The worth of a case is based upon numerous factors. When we evaluate a case, we are trying to determine or estimate what a jury in Utah might award in a case. The insurance company does the same thing. This is true even though most cases do not go to a jury; both sides analyze it from that perspective. This is not an exact science. Every case is different. Also, you can try the same case 10 different times and come up with 10 different verdicts. There is no set formula for the awarding of money damages. The only guidelines are the jury instructions read by the judge which the jury then tries to follow. However, juries are given a great deal of discretion, and Utah juries are notoriously known for being stingy, particularly on small or “soft tissue” type cases. Juries do not feel your pain and generally do not care to have anyone walk away with a large sum of money which the jury believes the victim did not work for or earn.
Sometimes juries also will look at the defendant and worry that their judgment will be hurting the defendant. Juries are not told that there is insurance involved in the case and that an insurance company will be paying the bill. Because they do not know insurance is involved, a jury might get sympathetic for the defendant and not want to “hurt” the defendant for what is oftentimes simply mere negligence or a minor error in judgment that anyone on the jury could also do at any time. Juries sometimes put themselves into the shoes of the defendant instead of the shoes of the plaintiff.
Our estimation of what a jury will do is based upon our extensive experience. Not only the extensive experience of the attorneys at Larson Law, but also the collective experience of what we see and talk about with other attorneys in other cases in the state of Utah. Verdicts are reported, and we monitor what happens. We also attend many seminars and classes which instruct in the latest techniques and the effect that these techniques are demonstrating nationwide.
One of the factors that influences the worth of a case is the extent of the injuries and the extent of the impact the injuries have on a person’s life and how they will cope in the future. The age of the plaintiff is also a factor. Does the plaintiff have a long life expectance or a relatively short one? Does the plaintiff have a large family that needs their support and income or is the plaintiff a single person who lives by himself and upon whom no one else relies? Does the plaintiff seem likeable? Does the jury like the plaintiff? How solid is the doctors’ documentation documenting the injuries? Can the injuries be caused by something else or are the injuries something that people tend to get anyway as they get older? Spinal degeneration is something that occurs in everyone and will often cause the same aches and pains that an injured person may be suffering. The mere fact that someone can’t do something now that he used to be able to do is actually true for most people as we age.
The strength of the doctors’ documentation is also important. So is how credible the doctor would be if he testified. If the doctor is a graduate of a highly respected school (Harvard, John Hopkins, University of Chicago, etc.), his or her testimony might be more impressive to a jury than say that of someone who is a physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist. There isn’t anything at all wrong with physical therapists, chiropractors or massage therapists. They are a necessary and important part of the health care field. However, some juries are more impressed by individuals with the kinds of qualifications mentioned in the first category.
How well the collective care and treatment went is also important. Are there gaps in treatment? Was there a delay before the person ever got medical care? Did the patient gradually improve and get better or was all care and treatment simply worthless and apparently unnecessary? Does the patient seem to be a malingerer? Did the patient demonstrate a willingness to pay the price to get better himself or did he simply pop pills and suffer? For example, someone who needs surgery but declines to get the surgery tells the jury that he must not be hurting that bad. The jury assumes that if you need care, you are going to get it one way or the other. If you seem to be able to live with the pain, the pain and suffering may not be that bad.
The value of the lost income or lost wages is also important. However, if the person is self-employed or runs his own business, the documentation for the lost wages or lost income is extremely important. Normally we have to begin by establishing a baseline using tax records and filings to show how much income the injured person had before the injury. If the tax records do not show a positive income, then it is not possible to show a loss of income. Having adequate business records that will firmly establish the rate of personal income (as opposed to business income) the injured person was receiving is absolutely critical to being able to demonstrate a loss of wages or loss of income as a result of an accident. Even if your business is a new start-up business, it doesn’t matter. Without a track record of at least several months, it is impossible to show that the accident caused you to lose income. Unfortunately, this is one time that you can’t “have your cake and eat it too” if you don’t like paying taxes.
Attorneys’ fees, reimbursement of health insurance, and payment of unpaid medical bills come out of any gross settlement figure. Utah law does not add these things on top of a settlement figure.
Why do we pick the number we pick to start negotiations?
Negotiations involve a great deal of strategy. If a case is worth $10.00, we are not going to demand $1,000,000. If we did so, we would lose credibility. If a case is worth $10.00, we may demand $12.00 to $15.00, but we have to understand that the case is worth close to $10.00. Our negotiation strategy will also vary substantially, depending on which insurance company we are dealing with. With some cases and companies, we will simply invite them to give us the initial offer. Sometimes we will demand a specific initial amount. At every step of the way we will contact you to let you know what the latest offer is and get your permission before making a counter demand. At some point during the course of negotiations, we will know that the insurance company has reached its highest and best offer without taking the case to litigation. We will then tell you what your net walk away is going to be before you will need to decide to whether or not to accept the offer.
If the best offer is not accepted, we may have to litigate the case. We litigate many cases and do so frequently. However, litigation is very expensive and takes a great deal of time before it produces a result. Furthermore, the result is never guaranteed. Many times a person is smarter to simply take the money that is offered rather than “roll the dice” with a jury. Remember, because we work on a percentage basis, we have an incentive to get as much for you as is possible. In order for us to do this, a lot of thought goes into what we demand. We lose credibility if we demand amounts that are not at all consistent with the approximate value of the case. Loss of credibility with an insurance company will oftentimes result in the insurance company not being willing to negotiate at all and simply telling us to go litigate the case.
How can I make my case be worth more?
The easiest way to make your case worth more is for you to be hurt worse. However, we are not recommending that you try to injure yourself. The extent of injuries from your accident is made known by the documentation that your physicians produce. In many instances we know of physicians who are capable of documenting cases well, and we will often send our clients to those physicians. However, you cannot make a case something that it simply is not. Merely stating something that you believe or want is not evidence or proof. We need proof. In the case of evaluating injuries, we need doctors that are going to say what is necessary to be said – that the injuries you suffered are x, y and z and that x, y and z were caused or brought about because of the accident. A case is not worth what you might want or need in your life. A case is worth what it is worth based upon the extent of the documentable injuries compared with what juries typically do with similar types of cases in the state of Utah.
If you ever sit on a jury, remember this. Set the standard higher, have a heart and be more generous. Tell your family and friends to do the same. Now that you have experienced the pain and suffering and endured going through a difficult time being injured, hopefully you will share this message with family and friends and encourage them to remember that when they serve on juries. However, what your family and friends believe your case is worth is not what your case actually may be worth. Your family and friends care about you, but they will never be on your jury. Likewise, what they have heard someone else got or what you may see or hear on television or read in the newspapers about what some other jury in some other state did is not an example of what your case is likely to do.
This is a complex topic. It is impossible to include all of the factors and variables in what I have described above. If you would like some more in depth analysis about your individual case, contact the office and arrange an appointment to come in and speak with your attorney. Remember – we want to get the best result for you possible with the facts we have available to us.