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What is the value of my accident case?

Dale Gribow March 4, 2015

One of the most common questions I received at my "ACCIDENTALLY YOURS" Radio Show and still get on almost a daily basis here in the CV: "How much is my accident case worth?" I explain many factors affect the value of an auto accident case. If a lawyer is honest with a client he/she will explain that without looking at all the medical records along with the police and investigative reports it is impossible to determine the value range. A guesstimate cannot be made until after all the treatment and a review of all reports, yet many local lawyers not as upfront with prospective clients.

I analogize that this is like asking a doctor, before an exam, "What is wrong with me" then inquiring whether he will be able to cure you. The doctor will want to take a history, review old medical records, X-rays and MRI's and then order lab work and then maybe a diagnosis can be given.

There are many factors that go into computing a value range of a case. A case does not have a specific value but rather a value range of say $15,000 to $25,000.

Most non-lawyers only look at the dollar amount of their medical bills and they do not consider liability. In other words what liability would the law impose on your client? If the client is making a left turn and argues the defendant ran the red light I suspect some jurors will decide that the client should have waited to make his turn when it was absolutely safe. The law presumes the person making the left turn is at fault....but it is rebuttable.

The insurance company wants to determine how a claimant will "sell to a jury." My first job at an insurance defense law firm was describing the claimant to the insurance carrier. They wanted to know his/her height, weight, how they were dressed, were their finger nails clean and shoes polished? Did they arrive 20 minutes late wearing blue jeans a white T shirt and sneakers or a coat and tie? They would factor these things into the value of the case.

There is a difference between settlement value and trial value. Unless a case has more than a soft tissue value it is often not financially worthwhile to take that smaller case to trial because of the costs involved in doing so. These costs have to be balanced against the potential recovery. The filing and service of a lawsuit will sometimes be close to $1,000 and hiring experts to testify about your medical treatment, take witness statements and investigate road design issues is VERY expensive. They also are deducted BEFORE the money to the client is calculated.

Each of your doctors will bill us and demand payment of $5,000 to $10,000 a day before testifying in court. If the date for the doctor's testimony is moved because it took longer to select a jury or the case before yours took longer than expected then your expert will require payment for the additional days. I recently paid a specialist $750 to talk to him for 15 minutes because that was his demand.

I had a local treating doctor who moved to NY by the time the case went to court some 5 years later. He demanded a first class ticket, room and board and $10,000 per court day PLUS money for travel days to testify. We had $40,000 in costs for this one doctor.

The value of a case is affected by the amount of your property damage, liability, length of treatment, injury and whether you saw specialists for certain symptoms like psychological damages etc. It is one thing to have nightmares about an accident and not drive your car after the accident versus sharing these symptoms with a treating psychologist. It is a well-known adage that if it is not important enough to share with a doctor it will not add any value to your case.

Insurance companies also look at how much of the medical treatment is therapy versus diagnostic. Isn't it logical that $5,000 of physical therapy three times a week for many months, is worth more than an MRI that takes 45 minutes and costs the same $5,000? However a new case says a lawyer can only present to a jury the amount of the medical bills that have not been paid by private insurance or Medicare/Medicaid. In other words if a client has a $100,000 medical bill from Eisenhower and all but $3,000 is paid by insurance, then the lawyer can only present the $3,000 outstanding bill to the jury. Needless to say this substantially decreases the value of the case.

In addition to property damage the insurance companies examine the loss of earnings. If you take your car to a neighbor's body shop and he does the work for $3,000 instead of your $10,000 estimate, you are doing a disservice to your case. If I represent a millionaire who is out of work for a week he/she may have a loss of earnings of a hundred thousand dollars for that week. This is added to the value of the settlement.

When I represented the original Bozo the Clown he was told he could not work for 6 months. I suggested Bozo hire someone to act as CEO and that he NOT take a salary for 6 months. By doing so we established his loss of earnings of $300,000. On the other hand, an employee earning $3,000 per month would lose $18,000 for missing that same amount of work. Obviously there is a big difference as to the settlement value. This is an important consideration when evaluating a case.

Intangibles such as the sizzle of the case come into play. Has it been featured prominently in the paper? Is the victim client well known and likeable or a jerk? Is the defendant likeable? If the client is a minister/pastor would he be more believable? Does your client have a police record for a felony? There is a jury instruction that allows the jury to take into consideration how much weight to place on the testimony of a Felon. Has your client had a major interruption of his life because of the accident?

I have represented clients who encountered the following issues which play into the value of the case: One client was on her way to see her mom remarry in Santa Barbara and missed the wedding; clients were unable to take a medical or bar licensing exam because of the accident; another client missed his Karate Black Belt test etc. How much additional money will a jury award for these?

As you can see there are many factors that determine the value of an accident case. Next week I will review How to Increase the Value of Your Accident Case!

Remember, When you drink don't "pull a Bieber" and get behind the wheel and have an accident (whether it is your fault or not) or get arrested for a DUI: DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE, CALL A TAXI.........IT IS A LOT CHEAPER THAN HIRING ME!

Dale Gribow has been "Rated" TOP LAWYER by Palm Springs Life Magazine from 2011-2019 and has a Superb AVVO Legal Rating by his fellow attorneys. Dale Gribow has been Man of the Year 7 times including the City of Palm Desert and the City of Hope and Dale Gribow Day has been declared 4 times. He is the only attorney appointed in December 2013 to the Coachella Valley Association of Government's Public Safety Ad Hoc Blue Ribbon Committee addressing Drunk Driving. This group consists of the police chiefs from every city and the mayor of each city as well as the Sheriff of Riverside County and the head of the CHP and Border Patrol. In addition Gribow is the only attorney asked to be part of the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Health Matters Committee addressing Drunk Driving. Gribow is also one of the founders of Shutdown Drunk Driving formed upon the death of his client who was killed by a drunk driver while jogging recently.

If you have any questions regarding this column or ideas for future columns please contact Dale Gribow Attorney at Law at his NEW number 760-565-0533.