If you are the innocent victim as a result of the negligence of another, you may very well be legally entitled to make a claim for a money settlement. The magic question that is asked so often is: How much should my settlement be? What you need to know right away is that the process of answering that question is very complex and requires analysis of a significant number of factors. You should also know that there are many websites that will try to give you a simple mathematical formula for determining the amount of a settlement. Many such “formulas” will suggest that your pain and suffering settlement should be a multiplier of the amount of the medical expenses. Some will suggest that the pain and suffering settlement should be 1 times, or 2 times, or 3 times the amount of the medical expenses. Please understand that these simple formulas are not accurate and are not how settlement dollars are determined by experienced lawyers, insurance companies, or the court system. Likewise, you may know someone who received a settlement for an injury case they had. Comparing your case to this other person’s case is not likely to give you any real meaningful help in determining your settlement. There are simply too many other factors that you are likely not considering when making the comparison.
On average there are about 15 to 25 elements in a case that will determine the settlement dollars. In some very complex injury and liability cases, there could be 50 or more elements that must be analyzed to determine the settlement dollars. The most experienced trial lawyers will be able to determine which factors of a case will be most influential in determining the settlement amount. Some of these factors will not seem very influential to you, but in the court system, they are very influential. Having an experienced trial lawyer analyze all of the factors is the only way to get an accurate and valid settlement value.
Settlements should be based upon the amount of money that a jury would likely award you if you took your case to court. In reality, you have no legal right to a settlement. You do have a legal right to take your case to a jury who will determine the amount of your money damages. Because no one can know for certain what your jury will award you, there is always a risk going to court. There is the risk for you that you make be unlucky to get a jury who is very conservative in their analysis of what an injury is financially worth. If you were injured on a bicycle, you may be unlucky in getting some jurors who are naturally biased against bicyclists. On the other hand, the insurance company is taking a risk also. You may get lucky and draw a jury who is naturally sympathetic or values injuries very high. I often will talk with non-lawyers about how they would value certain injuries. Every time I do, I get dramatically different opinions about the value of a case. My wife, for example, would be a great juror for injured people. She is naturally sympathetic to anyone’s sufferings, that she is anxious to award large amounts. On the other hand, my neighbor is naturally sympathetic to the person being sued. His opinions about the value of a case are usually less than half what my wife feels about that same case.
An experienced trial attorney can assess these risks along with the factors that will be presented and can determine reasonable settlement dollar amounts. A settlement occurs when you sign a contract where you give up your right to go to court in exchange for a dollar amount. You would only give up this right to go to court if the settlement offer was consistent with what a jury would likely award you and what your level of risk is. Obviously, if an experienced trial attorney was very confident that a jury would likely award you $400,000 to $500,000 for your injuries, you would likely not be interested in a settlement offer of $100,000. On the other hand, if the experienced trial lawyer carefully analyzed all the evidence and factors that will influence the jury and felt that a jury would award you between $80,000 and $150,000, then you may want to consider accepting the settlement offer of $100,000.
Many people settle their cases without expert assistance. Although some of those people obtain reasonable settlements, most do not. We encourage anyone who has a case to consider contacting an attorney. Consultations with our attorneys are free of charge. We can ask you some details about your case and we can assist you in discovering the true value of your case.