Valuation Personal Injury Cases In A National Crisis

Valuation Personal Injury Cases In A National CrisisI guess the benefit of getting older is having a good amount of experience with life, in general, and the law specifically.

The last time of major national crisis was the market collapse the third week of September 2008 that dragged us into the worst recession since the Depression of 1929.

Around then, I was in litigation on a good case where a woman on a bicycle was unfortunately hit by a car and had something like 4 surgeries to stabilize her. We filed suit because the insurance company just wasn’t willing to pay big dollars without full discovery. A mediation conference (settlement conference) was scheduled that third week in September 2008, which was the next best chance to settle the case.

Literally the morning of mediation the market fell 777 points and everything came to a screeching halt. I was still ready for mediation when the phone rang. Opposing counsel for the car insurance company advised me that I could go to the mediation conference if I wanted, but they wouldn’t there. Their insurance company, AIG, was broke. In fact, AIG was a big contributor to the market collapse and from that day on, they were bankrupt.

We eventually settled that client’s case……..about six months later for six figures.

However, from that fateful day in September 2008, for lawyers and everyone else, the financial world went silent. We couldn’t settle cases for months, the phones got very quiet and all focus was on saving the world economy.

So, back to the topic: How do we value personal injury cases in a world crisis? The same way as if everything were fine. Your case is worth what your case is worth. The financial and stock market bombs going on around you have little to do with your personal case or how lawyers value them. While the whole subject of valuating a case takes into account many variables and all PI lawyers are familiar with the ranges of damages in injury cases, the subject is way too long for a simple blog post.

But what can occur in a time of global crisis is a financial panic. Lawyers have to manage client expectations effectively. When a client is recently out of work or thinks they may become unemployed or is retired and has depleting assets, suddenly this case is their financial savior – and the thought is that their case is now worth much more than when the crisis hit. However……’s not. A client’s financial need does not determine the value of a claim. I literally have had some clients say about a settlement offer: “Oh, I was hoping to get a new boat out of this……” or a bigger house, or pay off a judgment.

It sounds zen, but your case is worth what it’s worth and failing to settle a claim pre-suit or in litigation based on heightened expectations is always a mistake. Because you know who else knows the true value of your claim? The insurance company and their phalanx of lawyers. And they’re not about to write a bigger check based on a claimant’s needs.

Best advice: Listen to your lawyer when he or she talks to you about the true value of your case. Ask how they came up with this range of values and I’m sure you’ll get a fairly long, logical and rational explanation. I always spend lots of time with clients on this subject. It can make all the difference.

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