacity to be negligent. Children between seven and 13 have a rebuttable presumption (this means the jury should assume the child lacks the capacity to be negligent unless the defense offers convincing evidence to the contrary) that the child has no negligence capacity. Children between 14 and 18 have a rebuttable presumption that they do have the capacity. You can read more about this in Crockett v. Sumner County Board of Education. However, the parent’s failure to supervise the child properly may reduce the award.
10 – Does the at-fault party have the money to pay?
No matter how negligent the party who hurt you may be if the at-fault party has no money or assets you are not going to recover anything. Remember the old saying: you can’t get blood from a turnip. So, what assets should you look for if you hope to recover?
- Insurance from the at-fault party such as auto liability insurance or general liability insurance
- Your own uninsured motorist coverage
- An at fault corporation large enough to be self-insured.
In Tennessee and Georgia, the law requires all auto-owners to carry a minimum of $25,000 dollars in liability coverage. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of drivers in these states go without insurance. So, you should always make sure you carry uninsured motorist insurance.
11 – The county where the accident happened affects the value of your case.
Personal injury cases are tried in the county where the accident occurred. The make-up of the juries can vary wildly from county to county. Factors such as whether the county is rural or urban; or the racial diversity of the county all make a difference in verdict amounts and therefore settlement amounts. The more urban and racially diverse, the higher the verdict.
For instance, jury verdicts in Shelby County, Tennessee (Memphis) and Dekalb County, Georgia (Atlanta) are at least 50% or higher than in even Hamilton County. For rural counties like McMinn County, Tennessee and Catoosa County, Georgia, the difference between those verdicts is even larger. In Tennessee, counties in West Tennessee award larger verdicts than counties in Middle and East Tennessee and counties in Middle Tennessee award higher verdicts than those in East Tennessee.
12 – Are you always entitled to pain and suffering?
No. If you are in an accident and you go to the ER or doctor “just to get checked out” the insurance company may offer to pay your bill, but don’t count on any “pain and suffering” if you made no pain complaints.
13 – Gaps in your medical treatment can kill your case.
If you have an accident that wasn’t your fault and you wait more than a week to ten days to get medical treatment, you are going to get a lower settlement offer or verdict. Why? Because juries assume that truly hurt people seek out medical treatment. If you wait a month or more, you will have a hard time convincing an adjuster or a jury, that your complaints are related to your accident no matter how careless the party was that injured you.
If you don’t consistently follow-up with the medical treatment your doctor prescribed you are going to reduce the value of your claim. For example, if your doctor refers you to physical therapy, but you wait a month before you start, you’ve just lowered the value of your case. If you only go to the emergency room and don’t follow-up with a primary care doctor, you have reduced the value of your case. Avoid medical treatment gaps and consistently follow your doctor’s advise and you will maximize the value of your case.
14 – What is the damage to your car?
The less severe the damage to your car the lower the value of your case. This is because juries and adjusters judge the severity of your pain and suffering by the severity of the crash as shown by the severity of your car’s damage.
Even if you have a severe injury like a herniated disc or a rotator cuff or tendon tear, the severity of the damage to your car will determine the value of your claim. Even if you have a herniated disc, if there is little or no damage to your car, the insurance adjuster will contend your herniated disc or tendon tear pre-existed the collision and was age-related not collision related.
The same principles apply to personal injury cases. For instance, if you claim a severe neck injury is the result of falling merchandise, the merchandise must be heavy enough to convince a jury or adjuster that the item could actually hurt you.
15 – Did you go immediately after the accident to the ER?
A trip to the ER makes your case more valuable. An ambulance to the ER makes it even more valuable. However, this rule holds true only if there was enough force hitting you to justify this kind of medical care. If there is no or very little damage to your car, a trip to the ER is not going to convince a jury or adjuster that you are hurt badly. On the other hand, if, for instance, your car was significantly damaged and you take an ambulance to the ER, you are often going to get a higher award for pain and suffering. Additionally, your medical bills paid by the insurance company will be higher.
16 – Did you have a pre-existing injury or condition in the area you now claim was hurt?
First, insurance companies have access to all the accident claims you’ve made before your present accident through a computer search firm called ISO. If you were in a car wreck or slip and fall or any other personal injury and you claim you injured your back, the insurance company will know it. Additionally, the insurance company will try to get you to sign an open-ended medical release so they can get your prior medical history (we never let our clients sign one of these). If you signed on of these releases and if you ever complained about back pain, neck pain, or shoulder pain before the collision, the insurance company will know. If you are complaining about pain in the same body part after the wreck as you complained about before the wreck, the adjuster or the jury will give you less money for your injury.
Remember: The adjuster is looking to see if you can prove the accident caused your injury, because that burden is on you.
If you have pre-existing conditions or injuries that could also explain your pain from the collision, do not be discouraged. You still have a case. Skilled personal injury lawyers at Dennis and King can still maximize the value of your case. We do it all the time.
17 – Are you permanently disabled by your injury?
Obviously, if you are going to suffer from the effects of the accident, permanently, your case is very valuable. However, your opinion as to whether an accident permanently injured you or not doesn’t count. You need a physician to say that more likely than not the accident permanently injured you. Keep in mind that the insurance company has the right to hire their own physician to dispute the permanency of your injury. If you suffered soft tissue injuries like whiplash or strains or sprains, no doctor is going to say you have a permanent disability. Bigger, more serious injuries such as a back injury that needs surgery, hip and tibia fractures, and any fracture requiring surgery usually result in some degree of permanent injury. These are only a few examples. A skilled personal injury lawyer will get a good feel from your medical records as to whether a doctor would fund the injury permanently disabled you.
18- Who are your doctors and what kind are they?
Your medical care and what a doctor writes in your medical record make or break your case. If your treating doctor does not connect your injury/pain to your accident then an insurance company is not going to pay you damages for that injury no matter what you say. You can see why you need to know the reputation of your doctor before you take your injury complaints to him or her. Is your doctor sympathetic to injury victims or does he think every injured victim is making up symptoms and really isn’t hurt? Too many doctors are dismissive of injured patients who complain of things like whiplash and back strain.
The best way to know whether the doctor that is treating you will hurt or help your case is to speak with a Tennessee or Georgia personal injury lawyer like the top attorneys at Dennis and King, who will know the doctor’s reputation.
19 – The insurance company involved will affect your settlement offer.
Some insurance companies pay less than others. Geico, Allstate, Progressive and Direct offer settlements much less than the value of the injured victim’s case. The result: You are more likely to have to go to court to get a fair recovery for your injuries. On the other hand, Hartford, Farm Bureau, Travelers and USAA are more reasonable. They probably will make an offer of settlement you can live with. The keyword is “probably” Plenty of people are forced to file suit against these insurance companies every year including some of our clients. There aren’t any “good” insurance companies. They are in business to make money and they don’t make money writing big checks.
20 – Are there any witnesses to your accident?
It doesn’t matter what kind of personal injury case you have; the presence of witnesses makes it more valuable—if they are on your side of the case. If it is at all possible, try to get statements from any witnesses if you are in an accident. If you can’t get a statement, try to get the name of the witnesses. As time passes, witnesses forget, die, or move away. Their memory fades or witnesses just get on with their lives and become less willing to get involved. A good personal injury lawyer will always try to get witness statements as soon as he or she gets involved in your case if you didn’t get witness statements.
21 – Did you need to be admitted to the hospital?
In these days of a pandemic, it is not an easy thing for a doctor to decide you need to be admitted to the hospital. We aren’t talking about just going to the ER. We are talking about actual hospital admittance whether for one night or several. Not only does hospitalization increase the amount of your medical bills and therefore your payout, but it also sends a signal to a jury or insurance company that the accident injured you. It’s hard for the insurance company to argue that the accident didn’t much injure you if a doctor thought you needed a hospital bed.
22 – Did you suffer lost wages?
If you have a job, and a doctor took you off work for a time, you can recover for your lost wages. Not only can you recover for lost wages, the fact that a physician took you off work signals to the jury (and therefore an insurance company) that the accident really injured you. This will tend to increase your pain and suffering value. This is doubly true if you’re the kind of employee that almost never misses work. Warning: NEVER miss work just because you think it will increase the value of your case. The jury will think you are just exaggerating your claim to get more money. They will penalize you for that. Always get a doctor’s excuse if you miss work.
23 – Always make sure you are describing all of your symptoms to your doctor.
Let’s say you hurt your knee in the accident but by the time you see your doctor you only tell him about your neck and not your knee. Then a month later, your knee hurts even more than it did before. Then you find out you need surgery. Because you didn’t complain about your knee close to the time of the accident, you’re going to have a hard time connecting your knee surgery to the accident. Always tell the doctor every symptom or pain you’re having. Be complete in describing to the doctor every symptom caused by the collision as well as the way it limits your life. Remember, if it’s not in a medical record, it didn’t happen. If you don’t help your doctors record every symptom, pain and limitation, your case will be worthless.
24 – How does your likeability compare to the careless party’s likeability?
It’s not a fair world. Juries aren’t supposed to consider how much they like either party in awarding damages but they do. It’s human nature. In Tennessee and Georgia, we can’t tell a jury that we are really going after an insurance company. Ridiculous right? But that’s the law. So, the jury isn’t going to compare your likeability to an insurance company. Instead, they are going to compare your likeability to the negligent person.
25 – What did you post on Facebook and other social media?
Let’s say you’re in a rear-end collision. You go to your doctor and complain that the collision hurt your back so badly you have to stay home from work. So, the doctor gives you a work excuse. The next day, you go water skiing with your friends and you post pictures of you water skiing.
The insurance company adjuster will check your Facebook and when she sees that picture of you skiing when you claimed you couldn’t work she will drop the amount of her settlement offer like a stone. While you are treating for your case or waiting for a settlement, leave social media alone. The insurance company will be checking for any damaging information they can find. I promise you.
Take the first step toward a fair settlement by consulting the experienced personal injury attorneys who know how to handle personal injury cases and will be truthful with you as whether he or they can help your case. Contact Dennis and King online, start a chat, or call our Chattanooga office at 423-892-5533 to schedule a free claim strategy session. We take cases on a contingency fee basis, so you pay no attorney fees until we win your case.