Most of our clients ask us the same question: “What is my personal injury settlement?”
This is a logical and important question and one that is hard for non-lawyers to figure out. We’ve been representing accident victims for a combine 75 years and we still learn new ways to evaluate a case.
Bottom line: without a lot of experience evaluating personal injury cases, its hard to assign a value to a case with a badly injured client. Isn’t the settlement value just based upon the injured person’s medical bills? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
You see, medical bills are just a part of the damages that make up your case value. Calculating all the factors that make up your damage amount is difficult because over 25 factors affect the value of your case. Complicating things further, you can’t know the impact of many of these factors until you have reached maximum medical improvement or said another way, you have completed all available medical treatment.
Always Hire An Experienced Attorney Who Knows Current Settlement Values
When hiring a personal injury attorney, ask questions that will reveal whether they are a Georgia or Tennessee car wreck lawyer that will know how to evaluate your case. Find out how long has the attorney you’re thinking of hiring been evaluating personal injury cases. For instance, after only 5 years’ experience, I didn’t know how to do it well, if at all. (Now that I have 35 years of experience, I see how little I knew.)
Ask whether the lawyer you are thinking of hiring reads jury verdict reporters every week. Only lawyers who are serious about personal injury law tend to keep up with jury reports every week. But that is what it takes to keep up with the ever-changing world of jury verdicts and settlements.
Find out if your prospective lawyer frequently talks to insurance defense lawyers. In other words, is the lawyer able to see a personal injury case from both sides? That’s what it takes to evaluate accurately a personal injury case.
Why Can’t A Personal Injury Victim Evaluate Their Case On Their Own?
A lot of injury victims believe they can evaluate their case simply by surging the internet and looking a what plaintiffs from all over the country recovered. This will just lead to a lot of bad information.
First, it ignores the fact that jury verdicts and settlements vary from region to region, state by state, city by city and urban versus rural. Jury verdicts (and therefore settlements) are a lot higher in New York City than they are in Nashville, and they are a lot higher in Memphis than they are in Chattanooga.
What about using personal injury calculators offered by some personal injury lawyer websites? WARNING: THESE ARE BOGUS. Don’t use them. They are set up to get you to call that law firm, not to give you a true idea of the value of your case. These calculators never can take into account all the variables and factors that go into determining the true value of your case. These calculators can lead you to leave money on the table if you are trying to settle the case yourself.
Example: We settled a case for $100,000 dollars for a car accident victim after a drunk driver hit him and broke his thumb and first finger. He needed some minor surgery to fix his hand.
The insurance company’s initial offer was $35,000 dollars. We knew that the actual fair value of the case was closer to $100,000 dollars. So, we filed suit and held out until the insurance company paid the full $100,000 dollars. We knew that the jury would penalize the driver (and therefore the insurance company) and would award more than they might have awarded if the driver had been sober.
What would the insurance company have paid our client without a lawyer? Without a lawyer, the client may have taken the initial offer of $35,000 dollars. Of course, without an attorney the insurance adjuster may have made an even lower starting offer than $35,000 dollars.
After our client’s health insurance paid about $12,000 dollars in medical bills, he would have cleared $23,000 dollars if he had accepted the insurance company’s initial offer. Without us telling him this wasn’t a fair offer, he may have thought he was getting a good deal. After all, the average American doesn’t’ have $10,000 dollars in their bank account, much less $23,000 dollars.
However, we knew a $35,000 dollar offer for two broken fingers and missed time from work in our client’s case wasn’t a fair offer. We encouraged our client to give us some more time to negotiate because we knew the jury verdict range for his injury and the circumstances of his case. We got our client $100,000 dollars for his case. In real dollars in his pocket, it meant after attorney fees and medical costs, he walked out of our office with $55,000 dollars or double what he would have received if had tried to negotiate a settlement on his own.
Adjusters Are Very Good At Persuading Unsuspecting Injury Victims
Insurance adjusters are trained to sell the deal they are offering you. They excel at the art of negotiation. This is what the insurance companies train them to do. Unless you are as well trained in negotiation and persuasion, you will always be at a disadvantage when negotiating a settlement with an insurance adjuster.
Do You Still Need A Lawyer If You Use Your Uninsured Motorist Insurance?
Definitely. Just because you are using your insurance for your bodily injury claim, doesn’t mean they are going to be more generous with you.
Let’s look at when you need uninsured motorist insurance. You need uninsured motorist insurance either when: 1) the driver that caused the accident has no insurance at all; or 2) the driver that hit you lacks enough insurance to fully compensate you.
You cannot even access your uninsured or underinsured benefits unless you can:
Show that the negligent driver lacked any insurance at all; or
You persuaded the negligent driver’s insurance to pay you policy limits.
Insurance companies need a lot of proof of injury to pay policy limits like the kind that a good and experienced personal injury lawyer knows how to gather. That’s the first hurdle you have to overcome.
Once you have persuaded the negligent driver’s insurance to pay policy limits, at least if you are in Tennessee, you have to be very careful about the way you settle with the at-fault driver. If you accept the settlement offered by the at-fault driver’s company without the written permission of your own underinsured insurance company, you will waiver your right to pursue a claim against your underinsured insurance company. This is but one of the many pitfalls that await the unwary injured victim wishing to pursue a claim against his own insurance company.
Example: We had a caller looking to hire us who had been in a significant collision that had snapped two of his knee tendons. Before talking to us, he went through surgery and without question accepted a $25,000-dollar settlement from the negligent driver’s insurance company. This was not nearly enough to satisfy his $35,000-dollar medical expenses and lost wages. So, he demanded his underinsured motorist insurance company pay an additional $75,000 dollars. Unfortunately, we couldn’t help him. When he signed the release with the at-fault insurance carrier, (something you have to do to get the check) he signed away his right to pursue a claim with his own insurance carrier.
What is the moral of the story? If you think you want to pursue a claim against your underinsured insurance company, never settle with the negligent driver’s company without first consulting an experienced personal injury law firm like the attorneys at Dennis and King.
Take the first step toward a fair settlement by consulting the experienced personal injury attorneys who knows how to handle personal injury cases and will be truthful with you as whether or not he or she 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.