Car Wreck Cases: To Settle or Fight?
This is a decision our firm commonly helps clients make. Do you accept the insurance company’s final offer or file a lawsuit taking your chances with a jury? There are several factors to consider in determining the best course to take in reaching a resolution. This article will examine some of these factors that we have found affect the value of a case.
At the outset, there is a great deal of misinformation out there on this topic. The outdated notion that an insurance company will pay two or three times your medical bills is simply untrue. Likewise, the belief that the insurance companies will pay a nice sum to avoid court is complete malarkey. These giant insurance companies employ in-house lawyers that keep costs down even when fighting in court. These insurance companies do not care about the hassle or annoyance that you are going through from being in a wreck. Once again, insurance companies are motivated by one thing: profits.
You should also be aware of lawyers that make big promises at the beginning of a case. Any good lawyer should assess the case on the merits and give you the pros and cons of all offers and the litigation process. Cases are expensive to try and although you may get a higher verdict than the last offer, your net can be less after paying back the out-of-pocket expenses associated with trial.
Another red flag is talking to a lawyer who seems to be a jack of all trades. You should insist on a lawyer that specializes in car wrecks and other cases involving personal injury. An experienced lawyer in this area will not be afraid to tell you about cases that he or she has won at trial along with pretrial settlements. Ask about the attorney’s body of work. Our firm list trial verdicts and settlements on our web page.
By doing your homework, you will eliminate the inexperienced attorney. You want an attorney that knows the ropes and regularly deals with stubborn insurance companies. Most of all, you will want to put your trust in the lawyer that knows where the court house is and is not afraid to present your case to a jury when the responsible party is being unreasonable. You will be shocked to know the number of attorneys that handle these cases but have never actually handled a trial.
In order to determine the best course to take, here are factors that affect the value of a car wreck case involving injuries:
The most important factor that we see affecting the value of an injury case is the nature of the injury involved. The more serious an injury the more an insurance company will place on value. Insurance companies speculate on what a jury will do on any given case and jurors are moved by injuries that have severe consequences. Insurers, therefore, pay more when your case involves a serious injury.
We see a great deal of soft tissue injuries in our practice. Clients come to us with sprains and strains but no broken bones or disk injuries. The client treats conservatively and typically recovers in a few weeks or months. In these cases, the insurance company will try to settle by paying close to the medical bills. Where the property damage to the vehicle was minimal, the insurance company will often present low ball offers less than the medical bills.
Soft tissue injuries are real and so is the pain that accompanies them. The sub-standard insurance companies that try to avoid being reasonable must be forced to defend their position in court. We routinely file suit when faced with ridiculous offers. We have found that juries will return a favorable verdict in soft tissue cases where the client is likeable, the medical evidence is credible and the wreck involved moderate to severe impact.
As to more serious injuries, there is no way to generalize as to value. Cases involving surgery, bone fractures, lacerations/scarring have heightened value. A victim of a wreck with these types of injuries, typically require specialized medical care. The same should go for the attorney that handles the case-he or she should be well qualified in handling road wrecks with serious injuries. A person should not attempt to negotiate a case involving serious injuries without experienced counsel. The insurance company should know that you mean business and any unreasonable offer must be met with a lawsuit for all items of damages involved.
SEVERITY OF WRECK
The worse the wreck, the more value a case has. Jurors are more likely to believe a cervical disk herniation is caused by a bone crushing collision. A parking lot fender bender is the type case where a jury will have doubts about whether the severe injury was caused from the incident alleged. Insurance companies know this and place more value on cases where the impact/property damage is severe.
We all understand that a person can be injured in a minor impact. Our firm has handled numerous cases where the impact was minor. It does not take much trauma to injure a person especially with pre-existing conditions. In these cases, a fender bender can result in serious injuries. Insurance companies, however, will never give full value where the property damage is minor and the client must understand that he will usually have to file a lawsuit and proceed with the litigation process. In these cases, the medical evidence from the treating physicians is critical in demonstrating that the wreck did in fact aggravate the pre-existing condition or cause a new injury.
Jurors routinely help people they like. If a client is perceived as a whiner or complainer, a jury will be less likely to give money for the harms involved in the case. If a client is seen as exaggerating injuries, a jury will give very little and possibly nothing.
We advise our clients to come across as kind, likeable and ready to testify about how they have overcome the adversities associated with the injuries from the wreck. We even want the opposing counsel to like our client at the deposition. When our client’s good attitude gets reported back to the insurance company, we have seen offers to settle go way up. I always enjoy handling a case where I can tell the opposing counsel that the best part of my case is my client. Conversely, the woe is me attitude usually results in a victory for the insurance company.
Venue is a legal term for the county where the trial will be held. In most cases, the home county of the at-fault driver or defendant determines venue. Although there are exceptions, this is the general rule on venue. Like insurance companies, experienced lawyers know the venues that tend to favor a particular side of a case. Urban, low-income areas are where we see the larger verdicts. Because insurance companies understand this reality, venue is a factor that affects case evaluations. Counties like Cobb, Carroll and Cherokee produce conservative jury pools where verdicts can tend to stay in the lower ranges.
In Atlanta, we have found that the following counties produce more favorable verdicts for our injured clients: Fulton, Clayton, and Dekalb. Counties like Douglas and Gwinnett are changing rapidly and the juries in these counties are becoming more generous.
AMOUNT OF INSURANCE
When we take in a new case, one of our first tasks is to determine the amount of liability insurance the at-fault driver carries. This factor influences the amount of a recovery. For example, I once handled a wrongful death case where the at-fault driver carried the minimum liability insurance required resulting in a $25,000.00 recovery. Despite the case being worth over a million dollars, the only source of recovery was this insurance policy. Of course, the at-fault driver is personally responsible for any amount over the insurance but rarely does the uninsured or underinsured driver have assets to justify a lengthy litigation process and the collection efforts that follow. Before any undervalued settlement, we recommend investigating the personal assets of the culpable party.
Despite the severity of the injuries or the crash involved, a case where the at-fault driver is insufficiently insured will factor in to the type of recovery made. These cases illustrate the need for you to carry uninsured motorist insurance coverage. Our firm handles UM claims which allow for a larger recovery in cases involving uninsured drivers.
THE INSURANCE COMPANY INVOLVED
Another factor affecting the value of the case is the personality of the insurance company involved. Each insurance company assesses cases in their own way. Through the years, it has become easy to predict the offers to expect based on the carrier involved in the case. Some insurers are generous and want to follow the law providing funds for all items of damages involved. Other companies are motivated by greed and content to make low ball offers. These companies are hoping that you will go away and not fight for what is right. An experienced lawyer in this field should be able to tell what to expect based on the identity of the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier.
By looking at these factors, our clients are in a better position to make an informed decision on whether to settle the case pre-suit. Our firm website has a section where recent verdicts and settlements are listed. By looking through this list, you will get an idea of real life examples of how cases will resolve based on the type of injury and wreck. If you have questions about your case, please call us for a free consultation.
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