How much is my case worth? It's a question I hear frequently. Clients
often tell me they've heard (it's usually a friend of a friend
kind of thing) that their settlement should be 3 times, or 5 times, or
even 10 times the amount of the medical bills. There is no easy formula.
The value of your case depends on many factors, including the nature and
extent of your injuries, the type of medical treatment you receive, the
length of time in treatment, residual injuries (such as a scar or limp)
and many other factors.
Imagine 2 people are involved in identical accidents and sustain identical
injuries. One person goes to her doctor who prescribes physical therapy.
Over a period of a few weeks, she starts to feel better. The other person
doesn't see a doctor at all and merely lays on the couch and complains
that he is in pain. Over the next few weeks, he'll start to feel better,
too. However, the person whose injuries were treated likely will receive
a much higher settlement. Same injury, but NOT the same settlement.
The reason is that every time you see your doctor or therapist and he asks
you how you are doing, your answer becomes part of your medical history.
So telling your doctor that the pain from your injuries keeps you awake
at night or prevents you from doing the things you love to do is now documented
in your medical records. Your medical records are evidence that can be
used to maximize your compensation. Being open and honest with your doctor
about your injuries and how they affect your daily life can be crucial
to your case. To assist you in talking to your doctor, you may wish to
bring notes so that you don't forget anything.
Likewise, the type of medical bills you incur may be as important as their
amount. For example, someone who is involved in a very serious accident
and is brought to the emergency room by ambulance may undergo multiple
CT scans or MRI's to rule out serious internal injuries. These tests
can be quite expensive but may not significantly increase the value of
that person's settlement unless they show there is internal bleeding,
a head injury, or other serious injury. It's important to understand
what affects the value of your case and what does not so that you can
take steps to
maximize your compensation at the end of the case. I take a very hands-on approach to managing my
client's cases right from the start.
Many lawyers do not become involved in their client's medical treatment.
I think that's a huge mistake. Before we go further, let me say that
I went to law school not medical school, but I've been representing
injured clients for over 20 years and I've learned a lot about treating
the kinds of injuries you might see following a car accident. Talking
with my clients on a regular basis gives me important feedback about whether
the treatment you are receiving is appropriate. For example, your doctor
may not think it is necessary to x-ray a suspected broken rib because
there is no treatment for a broken rib except rest. However, unless you
have an x-ray, how are you going to
prove to the insurance company that your rib was in fact broken as a result
of the accident? The minimal cost of that x-ray will
absolutely increase the value of your case.
Recently, a client came to see me approximately 14 months after being involved
in a serious car accident. She was still having severe low back pain with
pain shooting down her right leg. Her doctor had prescribed treatment,
but she was still in a lot of pain. Her doctor told her that he didn't
need to send her out for an MRI of her lower back because it wouldn't
tell him anything that he didn't already know. He suspected a disc
injury in the low back (and he was right). When I spoke to the client,
I told her that I thought getting an MRI to confirm what her doctor suspected
would maximize the value of her case. Before she came to see me, the other
driver's insurance had offered her $5,000 for her claim, but she had
over $7,000 in medical bills. I used the MRI to prove the existence of
a serious injury and forced the insurance company to
increase their offer by $34,000!
The bottom line is this: You may not find an easy answer to the question,
"How much is my case worth?" But by focusing on doing things
that will increase the value of your case,
your case will be worth more.