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Geoff Trachtenberg
Geoff Trachtenberg
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How Do You Know What My Case is Worth?

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One of the things a good personal attorney provides is assistance evaluating a case. After all, when all is said and done, that is really what matters most: what’s it worth? The answer to this question is more complicated, since every case is different. If you believe myths about cases being worth “three times medical bills” or the like, you are likely to be way off base 95% of the time.

Personal injury cases are evaluated, first and foremost, on the nature of the particular injuries and manner in which those injuries affect the injured person. A person may have been in a terrible crash, had all kinds of diagnostic tests (costing tens of thousands of dollars), but come away with only minor injuries that resolve quickly and without any meaningful follow-up treatment or lost wages. Such a case is worth a little more than the medical bills (but not “three times the medical bills”).

On the other hand, you might have someone in a minor car accident who, as a result, experiences long-term pain and discomfort due to a cervical neck/spine injury. That person might spend nights sleeping uncomfortably on the floor, since she cannot get comfortable in a soft bed. That person may find any work, even routine housework, impossible and might not be getting relief from her doctor for whatever reason, so her medical bills might be that much. Such a case is clearly worth more than the modest medical bills.

So medical bills, and even medical records, only tell part of the story, and sometimes they tell you nothing.

Consider a wrongful death case, for example. In that situation the amount of the medical bills are irrelevant, since the claim is for the lost relationship with the loved one. That is, the damage that are recovered are highly dependent upon the nature and extent of the survivor’s relationship with the decedent. Nothing is as profoundly personal.

In essence, the manner in which an injury case is evaluated is crudely based upon what juries or arbitrators in that particular jurisdiction are awarding for similar injuries. While each case is somewhat different, good attorneys will take the facts and distill them down to essential elements that allow for some kind of objective comparison.

Even a wrongful death case can be distilled. That is, one can get a partial view of the damages by looking at what juries have awarded survivors of the same age, ethnicity, gender and economic dependency. Other factors can be added as well, but at a certain stage it becomes a little like predicting the weather — i.e., an educated guess.

Perhaps the biggest factor that clients need to know about when it comes to their attorney’s evaluating their case is them. That is, it is the client — her presentation and overall credibility — that is the most important factor, more important than anything else, in evaluating a case. To be blunt, the critical question often becomes “what will the jury thing of the client”?