Can a “Personal Injury Calculator” tell you how much your case is worth? The short answer is: “No.” But you deserve a more detailed answer to this question, and the related question, “How much is my injury case worth?” Let me tell you how injury cases are evaluated by trial lawyers like myself, by the insurance companies paying settlements and trial verdicts, and by the the juries that may be deciding your case.
There are three main factors to look at: 1) who’s at fault, 2) what’s the harm, and 3) who pays.
Who’s at Fault?
In other words, who is responsible for your injuries? Once we determine who – either a person or a company – is responsible, we next consider whether that person or company can be held accountable for your injuries. People have a general legal responsibility to drive safely – when they don’t, they can be held accountable for the damages they cause. Think about getting rear-ended. Chances are, the driver that read-ended you should have been paying more attention and driving more safely. If we can prove the driver was not driving safely enough, we can say the driver was at fault.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that things are rarely black and white. When it seems like you have an “easy” case, there might be legal technicalities, state laws, or court rulings that say otherwise – all the more reason to contact an experienced trial lawyer.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, you need to trust your attorney is going to be honest with you. Any lawyer interested in helping you should be able to map out the steps he or she will take to ensure the best result possible. This includes identifying any strengths and weaknesses that arise throughout the case.
What’s the Harm?
The next question is, “What are your injuries?” This gets us back to the original question of how much your case is worth. I’ve had several clients and potential clients reference “Personal Injury Calculators” they find online. The website has you fill in some numbers (medical bills and lost wages, usually), and then it spits out a number that’s supposed to represent a fair settlement amount or range. It’s a nice concept, but it often leads to wildly inaccurate numbers – either too high or too low.
Medical bills (past and future) are a factor, but they’re certainly not the whole picture. In a recent case I handled, for example, my client was in a car stopped in construction traffic. He was killed instantly when a truck driver ignored constructions signs and rear-ended his car. That case had zero medical bills. A personal injury calculator is worthless – and insulting – in that type of situation.
Lost wages are also a factor, but not the whole story. If you miss time from work due to an injury, you can claim that as part of your case. However, using this as a main element in calculating the value of your case causes problems. A well-paid professional who makes a six-figure salary is going to have a larger number involved if she misses six months of work recovering from a knee injury. Focusing on lost wages, though, ignores the impact of a stay-at-home parent spending six months recovering from the same knee injury. A competent injury lawyer should be able to maximize the value of both cases, regardless of whether there are any lost wages. The lesson here is that each case is unique, and a trained trial lawyer will be able to recognize the needs of your particular case.
Ultimately, the question of “what’s the harm?” boils down to the impact of the injuries on your life. If you or a family member has been injured in a car crash, I’m sure you feel that your loss is more than just medical bills and lost wages. And it is! Injury victims lose meaningful time with family and friends. If you’re injured, you lose the ability to enjoy life as you choose, on your terms, whether that’s being active, social, or just pain-free. No online calculator can accurately compute this loss. Be wary of any attorney who suggests an online calculator or similar shortcut to figure out how much your case is worth. Put simply, there is no substitute for investing the time and energy needed to fight for the best result possible in your case.
This is a tough question to talk about. It shines a light on the inequalities and inefficiencies of our current insurance system, and that is because the answer to this question is generally, insurance companies pay. And which insurance company pays, and how much it pays, largely depends on the applicable insurance policies.
Many people aren’t aware that the at-fault driver in an injury case rarely pays anything in an injury settlement or verdict. In a typical car crash case, that person’s auto insurance company pays for the defense lawyer, any costs associated with the case, and any settlement or verdict amount. That’s what insurance is for.
A good attorney will be able to fully investigate the defendant and find out how much insurance coverage exists and which types of insurance might apply to your case.
What makes this a tough question is this: the harsh and sad reality is two cases with exactly the same injuries could be worth very different amounts depending on the available insurance coverage. In Illinois, the minimum required auto insurance was recently raised to $25,000. This means it’s possible a family might only be able to recover $25,000 when a drunk driver kills their loved one. However, a family whose loved one dies in a crash when a semi-truck driver falls asleep at his wheel because he’s been on the road longer than allowed would likely recover significantly more – because truck companies are required to have more insurance coverage. (Of course, even the minimum for truck drivers’ insurance is sometimes not nearly enough to compensate a victim, or a family for the loss of a loved one). Fair or not, the amount of available insurance coverage may play the largest role in evaluating how much your injury claim is worth – it’s just the way our system works, and we have to work within it.
Going back to the beginning, a personal injury calculator is a misleading – and often wrong – way to evaluate your injury case. I strongly suggest contacting and meeting with an experienced trial lawyer to discuss if you have a case. An initial review, which should be free, should result in a detailed plan of action to best protect you and your family.