Anyone who has been severely injured in a car accident, will want to know if they have a legal case against the other driver, and if they do, what their case is worth. Those are often the first two questions that someone hurt in an automobile accident asks their lawyer: "do I have a case?" and "how much is my case worth?" The answer to the first question depends on the facts of the accident – what happened? If the other driver was at fault – even if his fault is not 100% clear – then the answer to the "do I have a case?" question, will probably be "yes."
The "how much is my case worth?" question is usually more complicated. Most lawyers will not answer that question at the first meeting, because they will need more facts. A key fact that must be learned is the size of the other driver's auto insurance policy. If he has few assets and little insurance, the plaintiff may be unable to recover more than a tiny fraction of the true worth of the case. I have handled such cases on occasion, involving catastrophic injury, and they can be heartbreaking. Assuming that there is adequate insurance coverage, the worth of the case depends on many factors. Some are more objective than others. The severity of the physical injury is of course paramount, especially if there was permanent harm done. The psychological trauma from the crash itself and from permanent injuries, may be more subtle, but is an important part of valuing the case. The economic losses, primarily medical expenses, (in auto cases, these are admissible into evidence even if paid for by health insurance; the health insurance payments are not admissible), lost wages and lost earning capacity in the future, play a major role in valuing the case. If there is a spouse or children, the impact of the injuries on them may also be part of the damages.
Once an attorney comes up with an estimate of what the physical and emotional injuries and economic loss are worth – a process as much art as science – he must then assess the odds of winning the case should it go to a trial. In that assessment, the lawyer considers the strength of the liability case; i.e., the evidence that the defendant was at fault, the credibility of witnesses, and any potential trial hazards, such as damaging concessions made at a deposition. Once all the elements of the case are put into the mix, which does not occur until the pre-trial discovery in the case is completed, the attorney should tell his client how much the case is worth, which will generally be expressed in a range of value. Then, the client, guided by his attorney, must make the difficult decision of whether to accept the final offer from the defendant's insurance company or take the case to a jury.