There is a perception held by many that personal injury cases, no matter what the extent of the injury, are all worth big money. While I agree that it would be nice if a mere tap to your bumper meant you will get to retire to Hawaii, that is just not the reality. This myth is exacerbated by attorneys advertising outsize verdicts, boasting about big money recoveries and personal injury cases won; billboards and websites that display personal injury case settlements. All too often they fail to disclose the crucial facts about the type of injuries suffered by the person who ends up with the high dollar result.
The simple truth is, you do not want to be one of those people who recovers enough money to “retire” – were you to recover that kind of money, it means you are permanently impaired, you will likely need medical care for the rest of your life, and possibly assistance to handle daily needs. And no amount of money can truly compensate you for that.
There are many internet sites that suggest that even the most minor of injuries will receive a large settlement or verdict. Not true. I say this regularly, and it bears saying again: every case is unique. There is no standard payment for a particular injury. If an Oregon lawyer tells you there is a standard payment for a particular injury, run. Run away, run fast, and find competent representation.
Your personal injury accident claim requires proper evaluation and development of the evidence. This often involves reviewing all medical records, consulting with your doctors, and sometimes employing an economist expert. You would be well-advised to not believe it when anyone, let alone a lawyer, has spent little time evaluating the case and comes up with a value. Instead, consult with a personal injury attorney who specializes in this area of law, and to determine fair value, has evaluated the damages, expert opinions, medical records and evidence.
There are many attorney referral websites that offer pseudo advice on case values and which attorneys are best for your case. Those internet attorney referral sites do not know you; they do not know your case. They are playing a numbers game and trying to benefit from you by making promises and assertions that simply are not correct.
One internet myth about personal injury cases is the idea that there is a common ratio between your economic damages, such as medical costs, and your noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Internet sites and Youtube videos that tell you for every dollar of medical costs you have, you are going to get five dollars in pain and suffering damages are simply wrong.
It is true, that in Oregon, there is a significant body of caselaw pertaining to appeals of jury verdicts that involved situations where the noneconomic damages award significantly exceeded economic damages. From that body of law, lawyers are able to make generalized deductions about compromise offers as they relate to the damages in a particular case.
However, that analysis requires a current understanding of where that body of law (meaning appellate decisions) stands. For instance, recently, the Oregon statutory cap on compensation for noneconomic damages (ORS 31.710(1)) was found to violate Article I, Section10 of the Oregon Constitution. How to apply that decision to your case requires a careful analysis.
Notwithstanding the above discussion, there is no standardized ratio for damages and case value. The best option an injured person has is to have the claim developed and negotiated by an experienced personal injury attorney. Using a general practice attorney who does not specialize in personal injury cases is not a good idea.
Do not be fooled into thinking that you can apply a damages ratio in the manner suggested on the internet. There is no “one size fits all” ratio.
If you read the information above, you probably know that I am going to say, “every case is unique”, and that it is incorrect to conclude that because person A got a particular amount for an injury, then person B, who has a similar injury, will receive a similar amount. Damages vary from case to case and are based on many different factors.
Let’s start with the accident itself. Imagine a case involving a meniscus tear and surgery where the injury was caused by a drunk driver that was texting when he drove his car into the person who was then injured. Compare that to a case where the exact same injury and treatment happened to the exact same person, but the negligent driver was not drunk, but instead a well-meaning elderly lady that just failed to apply her brake properly.
A jury is going to award more money to the person in example case one, than they do to the person in example case two. It is easy in the example to see why the similarity of injury does not dictate case value.
As an additional example, let’s examine the issue from the standpoint of the claimant. Again, imagine two cases with the exact same injury and treatment. However, in example case one the person missed one year of work, and in example case two, the person can perform their job without interruption. The person who lost a year’s wages will obviously recover more money than the person who did not have wage loss, despite having the same injury.
I suspect that these two general examples are sufficient to dispel the internet myth that a particular injury recovers a specific amount, and that if your injury is the same as your friend’s injury, who recovered $100,000 for theirs, that you will get that much for yours.
I get this type of question often. It usually starts with, “I read about a case in Los Angeles”, or “I know a guy in Las Vegas…” When it comes to personal injury claims, Oregon is in a universe all its own. The value of a claim in Oregon has a different value than that exact same claim in Illinois. There is a tendency that is perpetuated by insurance companies, and internet referral services, that is useful to each of them in very different ways. That tendency is to assert that you can use case values in one jurisdiction to determine the value in another.
A better way to think about this subject is to think about the demographic of the jury pool and the likely panel that will sit and evaluate your case. The fact is a likely jury panel in Multnomah County is a very different demographic that the likely jury panel in Umatilla County; Lane County juries are demographically different than Curry County.
Insurance companies spend billions of dollars to be able to evaluate the typical jury verdicts for specific counties and to understand the makeup of likely jury panels. Why does this matter? Because the jury and their power to hand down a verdict is the ultimate hammer, the ultimate arbiter of what the value of a case is. It is not the insurance company, it is not the lawyers (despite what they may try to tell you), it is the jury.
Look at it this way: in Las Vegas, Nevada the jurors every day are regularly exposed to big numbers on billboards, jackpot advertisements, and the like. In Salem, Oregon, the jurors do not have that bombardment of gigantic dollar signs, and there is a fair likelihood of less than high paying employment. Our life experience matters.
Those two jury panels, one from Las Vegas, and the other from Salem, will return different values on cases with exactly similar facts due to their demographics, their individual life experiences, and their exposure to money.
I wish it were true, but it is not. It is true that the law allows for recovery of future treatment costs, but those costs are addressed in your settlement. The insurance company that covers the liable party will look to write one check and get a release signed. The release is a contract where you agree to “release” the liable party in exchange for payment of money.
I can tell you that in all the years I have been doing this work, I have never had an insurance company agree to an open-ended agreement to pay all medical costs in perpetuity. It just does not happen.
What is important to understand is that a lawyer can develop the evidence for your claim for future damages, and you can recover for those damages. This type of evidence is established by experts, often a combination of doctors and professional economists is necessary to present a viable claim, and to establish the necessary proof in court.
One of the common tactics used by insurance companies, that is similar to this myth, is to, early on in the case, before you really know the extent of your injuries, offer to pay you money and “leave the medical cost open for the time period of the PIP coverage.” That is a dangerous proposition for the injured person, and a very safe proposition for the insurance company.
What happens when your costs exceed PIP coverage, and what if you use your health care coverage for some of the costs? It doesn’t take a genius to realize this scenario is not favorable for the injured and is favorable for the insurance company who covers the liable party.
The personal injury claim process, as it pertains to a car accident, consists of a number of steps. First, the accident and injury should be reported to your insurance company. Your insurance company will give you a “PIP” claim number. That PIP claim number is the basis for billing of your initial medical costs. Yes, your medical costs for a car accident are first billed to your insurance company, even if the other party is at fault.
The reason Oregon law works this way is the subject of a different blog, but trust me, your automobile insurance company that provides you with liability protection, also provides you with medical coverage after your accident.
Next is the course of treatment. During this period, you know from the discussion above, you should not settle your case. You should tackle your treatment and do everything in your power to get better. Listen to your doctors and physical therapists and do what they tell you to do. Do not undertake activities that are likely to exacerbate your injuries. Once your treatment is finalized, then settlement becomes a possibility.