After an injury-causing accident your first and foremost concern will be to get to a nearby hospital, often transported by ambulance, or to be seen by a family physician, in order to be evaluated and treated for your condition. At some point later that day, perhaps at the hospital, or later at home or in the days that follow, you may start to think about the financial impact the accident will have on your life. You may have mounting medical bills. You may not be able to work for a few days or weeks, or if your pain is severe you may never be able to work again at the same place of employment; you may need to find a new job, which can take time. During the time you are unemployed, you will lose income, which will put financial stress on you and your family. Even though money is certainly not the first thing on your mind, the added financial pressure will usually lead you to inquire about the value of your case and to ask “how much is a personal injury case worth?”
The starting point for answering this question is to understand how injured victims’ cases are valued in a Court of law. If you were injured in San Diego, then absent unusual circumstances your case will usually be decided under California law. Under California law, you are entitled to both economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are actual monetary losses that can be calculated, such as medical bills and loss of income. Noneconomic damages are those that cannot be calculated, for example, pain and suffering. You present your case to the court and the judge or jury decides how much would be appropriate.
With regard to economic damages, you simply add up your bills and lost wages and collect that sum. Questions can arise as to whether your treatment was reasonable. You can only collect reasonable medical bills. Questions may also arise as to whether you in fact could not work. You can only collect reasonable lost wages. Questions may also arise with regard to future economic losses. This looks at whether you in fact need claimed future medical care or whether you will in fact not be able to work for the amount of time that you are claiming to be disabled. Experts such as doctors and accountants will testify at to these issues. But assuming your claim for future medical care and lost income is supported, your claim boils down to mathematical calculation.
With regard to noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, there is no formula for determining how much a personal injury claim is worth. A jury could award you one dollar or one million dollars. Your personal injury lawyer will draw upon his or her experience, as well as other cases that are similar to yours, to arrive at a figure that a court is likely to award you. With that number in mind, your attorney will deduct the costs that would typically be expended to litigate your case. Trial costs in a minor whiplash case will typically be at least ten thousand dollars. Costs in a serious or catastrophic injury case would normally be expected to be one hundred thousand dollars or more. For example, if your lawyer expects to recover $500,000.00 at trial and trial costs are expected to be $150,000.00, your lawyer would apply a net value of $350,000.00 since assuming you recovered a $500,000.00 award the first $150,000.00 would be used to reimburse the costs of litigation, yielding a net recovery of $350,000.00.
It is important to understand that the above merely states the basic principles applicable in most cases. However, no two cases are identical. Each client’s situation will present facts and circumstances that are unique to that client. At best, your lawyer will be making an educated guess as to the value of your case. You should therefore speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can discuss the intricacies of your case and help you determine a value range in determining the value of your personal injury case.