“What is my case worth?”
This is the most common question I get from prospective clients. As lawyers, we learn two words in law school that continue to echo through our day to day practice: “It depends.” Understandably, the phrase” it depends” is not the most comforting or reassuring term. That being said, the more experience an attorney develops, the better he or she gets at evaluating cases. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss what goes into evaluating the value of various kinds of personal injury cases.
Statute of Limitations
The first thing to consider for any type of personal injury case is whether the claim is still ripe. That means, will the courts allow the matter to go forward? In Minnesota, the most common amount of time a person must bring a case is six (6) years. That means the case must be formally initiated within six (6) years from the date of injury. However, there are many different nuances and scenarios that can alter this time period. There may also be notice requirements, especially if the case is against a government entity. That is why it is very important to contact a personal injury attorney that is familiar with the local rules for the particular jurisdiction (i.e. county or state) in which the case will be brought. Click on this link to read more about statutes of limitations in Minnesota.
A very important aspect to consider for personal injury case is “who was at fault?” In Minnesota, the courts use an analysis called, “comparative fault”. Its effects are defined in Minn. Stat. § 604.01. That means, whichever party is less at fault is entitled to a recovery. However, their recovery is limited by their percentage of fault. For example, Tom and Sally are involved in a car accident. Tom is 60% at fault and Sally is 40% at fault. Tom incurs $100,000.00 in damages and Sally also incurs $100,000.00 in damages. In this scenario, Sally is the party entitled to recover compensation for her damages because she is less at fault than Tom. Tom will recover $0. However, because Sally was still 40% at fault, she is only entitled to recover $40,000.00 for her losses.
As personal injury lawyers, we are able to collect information and data to analyze who we think the at-fault party in a particular case is. We do so by ordering police reports, collecting witness statements, conducting interviews, and sending personal investigators to the scene of the accident.
Upon completion of our investigation, we then decide whether to proceed in prosecuting the case and develop a strategy on how to best approach litigation. This starts by evaluating damages.
Once we determine who the at-fault party is and how much fault, if any, our client has – we then need to analyze the damages. Damage is the legal term for injuries and losses. There are several types of damages recognized by the law. These are often broken into two categories: Special Damages and General Damages.
A special damage is one that how can put a concrete number on. These include medical bills, lost wages, future lost income, car repair or replacement, the cost of future medical care, and out of pocket expenses like car rental or hotel stay. We add up all the applicable costs and then arrive at your total special damages figure. Under the law, wrongfully injured parties are entitled to recover these costs minus any amount of third-party payee assistance (i.e. healthcare insurance that covers a portion of your medical bills).
These types of damages are not as easy to put a figure on. It is here that having an experienced personal injury lawyer that has handled cases in the local courts where your case will be brought is critical. General damages include things like pain and suffering, disfigurement, humiliation, emotional harm, embarrassment, mental anguish, and loss of reputation.
When there has been a physical injury such as a broken bone, burn, or traumatic brain injury – the amount of compensation recoverable usually increases. Another element that can increase the value of a case is if the injury sustained will have long-term effects that may hinder an individual’s quality of life.
Evaluating how much you may be entitled to for general damages is best measured by how much we have recovered in similar cases that we have handled in the past. Click to view our recent case results and how much we have been able to recover for our clients in the past.
After all these factors have been evaluated, we begin to get an idea of how much your case is worth. The only thing missing in the analysis up to this point is the type of personal injury case that we are going to litigate.
We will now discuss how our firm analyzes and evaluates the different types of personal injury cases that we handle:
Possible the area of personal injury law that has the most variables is motor vehicle accident law. There are many aspects that can play into evaluating a car or truck accident case, especially when you consider many of the unique driving factors that we encounter living in Minnesota. The obvious factor being the constantly changing weather conditions.
Weather often plays a role in motor vehicle accidents, especially when there is some form of precipitation present. Rain, sleet, hail, and snow can disrupt road conditions and serve as a hazard to driver safety. As personal injury lawyers, what we commonly see is that the at-fault party was driving recklessly or too fast for the road conditions during spouts of bad weather. Another common theme we see is that the at-fault party was unnecessarily distracted by things like cell phone use and not giving the increased attention required when driving in poor weather.
Another major factor that plays into evaluating auto accident cases is a number of parties involved. As we discussed, Minnesota is a comparative fault state. The example previously given about Tom and Sally is a common occurrence, but by no means the only version of a motor vehicle accident. Multi-vehicle accidents occur at a very frequent rate. The classic example of this is the interstate highway pile-up where 3 or 4 cars are all involved. What we then need to do as injury lawyers is to find out who caused the accident, thus identifying the at-fault party.
There are a multitude of other factors that can affect how we value an automobile accident, such as uninsured driver accidents, underinsured driver accidents, accidents occurring in a construction zone, accidents with pedestrians, accidents with a government vehicle, accidents with buses, accidents with emergency vehicles, etc. For more information on these types of instances, visit our blog that is updated several times a week in order to analyze these different kinds of scenarios.
Slip and Falls
A lot of law firms shy away from taking on slip and fall cases because of the stigma that they are tainted by comparative fault (see above). However, if handled correctly by an attorney that knows how to rebut and overcome the arguments set forth by insurance attorneys – slip and fall claims can be some of the more valuable cases for a client. The most common defense that an insurance attorney will make is that the dangerous condition was open and obvious. There are several ways to overcome this defense. Follow this link to find out how.
Documentation in slip and fall cases is key. We advise all our slip and fall clients to take photographs and videos on their smartphones of the area where they fell as soon as possible. This is because sometimes by the time an investigator arrives on the scene, either police or a private investigator that we retain on your behalf, bits of evidence can have disappeared. For example, if a client falls on an icy staircase, the weather may change and melt some or all of the ice. This is a particular area of personal injury law where client involvement is extremely beneficial.
If we have good evidence like photographs, witness statements, and video recordings – we are then able to make a much approximation as to what the case might be worth.
Dog Bite Cases
Animal attack matters carry with them a higher standard of care for the defendant (the dog owner). Personal injury attorneys always take this into consideration when evaluating a case because it makes it easier for the injured party to show liability on the part of the at-fault person. Like slip and fall accidents, there is a type of premises liability involved in dog bite cases. For instance, if the bite occurs at the residence where the dog resides – we then seek compensation from the homeowner’s insurance policy.
Other factors taken into consideration are the nature of the injury. A client that sustains a facial injury, especially if there is the possibility of scaring, might be traumatized in a greater fashion by the ordeal because they are reminded of the attack every time they look in the mirror. Similarly, if a child is the victim of an animal attack they may also suffer mental of emotional trauma in comparison to that of an adult victim.
This practice area is obviously one of the more sensitive areas of personal injury law. That is because it asks us to put a price on human life – which is impossible. The goal of any wrongful death lawsuit is to try and somehow compensate the decedent’s family member(s) for their loss. In determining a verdict amount, juries often take into consideration the age of the deceased, how many dependents they had, as well how much income they would have produced throughout the course of their lives had they not have died.
Personal injury cases involving assault generally hinge on who the assaulter was. This is because of the legal concept of vicarious liability. Meaning, that if the assaulter was an employee of a company and was on duty during the assault – then the company’s insurance policy may be liable for damages to the victim under the doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for “let the master answer”).
Once this is established, we take the same approach as laid out above by analyzing liability and damages.
As stated throughout this article, one of the most crucial factors that go into evaluating any type of personal injury case is by looking at past results. In the past few months our personal injury lawyers have returned a $90,000.00 jury verdict for negligence, settled a trip and fall case for $140,000.00, and negotiated a $100,000.00 settlement in a motor vehicle accident. These are only a sample of the numerous verdicts and settlements we have been able to produce for our clients.
If you have been wrongfully injured and are unsure what your case might be worth, contact Sand Law to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney today.