By Jacob Regar
When the time comes to place a value on a personal injury claim, most people think of the accident victim's medical bills and property damage as the recognizable anchors for the valuation of the claim. There are, however, other highly important factors that should never be overlooked when valuing a personal injury claim. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the hidden potential in expressing the full scope of the accident victim's damages.This includes showing the defendant and their insurance company what the accident victim can no longer do because of the accident and why that is so.
You see, to value a personal injury case, you don't simply crunch numbers. If that's all you do, you can easily arrive at an unrealistic value for a given claim. Tallying up the claimant's economic damages like necessary medical expenses is certainly good for the claimant because they can obtain reimbursement for this expense. It's even better for the medical providers who will be paid for their services. But what about the intangible harms that the claimant endured? How will the claimant be meritorious in that aspect of their claim?
The first step to mounting evidence of a personal injury victim's non-economic damages like mental suffering is actually brought about by the client providing their attorney with a consistent stream of relevant information about the real-life effects that the accident has had on their life. The attorney can then effectively and accurately evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the respective non-economic damages of the client's claim and ultimately arrive at a full and fair value for the claim.
Quite frankly, a defendant should not have to pay a plaintiff for their damages that cannot be shown to be a direct result of the injury-causing event. This is really valuable information that anyone who has been injured due to another's negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct should read because it would allow them to understand how important descriptive information about injuries and damages is to advance a claim toward successful resolution.
A good attorney will work hard from the point of being retained by a client to begin compiling relevant information that describes the client's damages in the context of human losses. Human losses include being limited in the engagement of preferred lifestyle activities.
Here is a good example of how a client's accurate and complete description of their damages to their attorney can turn a difficult-to-prove claim into a solid and verifiable claim: If a client who has been injured in a car crash complains that for about two months after the accident their back hurt, the attorney will ask the client to explain their injury in more detail. The client may say, "my back hurts, what do you want me to say?" The client likely feels that the defendant owes them compensation for causing their back pain. And technically this is true. But in practice, you can't blame a defendant who says "show me why I should compensate you. Just because your back hurts, why should you be entitled to the damages that you claim?"
A good attorney will know that if the client's injuries are documented by medical professionals and the car crash was serious enough, the client most likely suffers from their complained-of injuries much more than they are letting on. Sometimes it takes some real examination of the client to draw out the true nature and extent of the client's injuries. Keep in mind humans are private beings by their nature. We don't just open up at every instance and share our personal limitations with others.
The attorney might ask the client "what activities are you avoiding or no longer able to perform due to your accident-related injuries?" The client may respond since their car crash they have avoided going to their dance class that they were formerly attending on a weekly basis. Still, that information by itself doesn't tell the complete story. The attorney should press further and ask the client to share what that's like for them. When the client finally explains that between employment responsibilities and house chores, the client is spent and hardly has anything left in the tank to live out their formerly active lifestyle which included regular attendance at dance class. If the attorney pushes a little further, by constructively challenging the client, "I understand you have less energy since the accident, that makes sense, your body is healing itself, but why can't you continue attending dance class?"
Good information will start to flow and pretty soon it will be apparent to the attorney and even the client, if they had previously been in denial about the extent of their injury, that the car crash really has compounded their life's difficulties.
The client will start to explain that they know their body and they know what their physical capabilities are and because of the car crash they feel that they need to protect themselves from overexertion and possibly exacerbating their back injury and they just know that their body isn't as strong as it was in its pre-accident condition.The client may admit that they are angry and sad that all the work that they had invested in their dance training that brought about advancement in that skill, advancement that is the result of dedicated practice, is slipping away while they are unable to return to class.
Armed with this descriptive and very human story, the attorney will be able to draw on the client's testimony and locate witnesses who will be able to substantiate the client's absence from dance classes that they were regularly attending prior to the car crash, and pretty soon, the client's damages will become even more verifiable.
So what is really needed to help a client obtain a fair settlement is relevant information from the client about the client's loss of ability to engage in their favorite activities. A good personal injury attorney is trained to use this important information to the client's advantage. But, without enough information about the client's damages, the attorney is going to battle against the defendant's insurance company with an unloaded gun.
Personal injury clients should keep their attorneys informed by providing at least monthly updates about the impact their injuries are having on their lives. They should keep a journal and add frequent entries to describe their limitations. These entries do not need to be long but over time they will help to illustrate a very real picture of the client's damages. And a client who is really interested in recovering maximum compensation for their injuries by way of a fair personal injury settlement would be wise to ask their attorney, "what kind of information should I provide so that nothing is left on the table regarding my damages as you prosecute my case against the defendant?"