This is an important question most victims of auto collisions want answered early in their case. Be careful about the answer you get early on. Inexperienced injury lawyers, or those who want to impress you, might say you can recover a high amount to encourage you to hire them. But this is often not an easy question to answer early on. You should retain an attorney who will be straight with you, not exaggerate so you hire them.
Experienced injury attorneys know better than to speculate about any particular amount of money recovery when assessing the settlement or verdict value of a new case. Beware of anyone who tells you what your case is “worth” who has not first done a careful review of some key points. Insurers do not pay settlements to be “nice” or “fair” or to just “get the claim resolved.” They do not settle cases higher just because the lawyer asks for a high amount. They first look closely at every detail and will not put a settlement value on a case without a careful review of the following factors.
First, whether the insured party is negligent. That is, did they violate rules or do something careless to cause the injury? Insurers only are responsible if their insured was “negligent.” Sometimes there is no legitimate dispute over this and we know right away. Sometimes insurers challenge their insured person’s fault just to make the claim more burdensome, or they hope for a “discount” from an injured person who is not ready to prove negligence in court.
Multiple Negligent Parties
Second, whether anyone else is also partly at fault, including the injured person making the claim. In Minnesota, if more than one person is negligent and contributes to the injury, then each pays their share. If the injured person was also negligent and partly caused their own injury, then their recovery is reduced by their percentage of fault. There are some variations and exceptions, but this is the general rule. It often takes someone skilled in injury law to sort all this out.
Third, three main categories of damages influence a settlement or verdict value: medical bills (up to now and into the future), wage loss (up to now and into the future), and pain and suffering (up to now and into the future). High settlements or verdicts are often the result of injuries that will require long-term or a lifetime of medical care and long-term wage loss. Early after an injury, most of these details are unknown or uncertain. Of course, catastrophic injuries make it easy early to tell that losses will be huge; but even then, it is not prudent to estimate a settlement value until liability is established, future needs are fairly clear, and it is determined what assets or insurance coverages are available.
Assets Available/Insurance Coverage
Fourth, no credible, experienced injury attorney will try to give you a settlement value until insurance coverages and other assets available to pay a settlement or verdict are known. If the at-fault party has little or no insurance, and no assets to go after to pay a judgment, then a high “settlement value” means little if there is no one to pay for the harms done. Skilled, careful injury attorneys will not guess or predict settlement values until they know what insurance coverages are available. In auto cases, that insurance coverage investigation includes looking into the coverage on the at-fault vehicle driver, the owner of that vehicle if different from the driver, and the injured party’s own insurance coverage. Occasionally, the at-fault but underinsured party who caused the injury has personal assets worth going after. That should be considered also when deciding a case’s value.
Other types of cases require looking into homeowners (renters) personal liability coverage, and sometimes commercial or business liability coverage. It is often appropriate to investigate whether the at-fault party has an “umbrella” policy or “excess liability” coverage. A good personal injury lawyer knows when to investigate these options.
Offsets And Reductions
Big settlements and verdicts are usually the result of serious injuries. That means there are often high medical bills, and sometimes long periods of disability and wage loss. When health and disability insurers pay benefits for an injury that is someone else’s fault, they are usually quick to claim some reimbursement when the injury case resolves. This is called “subrogation.” Subrogation comes into play in almost all significant injury cases. The law usually allows such reimbursement claims, but not always. When public benefit providers have paid for medical care, such as Medicare and Medicaid, there can be especially serious penalties when these repayment obligations are ignored. Experienced injury lawyers will not assess the “value” of a case until these subrogation obligations are known. It is not enough to know how much money will be paid to resolve a case; reimbursement claims must first be identified and negotiated down. Without that, the client cannot know how much they will “net” out of the settlement. It is foolish to settle a case until the client knows how much they will actually collect for themselves.
All that said, there are usually some facts known early on that experienced lawyers can use to identify a case with high, medium, or lower settlement/verdict potential. At Klampe Law Firm, we will discuss these things candidly early in the case, and as often as the client wants, so the client has reasonable expectations of how the case is likely to come out. It almost always makes sense to retain us early in the case to start investigating these matters and pinning down key facts. We nearly always represent injury victims on a contingency fee basis – meaning our fee is a percentage based on what we recover for our client when the case resolves. It does not cost you any more to get us involved early on, and usually early attorney involvement helps the case.
Beware of the friend, relative, co-worker, or even attorney who thinks they can tell you what you should recover without knowing much about key background issues, available insurance coverages, subrogation offsets, the law, and how injury claims are resolved in Minnesota. It is an all-inclusive analysis that should only be handled by a knowledgeable attorney.
If you have been injured and want to discuss your case on a free, no obligation basis, we are pleased to do that with you. Contact Klampe Law Firm at (507) 288-2447 or by email at [email protected] We can often talk to you immediately; but if we cannot, we will get back to you promptly. We know we have to earn the confidence of each client who entrusts us to represent them – and we will do so.