LET ME TELL YOU A STORY. WHEN I STARTED PRACTICING LAW, THERE WAS A LAWYER I KNEW WHO TOLD EVERYONE HOW MUCH THEIR CASE WAS WORTH, AND HE ALWAYS INFLATED THE AMOUNT. IF THINGS DID NOT WORK OUT AS THE CLIENTS WOULD HAVE LIKED, NATURALLY THEY WERE ANGRY.
I swore to myself that I would never make promises like that to anyone. It is sometimes very difficult to tell what the value of a case is. Normally, we have to do a thorough analysis of records, facts, and experience of similar cases. Any lawyer who would guess at the value of a claim is irresponsible.
If you or a loved one has suffered personal injury in Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering, humiliation, loss of life’s pleasures, future possible problems, medical bills, lost wages, hospital bills, physical therapy, and many other needs. Since each case is unique, the answer involves how much your actual “damages” are — in other words, what your injuries have cost you not only monetarily, but physically, mentally, and emotionally, and also whether the other party was negligent or whether you were partially at fault.
The personal injury attorneys of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters know the courts, the law, and what it takes to make a good presentation of a claim. We offer a free consultation to carefully examine the individual facts in your case and determine the best way to handle it, and to give you an idea what your Pennsylvania personal injury lawsuit might be worth.
There are many ways that we try to value cases. There are databases available; our own experience, of course; and sometimes we utilize unique techniques such as a summary jury or even focus group.
Factors in Determining Worth
In any Pennsylvania personal injury lawsuit, it is necessary to show fault, cause-and-effect relationship between the fault and harm, and damages.
How Is Fault Determined?
Determining fault requires proving another party was negligent in causing your injury. This means:
- That a person or company had a duty or responsibility but they did not live up to that and were not accountable.
- That there is factual cause, that is a cause-and-effect relationship, between what a person or company did to you and the harm that was caused.
- That you suffered damages, as that is defined in the law. calculate damages such as pain and suffering, humiliation, loss of life’s pleasures, or so-called out-of-pocket damages such as medical, hospital, and other damages.
If your own carelessness “contributed” to an accident, your settlement amount is reduced based on the percentage you are at fault. If your own fault is greater than 50%, you cannot recover any damages, so the settlement value of your case could even be zero.
Most personal injury damages are considered to be “compensatory,” meaning that they are supposed to compensate the injured party for what was lost due to the injury. Some compensatory damages are relatively easy to place a dollar value on — like reimbursement for costs of property damage and medical bills. Other damages, like pain and suffering, humiliation, loss of life’s pleasures, future possible problems, medical bills, lost wages, hospital bills, physical therapy or emotional distress, are harder to quantify.
The law is extremely complex in this area, and the law is actually different, for example, between motor vehicle claims as opposed to medical malpractice cases. There is something called the “collateral source rule” in Pennsylvania, which may or may not apply. There is also the question of liens and what must be repaid to insurance companies. This is a very factually sensitive inquiry, and many times it must be known what the insurance policy says, whether it is a government benefit, self-funded, or the like.
In Pennsylvania, the law states that you cannot ask for anything you want. The amount cannot be arbitrary. Instead, there must be specific evidence of the damages. Damages that are typically permitted are as follows:
- Pain and suffering, humiliation, loss of life’s pleasures, and sometimes emotional distress.
- Medical, hospital and physical therapy treatment — A personal injury damages award almost always includes the cost of medical care associated with the accident, including both past and future medical bills.
- Lost wages and future lost wages — This refers not only to income you have already lost, but also means your lost earning capacity, or the money you would have been able to make in the future.
- Property damage – The fair market value of the vehicles or other items that were damaged as a result of the accident.
- Other ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses.
The more the damages, the higher is the overall value of your case. If you don’t have damages, then you may be allowed to ask only for the value of your pain and suffering from your injuries.
Pain and Suffering, Humiliation, Loss of Life’s Pleasures
Pennsylvania personal injury law allows for the recovery of pain and suffering. This includes physical and emotional pain, as well as the psychological impact of an injury — including loss of life’s pleasures, fear, anxiety, stress, mental anguish, embarrassment, humility, and sleep loss.
What pain and suffering is worth depends on the particular circumstances of the case. Even when different parties have the same injuries, settlement awards vary, based on factors such as geographical area and whether or not the plaintiff is likeable. Juries give higher awards to people they like and give more credibility to testimony about injuries that comes from physicians and family members than to the testimony of the injured plaintiff. It should be noted that people cannot sue wherever they want to. In medical malpractice cases, for example, the lawsuit must be brought in the county where the negligence occurred. Hiring a Philadelphia lawyer will not get a person into a Philadelphia court. Rules governing cases other than medical malpractice also have venue provisions restricting and limiting where cases may be filed.
In cases where the defendant’s conduct is outrageous, intentional, and is much worse than negligence or carelessness, punitive damages may be awarded. These are designed to “punish” the defendant for the negligent act. Pennsylvania does not impose a cap on compensatory damages per se, but any court can look at a damage award and decide to grant a remittitur, or reduction.
If you do not have high medical bills, or significant lost earnings, then you must be able to establish the pain and suffering, humiliation and loss of life’s pleasures of your case. Insurance companies can be very difficult to work with. Different insurance companies have different criteria for valuing cases. Many insurance companies even use a computer program to arrive at what they will offer for a particular claim. Some insurance companies will use a multiplier and try to make an offer depending upon the quantifiable losses such as hospital and medical bills. That is not quite as popular as it used to be, since today there are many cases where medical and hospital bills cannot be recovered at all. To say that there is a strict multiplier between quantifiable damages and pain and suffering is passé, and lawyers who operate that way may not be doing a good job for their clients. Every case is different. Every case needs to be addressed in a very careful, specific and detailed way.
Achieving Results When it Counts
The experienced personal injury attorneys of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters have spent decades honing their skills and successfully representing Pennsylvania families who have suffered an injury or loss due to someone else’s negligence. We offer personal attention and loyalty to every client, aggressively fighting for their right to compensation. Whether in settlement negotiations or pursuing a trial verdict, we are thoroughly prepared and committed to achieving a just outcome. With our excellent staff, we offer strength in numbers while providing top-notch personal service.
If you or your loved one has been involved in a situation where negligence may be an issue, your next step should be to consult with Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters by calling (570) 323-8711 or by using our online contact form. Based in Williamsport, we serve clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania, offering a free consultation on all injury matters. More than that, we offer you experience, knowledge, compassion, and a long history of results.