One of the most commonly asked questions by clients of personal injury attorneys is, “How much is my case worth?” Many times, this question is asked either shortly after an accident has occurred or while the client continues treating for injuries sustained in the accident that they hired the attorney for in the first place. The truth is that this question cannot be honestly answered by the attorney as there are many moving pieces in a personal injury case. Unless the client has made a full recovery, there are too many unknown factors that make it nearly impossible for an attorney to answer this question.
There are multiple components that make up a personal injury settlement. While treatment is ongoing, these factors are constantly changing in value. The purpose of this blog article is to touch on the various components that generally comprise a personal injury settlement and how they are largely all moving pieces until a case is ready to be submitted for settlement.
1. Medical Expenses
Medical expenses are typically one of the largest components of a bodily injury case. The extent of the injuries and the duration of treatment will usually determine how much in sheer medical bills an injured person will incur. The longer a person treats, the more in medical bills he or she will incur. A fractured bone requiring surgery and months of therapy will likely have more medical expenses than a neck strain that resolved in a few weeks. While these injuries are all worth SOMETHING, it is usually not possible to say with any degree of certainty exactly what the value is while an injured person is actively treating and convalescing from their injuries.
While a client continues actively treating for his or her injuries, medical bills continue to add up. Without knowing how much more treatment a particular client will require, whether he or she will be instructed to try a different treatment modality altogether or ultimately whether the injury will require surgery are all unknowns that make it difficult for an attorney to say what a case is worth with any degree of certainty. What we do instead is encourage our clients to continue treating if they are in pain, follow their doctor’s instructions and not let large gaps of time pass with no treatment. We explain that case value is a discussion that will have to be had in the future when we have more certainty regarding the extent of their injuries and recovery therefrom.
2. Lost Wages
After sustaining an injury, it is not uncommon for an injured person to miss work due to their injuries. Lost wages are also compensable in a personal injury claim. In order to make a claim for lost wages, many insurance companies require documentation from a physician, such as a work excuse or some sort of notation in the medical records, that the injured person should remain off of work for a specified period of time. Because injured people do have a duty to mitigate their damages, insurance companies want to make sure that the wage loss was legitimate as opposed to a claimaint remaining off of work and claiming lost wages when they could have safely performed their duties despite their injuries.
In cases with significant injuries, clients may be off of work for long periods of time. Even if PTO or vacation time is used, those hours may still be submitted as part of the bodily injury claim because those hours are no longer available to use for pleasure due to the accident.
Mileage to and from the doctor for accident related treatment is also compensable in a bodily injury claim. It costs money to travel to doctor and therapy appointments, and as such, mileage expenses are claimed as part of the injured party’s damages. It is important to track your mileage to and from each appointment, so that mileage expenses can be easily calculated at the time of settlement.
4. Permanency and Future Care Needs
In many cases, the injury or pain is permanent and care may be needed indefinitely. For most personal injury claims, Wisconsin has a three year statute of limitations which means that a lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of injury, or the injured party loses their right to pursue their claim. Because many injured people will treat longer than three years, we must somehow be able to estimate the cost of their future care. We do this by getting opinions from their treating physicians and do the math to extrapolate the cost of the care recommended over the time frame set forth by the doctor, or if the treatment is needed indefinitely, over the client’s remaining life expectancy.
5. Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering is another well-known component of damages in a personal injury case. Unlike the other items of special damages, however, pain and suffering is not a tangible number we can calculate like medical expenses, lost wages, etc. There is no magic formula that we can use with every case that tells us what each is worth in terms of pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering is very factually specific to each case. In many cases, attorneys may even differ on the valuation for pain and suffering because while pain and suffering is real, it is difficult to put an arbitrary number on it. Pain and suffering depends largely on the nature and extent of the injuries, duration of treatment and whether a permanent injury exists. Every case is different, and many cases may include more or different factors than those mentioned here. In a case that involves permanent injuries and future care needs, we must also factor in future pain and suffering.
The components of personal injury claims discussed in this article are certainly not exhaustive. Because no two cases are exactly alike, some cases may have more components that make up the entirety of the claim. The purpose of this article is primarily to demonstrate why the question, “How much is my case worth?”, is nearly impossible for an attorney to answer during many stages of the case. There are many moving pieces and various components that factor into the value of a case, and many of those pieces are changing right up until the time of settlement.
If you or someone you know has been injured by the negligence of another, the Groth Law Firm may be able to help. Call us at (414) 375-2030 for a free consultation today!