Category Archives: Jury Verdicts

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.

How Long Will My West Virginia Car Accident Case Take And What Should I Expect?

This is usually a question I get from every client. Most clients ask this question hoping that my reply will contain a specific and short period of time. The answer always will have to be “it depends.” However, it almost never is a quick process. It almost always is going to depend on a number of factors, including the specific injuries suffered by the client, and his or her treatment, court scheduling and the particular issues in the case. The general process is usually the same:

INVESTIGATION: Any car accident case should be extensively investigated before the case is every filed. This includes obtaining all medical records regarding the client’s injuries and relevant medical history. The medical records will establish the basis of your medical damages. The investigation will also establish the liability of the parties to the car accident. In other words, which driver was at fault? If both drivers were partially at fault, which driver was more than 50% at fault? This includes questioning witnesses, examining the reports and statements, and hiring experts to review the facts of the accident. All of this evidence must be compiled to present at the trial of the case.

DEMAND: After the investigation is complete, and after the client has reached MMI, or maximum medical improvement, a demand is usually submitted to the other driver’s insurance company. This will include all of the relevant medical records and medical bills to establish damages, and should also include any other documents establishing other damages, such as lost wages, future lost wages, pain and suffering and other expenses. Sometimes cases are settled prior to filing a lawsuit. Sometimes however, the parties are unable to agree on liability or amount of damages, and the Complaint must be filed.

FILING: The lawsuit, called the Complaint, is drafted and filed by your attorney in the appropriate West Virginia Circuit Court. Once the case is filed, the other party is summoned to file an Answer. The other party’s insurer will have either a private law firm, or their own employees who are attorneys (in effect many insurance companies, such as Nationwide or State Farm, have their own law firms in West Virginia, but they call them “employees”) file an Answer to the Complaint. The Court will then file a Scheduling Order (the parties do have some say in the general dates used by the court) establishing the discovery deadlines and then the trial dates.

DISCOVERY: Discovery is the fact-finding process by which attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants formally investigate the claims and defenses of the case. This will include written discovery, such as interrogatories (written questions), requests to produce documents and/or things, and requests to admit certain facts. The various parties must answer all these forms of written discovery under oath. Discovery also includes depositions. Depositions are formal proceedings in which parties and/or witnesses are sworn under oath and the attorneys involved in the case are given an opportunity to question the witness. These proceedings are always recorded by a court reporter that will prepare a written transcript of the questions and answers. This transcript can be used at trial in different ways depending upon the particular state rules. In every court, the transcript can be used to “impeach” a witness if he or she gives a different answer at trial than in their deposition.

MEDIATION: Either by court order, or by agreement, the parties may agree to mediate the case at some point before trial. Mediation is an informal process where both sides meet with a mediator, a neutral person, usually an attorney. The mediator works with the parties to try to reach an out-of-court settlement. If successful, the case ends at this stage. Of course, the parties can agree to a settlement without the need for mediation, although in West Virginia car accident cases, mediation is a common means of resolving meritorious cases.

TRIAL: If the parties cannot agree to a settlement prior to the trial date, the case will be tried, almost always to a jury. The number of jurors in West Virginia car accident cases is 6. Other states use either 6, 9 or 12. The jurors must be unanimous in their verdict. The jury’s job is to decide issues of fact. The judge will decide issues of law. The trial will proceed through the steps of jury selection, opening statement, plaintiff’s case, defendant’s case, rebuttal, closing arguments, jury instruction and jury deliberations. Once the jury reaches a verdict, the judge will, in most cases, enter that verdict as a judgment. Either party may file post-trial motions challenging the verdict. Once the judge has ruled on these motions, the judgment is final. Once the judgment is final, either party may appeal the decision for any one of numerous reasons. However, most successful appeals are based upon assertions that the judge has made an error in a legal ruling, not simply that the jury’s decision was wrong.

The entire process, from beginning to end, can take several years and cost thousands of dollars. Because of this, an experienced lawyer will carefully screen cases, proceeding only on cases that he believes are supported by the facts and the law.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney

Girl Hurt in Wreck Awarded $1.25 Million

From the Charleston Gazette:

Girl hurt in wreck gets $1.25 million

By Andrew Clevenger
Staff writer

After a four-day trial in Kanawha Circuit Court, a jury awarded more than $1.25 million to a Scarbro girl who was injured when a truck ricocheted off another truck and pinned her leg against a power pole in 2004.

Stefanie McKinney, now 14, needed 720 square centimeters of skin grafts on her leg, said her lawyer, Chad Love.

“The scarring was just unbelievable,” he said.

The jury’s verdict included $250,000 for pain and suffering, $200,000 for mental and emotional distress and $550,000 for disfigurement. In addition, the jury awarded $257,858.52 to cover McKinney’s medical bills.

McKinney was standing on a corner in Oak Hill when a 1997 Ford Ranger truck driven by John Anderson collided with a 1994 GMC truck driven by Jimmie Souder, according to the lawsuit she filed in 2006. After the impact, Anderson’s truck pinned her leg against the pole.

The jury found that Souder was 100 percent liable for the accident, and Anderson was not negligent.

Beckley lawyer Tim Hayes, who represented Souder, could not be reached on Friday.

Charleston attorney Andy Brison, who represented Anderson, said he was glad that the jury had concluded that his client was not at fault.

“It’s a tragic case. This little girl was standing there advertising her mother’s yard sale, and she gets hit like that,” Brison said.

McKinney impressed Brison as the kind of person who refused to become a lifelong victim.

“She had a really good recovery,” he said, noting that by the spring of 2005, she was playing softball, even making the all-star team. “As her dad said, she worked her butt off to get into that shape, and I agree. She’s just not going to let this get her down. She doesn’t seem like the kind of kid who would do that.”

Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. presided over the case.