The most frequent question I hear from clients is, “What is my case worth?” The answer is never easy. Injury cases are like snowflakes. Each case is unique for a variety of reasons, the main of which is that the facts and circumstances leading up to the accident, and the results caused by the accident, are almost never the same. Each person suffers differently and no two situations are alike. Notwithstanding the above, there are some general principles that sometimes guide what a case is worth. Here they are:
1. As a general rule, cases are worth only what the insurance company or defendant is willing or able to pay. In order words, if there are no assets to collect, you could take your case all the way to trial and get a two million dollar verdict, but you still wouldn't be able to collect all two million dollars. There usually must be either insurance coverage or assets to collect. A case is typically not worth more than the collectible assets.
2. A cases value can be affected by what jurisdiction it occurs in. The reason this is so is because some jurisdictions are more or less plaintiff friendly. Some jurisdictions tend to bias in favor of Defendants and others for Plaintiffs. Some jurisdictions have juries that award consistently higher amounts, and others less. It is probably impossible to determine precisely why this is the case, but it has to be taken into account when assessing a cases value.
3. The nature and extent of injuries suffered usually has a direct correlative effect on the value of a case. The more damages a person sustains, the higher the likelihood is that that person's case is worth more. The example commonly given is that a person with a broken leg probably has a more valuable case than a person with a sprained leg. This is simply because one injury is, on the face of it, more substantial, probably in most cases more painful, and in all likelihood, more permanent. For example, if you have a large amount of lost wages, medical bills or pain and suffering, your case may command a higher value. Note that this is not always the case. In some cases insurance companies will actually try to argue that the Plaintiff has over-treated, over-medicated, taken an unreasonable amount of time off from work, or is faking, malingering or exaggerating pain levels.
4. Just because you have a serious injury doesn't mean you have a valuable case. The next major factor to consider is the liability. (How did the accident occur?) In Maryland and Virginia, the law of contributory negligence applies. So if you were the legal cause of the accident in Maryland or Virginia, you may be out of luck entirely. A case where you are stopped and are rear-ended however would indicate a much stronger liability position than in a case where you rear ended someone else. Regardless, your liability situation, whatever it is, will have a direct effect on the value of your case.
5. The manner and method of presentation of your case to the finder of fact. Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. If you hire one of the best attorneys in your area, your lawyer may be able to get you a better result than if you hire a lawyer who does not know what they are doing in your practice area. And while it is virtually impossible to quantify who is a top lawyer or the best lawyer in your area (indeed, most bar associates and ethical rules prohibit attorneys from categorizing themselves in these manners) - you really should do your own due diligence before hiring a lawyer. Find out everything you need to know, ask a lot of questions, and make sure you are comfortable with the representation.