Monthly Archives: May 2009

What is my West Virginia auto accident injury claim worth?

What is my West Virginia car accident injury case worth?  This is a great question, and indeed almost every West Virginia car accident case client has asked me this question.  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.  Obviously, money is not everything, but the purpose of our civil justice system is to compensate people for the wrongs of others, and the only manner of compensation which can be achieved is through money.  One of the most difficult aspects of handling West Virginia personal injury actions, including car accident cases, is to discuss, and agree on, a settlement value.

The basis for a settlement is simple.  Assuming your attorney can prove the other party is at fault, what does an insurance adjustor believe  your attorney can convince six West Virginians, sitting as jurors, that your claim is worth?  Of course there’s a whole lot more to it, but everything else is merely a weight on either side of the scales of justice – either weighing for, or against, the value of your case.  This forms the basis over which your case can be negotiated and settled.  If no settlement is possible, then you have to actually ask those six individuals to give you what you are arguing you deserve.  Of course, juries are made up of individuals, which means that different juries could come up with different values, which means that the value of your case is unpredictable.

Some things we can predict.  More often than not, the value of a case will increase over time.  In almost every case, the value of a settlement offered the day before trial is going to be greater, if not much greater, than the value of a case settled before a lawsuit is filed.  But there are many factors that could weigh the scale in either direction (i.e., sway, or potentially sway, jurors in favor of either side’s arguments):

The arguments usually consist of disagreements over the severity of injuries, as described by you, other witnesses, and your medical records, and over the causal connection between the accident and the injuries incurred and complained of.  Another factor is the persuasiveness and credibility of the testifying witnesses.  Yet another factor in consideration is – what venue in West Virginia would the case be brought in (i.e., what county).  For instance, in the coalfields of McDowell County, jurors are notorious for giving large verdicts.  But, in Greenbrier County or Monroe County, although they also are in southern West Virginia, jurors are notoriously conservative, and thus have a record of handing out smaller verdicts.

It helps to understand how insurance companies determine the value of a West Virginia car accident injury case:

Many insurance companies we deal with in West Virginia injury cases use computer software called Colossus, which is reportedly used by more than half of American insurance claims adjustors.  The enter data received from your lawyer, including medical records and the amount of any lost wages.  The program then considers the severity and location of the accident.  It will even consider whether a lawsuit will have to be brought in Greenbrier County, or McDowell County, or Mercer County, or Raleigh County, West Virginia.

The program gives value to certain injuries, and awards more value to permanency of injuries.  Higher value is given to objective injuries, such as broken bones, or herniated discs.  Lesser value is given to subjective injuries, such as complaints of chronic pain or headaches.  Value could also be added or removed due to other factors, such as whether the injured person went to the hospital immediately after the accident, or whether there were preexisting injuries, or injuries which have occurred after the accident.

Also considered will be who the accident attorney is responsible for the case. The insurance adjustors know which attorneys settle cases without proceeding towards trial, or even filing a lawsuit.  Even more important, it will be up to your attorney to take your case from a number generated by computer software to a realistic view of human compassion and needs.  Your accident attorney has to communicate your everyday pain and suffering to the jury.  This is a very subjective task.  One attorney may not do well at it, but another may do extremely well.  The resulting compensation which juries award for that pain and suffering will be the result.  I believe that the more effective your accident attorney is at trial and persuasion, the more compensation you will receive.

Example Values of Specific Injuries (According to a recent national Jury Verdict Research analysis):

Foot Injuries: the overall median award was $98,583.  Multiple fractures to the same foot increase the median to $144,000.  11% of these injuries were from motorcycle cases.  Another 28% of these injuries were from car and truck accidents.

Leg Injuries: the overall median award was $141,847.  However, there are many types of leg injuries and fractures, some of which command remarkably higher verdicts, such as a femur fracture, which holds a median award of $482,273 – with the highest recorded verdict being $4,000,000.  Multiple fractures in the leg carry a mean and median verdict of $596,618 and $192,762, respectively.

Rotator Cuff Injuries: the overall median award was $72,667.  These typically occur in side-impact car collisions.  

Knee Injuries: the overall median award was $34,550 – which does seem a little low.

Vertebrae Fractures: the overall median award was $112,537. 66% of these cases were from car accidents, which are the leading cause of spinal injuries.  The overall award for multiple vertebrae fractures increases to $207,000.

Hip Fractures: the overall median award was $175,000, and the overall mean award was $435,581.

Overall, the value of your case can only be determined with respect to your individual injuries and circumstances.  Also at play is the amount of insurance available to compensate you  for your injuries.  In many, many cases, there is not enough insurance.  Sometimes alternate sources of insurance or liability can be found.  For this reason, among many other important reasons, it is very important to consult with an experienced West Virginia car accident injury lawyer about your particular case – and preferably one who has a reputation for going to trial often and winning.  As I have said before, almost every car accident attorney offers a free consultation.  And if they don’t, then call someone else.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.