There are many misconceptions today, most of which are caused by misleading attorney commercials, attorney billboards, and attorney advertisements. This article is designed to cut through all the misinformation and deception you see on TV and billboards.
In law school, we are not taught how to put a value on a car accident case, a slip-and-fall, or a dog bite injury. We are not even taught how to negotiate and/or litigate such cases. We learn them by working in our business.
What I have learned working as a personal injury and accident attorney for the last 27 years, 18 years of which have been in Santa Clarita, is that there is no “one size fits all” and that “not all cases are created equal” because there are three major factors and one associated factor that generally determine the value of a case, and these factors change from case to case.
The three main factors are (1) liability, (2) injuries, and (3) insurance. The associated factor is the injured party!
Factor 1 – Liability
Who is at fault? Some cases are easy to assess. For example, in a rear-end collision, the party that runs into the back of another car is the one generally responsible because that driver was driving too fast, too close to the car in front, or a combination of both.
But what if the car accident occurred at an intersection with both parties claiming that the other ran the red light, and there are no independent witnesses to the accident? This then becomes a “he said v. she said” scenario that will impact the value of a case because, if both parties are credible, then proving fault may be difficult.
Now, when it comes to slip-and-fall cases, there is a liability dispute in almost every case because slip-and-fall cases have the added element of “notice” – i.e. either the responsible party knew about the spill and failed to clean it, or the spill existed for a long enough period of time that the responsible party should have discovered it and cleaned it.
If there is a liability dispute, the value of the case generally diminishes. This is the same whether the accident occurs in Santa Clarita Valley, San Fernando Valley, or somewhere else in Los Angeles.
Factor 2 – Injuries, and Minor Accidents v. Major Accidents
Injuries are a big factor in every case, and even those have changed over the years!
Headrests did not become mandatory until 1969. So, 1970s drivers who were driving cars manufactured in the 60s were driving cars that were not equipped with headrests. Those drivers and passengers suffered “significant” whiplash when rear-ended because their heads would snap back beyond their seats.
In contrast, even though today’s drivers and passengers also suffer whiplash when rear-ended, the degree of their injuries has lessened because headrests provide protection against the head snapping back. So, the value of a rear-end auto accident in the past was greater than a rear-end car accident that occurs today.
Other technologies have provided additional safety measures and protective features that lessen the chances of major injuries – simply said, “cars are built better and safer than in the past”, which results in less severe injuries and lower case values.
It is also essential to distinguish between minor car accidents versus major car accidents. Minor car accidents are described as those with lower property damage and soft tissue injuries. Minor car accidents make up the majority of today’s accidents.
In contrast, a major car accident is one that results in major injuries, such as broken bones, surgery, or fatalities, accompanied by significant property damage.
Minor car accidents have a lower value than major car accidents, a factor that is clearly left out from attorney commercials! To hear from them, all accidents are major, resulting in millions of dollars in recovery for an injured motorist.
Factor 3 – Insurance
Have you ever seen an attorney TV commercial or billboard talk about insurance? Insurance is a major factor in every case.
Example: a motorist is stopped at an intersection, waiting to make a left turn. He is then violently struck from behind and pushed into oncoming traffic, where another vehicle strikes him head-on. He suffers two broken legs in the accident.
So, liability is good, and injuries are severe. But, what about insurance? What if the at-fault party is uninsured or carries a minimum of $15,000 in coverage? In this scenario, unless the injured driver carried a substantial uninsured motorist coverage, his or her recovery would be very limited.
While this scenario does not mean that the value of the case is less, it means that recovery is very limited, and ultimately, that is the goal in any personal injury case – how much can one recover?
Attorney commercials brag about collecting $1.2 million from one accident and $2.2 million from another accident. These numbers are MISLEADING and oftentimes FALSE or INFLATED. Only two types of auto policies carry $1 million in coverage: commercial (i.e. trucking), and government (self-insured). Aside from these two types of coverages, regular everyday drivers do not carry an auto policy of $1 million or more. But, to hear it from attorney commercials, they recover that all the time!
These commercials also don’t tell you how much the injured party actually received, after attorney’s fees and costs were paid out.
The availability of insurance and the amount of insurance coverage is a big factor as to how much a case is ultimately resolved at, i.e. how much an injured driver will be able to recover.
Associated Factor – Not Every Injured Party is the Same!
Everyone is built differently. We are of different ages, heights, weights, temperaments, and health concerns. So, the same car accident will affect two different people differently.
Consider this example: two different people suffer a broken ankle in a car accident. Both have surgery on the ankle, followed by physical therapy, and their medical bills are roughly the same. However, one of those injured victims is a 20-year-old marathon runner, while the other is an 80-year-old elderly man in a wheelchair.
Now, they suffered the same injury, received the same treatment, and have the same medical bills. However, when it comes to pain and suffering, the cases are vastly different because a broken ankle affects one completely differently from the other. As such, the value of these two identical cases is not the same.
The marathon runner’s case is more valuable because it affects his daily activities to a greater degree, because his ankle will take longer to heal because he will be walking on it, and because the broken ankle prevents him from participating in marathons – an activity which he worked so hard to achieve, and an activity which he dreams of and loves to do.
These are factors that are never discussed by attorneys in commercials. Instead, you see a commercial where a paid actor claims he received $1 million or an attorney claiming that he will get you that $1 million because “he or she is better than other attorneys, or will work harder for you”!
Just once, I would like one of these attorney to speak the truth, which is, “I am going to give this case to my associate who just finished law school, and he/she will do the least amount of work possible to get the most money he/she can for me!”
Attorney commercials are devoid of this essential information, which makes them extremely deceiving and dangerous!
You Want to Increase the Value of Your Case, Be Likable!
Another big factor not discussed is the impression each Plaintiff makes! As a society, we constantly judge each other as to looks, attractiveness, sincerity, trustworthiness, etc. It is no different when it comes to the law and the courtroom.
Every injured party is examined by the defense and the adjuster to determine how well he or she presents before a jury. The more likable and sincere the injured party is, the more likelihood that he or she will present well before a jury, and the value of the case increases. The reverse works the same, i.e. the less likable and sincere the injured party is, the less likable he or she would be before a jury, and the value of the case decreases.
Remember, not all cases are created equal! This is the same whether the accident occurs in Santa Clarita Valley, San Fernando Valley, or somewhere else in Los Angeles.
How Our Firm Differs
Because every case is unique, we do not make promises as to the value of a case. However, some attorneys will make that promise because their goal is to hook and reel you in to sign up with them. Any such promise is deceitful and dishonest.
We are also not a “settlement mill.” A settlement mill is a seemingly high-powered legal firm that handles personal injury cases, but in reality, is a “high-volume personal injury practice” that tries to make fast and easy money by using paralegals and case managers (not attorneys) to settle cases as fast as possible.
These are the firms that generally place ads on TV and billboards. When you call a settlement mill, you never get to speak with the big-named lawyer you see on TV or billboards. Instead, it’s someone who doesn’t know you because you are one of hundreds or thousands of clients – just another number.
That is not us. We personally speak with and know every client, and their case details. So, when you call us, you know who you are speaking with and who is working on your behalf.