Every so often I get a call from a prospective personal injury client who correlates the "bad" behavior of the responsible party with the value of their potential personal injury case.
For example, I got a call recently from a prospective client (Jennifer) who was rear ended in a mall parking lot. It was a low speed impact, and Jennifer was in mild discomfort. As it turns out, the responsible party (a young man in his 20s) was driving with an expired license and was rude to her at the scene of the accident. He wasn't a very nice guy.
Apparently, he also refused to provide Jennifer with his insurance information at the scene because, in his estimation, the accident was so "minor" and there was no visible damage to either car. However, after much heated discussion, he offered to pay for the damage himself because he did not want to "involve" the insurance companies. Jennifer felt he was hiding the ball and wasn't being honest with her. He reluctantly gave her his insurance information when she threatened to call the police.
She told me, "I can't believe this guy! He didn't want to give me his information...he was driving without a proper license...and he was rude to me! He probably doesn't even have insurance on top of that!" I told Jennifer that I understood her frustration. However, her focus on his "bad" behavior, while understandable, was probably irrelevant to whether or not she had a claim for personal injury worth pursuing. I explained, "Jennifer, I understand your concerns but whether or not the other party was mean to you, had no license, cussed at you, doesn't go to church on Sundays, or is rude to his own mother has very little to do with your case."
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is this:
(1) Was he at fault?
(2) Were you injured?
(3) What is the likelihood of proving the injury to the satisfaction of a jury or insurance adjuster?
(4) Is there insurance available from the responsible party? If not, then is there "uninsured motorist" coverage? Is it worth going after him personally in court?
Jennifer was so focused on his rude and irresponsible behavior that she lost sight of the facts that actually matter most. She just wanted him to "pay for his actions." She wanted me to essentially "go after" this guy and "punish" him for his misdeeds! I explained that unless we can show he was drinking while driving (arrested at the scene) or doing something totally crazy, then our chances of seeking "punitive" damages (damages designed to punish someone for their actions) are little to nothing. Even though it might be a factor, his insurance company is not likely going to pay "punitive" damages. They don't cover him for that.
In most cases, if the responsible party admits fault, their "bad" or reprehensible behavior at the scene of an accident is generally irrelevant, even if it makes you angry or upset. Just because someone was a jerk at the scene of an accident, or was driving with an expired license, or doing anything else that was "bad" in your opinion, doesn't mean your case is necessarily worth pursuing. For example, if you got rear ended but there is minor or little property damage, then your case is probably not worth pursuing even if the defendant was the biggest jerk in the world at the scene.
It is certainly understandable to be upset with the responsible party for causing the accident, and especially being upset if they weren't obeying the law or were rude to you. That is a perfectly legitimate human response. However, when all is said and done, the focus should be on two things - liability and damages. Without clear liability and significant damages, discussing the bad or rude behavior of the responsible party won't get you very far with most juries and insurance companies. If the responsible party admits to causing the accident, his/her behavior after that won't matter much in most cases.
If you want more information or need help with your personal injury matter, please call our office at (661) 414-7100. We will let you know if we can help with your accident case.
VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Hello everybody, my name is Robert Mansour. I'm a lawyer in the Los Angeles area, and one of my areas of practice is personal injury. One of the questions that I get at the very beginning of many cases is the client will call or they'll show up to my office and they'll say, “How much is my worth? How much can I get?” Usually, that's a warning sign. That's a client who might be thinking dollar signs, and that's not usually a good fit for me.
I tell the client, “Look. I don't know how much your case is worth. You just had the accident a couple of days ago. We don't know the nature and extent of all of your injuries. We don't know whether or not you're going to have any residual problem from the accident. We certainly have no idea how much your medical bills amount to, how much your future medical bills might be. We still don't even know if this has had an effect on your job or not whether you lost money from work, et cetera.”
Also, there are subjective issues that have to do with car accidents what's usually called pain and suffering. That's a little bit more intangible, and everyone's case is kind of different. For example, I had a case where my client was involved in a car accident. His economic bills were not that high, but he missed his father's funeral as a result of the accident. So here's a fellow on his way to his dad's funeral. Accident happens. He misses his own dad's funeral. That is very, very severe.
I had a case where an elderly lady loved to do gardening, and because of the accident she was no longer able to get on her knees and do gardening in her yard. This was a very big deal for her because she was losing something that meant a lot to her. She really enjoyed that hobby. So there are sometimes intangible factors that have to do with the value of the case.
Also, there's really no ledger of value of body parts. You can't just go and say, “Well, you hurt your hand. That's $35 or $35,000 or $10,000. You hurt your hip, you hurt your eye, you hurt your this.” There's no such schedule of pricing. There's no open market for body parts that we can use to kind of figure out what the value of your case is going to be. So a lot of it has to do with how the case progresses as well as intangible factors and then, of course, there's the issue of the insurance company that you're dealing with.
Sometimes there are issues such as insurance policy limits. You can't get any more from the other party because they don't have enough insurance. You may or may not have enough insurance at your end. Also, keep in mind that there are liens that might be placed on your case. For example, your health insurance company might expect to be repaid. Your car insurance company, if they've paid anything out they might expect to be repaid. Any doctors we might hire to assist us in your case, they expect to be repaid, and that might affect your final number.
As you can see, it is very difficult to just give people a number in the very beginning and say, “Your case is going to be worth x.” Frankly, that is a warning sign. I had a client one time. He showed and he says, “Listen. I'm not going to get involved in this unless you can guarantee me that I'm going to walk away with $15,000 in my pocket.” I said, “Well, we're not going to be able to work together because I cannot guarantee you that nor can I even speculate about that at this point.”
So, for me, generally the clients who come to my office are clients who don't have dollar signs in their eyes. They're not there because they think they won the lottery, but it is a question that does cross people’s minds. There's nothing wrong with knowing that all of these various factors go in to determining the value of your case.
Again, remember, you're always going to think your case is worth more than the other party's insurance adjuster is going to think. You're always going to think your case is more than perhaps 12 people in a jury box are going to think. In any event, I appreciate you stopping by and watching this video segment. Again, my name is Robert Mansour, and thank you very much for watching.
Please call (661) 414-7100 for a free case evaluation. We serve all of Santa Clarita and its communities of Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Castaic, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Palmdale, Lancaster, etc.
I have some clients who call me on a weekly basis. They say, "My knee (or whatever body part) is killing me from the accident. The doctors don't know what's wrong. The physical therapy isn't helping. I'm in tremendous pain...." Of course, I'm not happy to hear about these things, but as a lawyer, there is only so much I can do. I don't have a medical degree so I can't prescribe medication or do surgery on the client. I empathize as much as I can with my clients, but I remind them that I'm handling the legal aspects of their case and they really should tell their doctors about their injuries.
Some of these same clients also want their case to be over as soon as possible. They say things like, "I just want to settle this case soon. I can't believe the insurance company hasn't made an offer yet! What's wrong with that adjuster? When is this all going to be over?!" In my 20 years as a lawyer, I've found that some clients believe that resolving their personal injury claim is going to "make everything better." They think there is a connection between the settlement of their case and their injury.
Over the years, I've had to explain to many clients that their knee (or whatever injury they have) is still going to bother them even if we resolve the case. I explain, "Just because we resolve your claim doesn't mean your neck or back isn't going to hurt tomorrow." Therefore, it is important to understand that rushing your personal injury claim to "put it behind you" or just be "done with it" isn't going to make you feel better. You need to focus on your injury and the medical treatment required to make you better. Getting a check in the mail from an insurance company is not going to help your injury.
After a car accident, many of my clients report a "fear of driving" - a fear they're going to get into another accident, especially when circumstances are similar. As a result, they want to be compensated for this as part of their overall claim.
Many clients seem to have some degree of post traumatic stress disorder because they are frightened when it comes to driving an automobile. Every time they approach a similar scenario while driving, their body tightens up, and they fear they're going to get hit again. This is very common when it comes to car accidents. People are afraid to drive through an intersection if they got hit in an intersection. People are afraid to stop at a stop sign for fear they will get rear-ended. This can go on for weeks or sometimes months. Unfortunately, this fear is not really compensable when it comes to accident cases. With respect to the person actually undergoing the stress, it is very real and very disheartening.
The truth is "fear of driving" (while certainly a real side effect of accidents) isn't worth very much when it comes to personal injury cases. Most juries don't award very much for this kind of fear. Unless you have serious psychological damage (i.e., you went to doctors etc), it's just expected as "part of life," so most juries and judges will not award much compensation for this fear of driving. It is a very real fear, and there is no denying its existence after many car accidents. However, when it comes to compensation, don't place too much value on it.
Many people wonder what their personal injury case is worth. The problem is there is no real "guide" you can buy with values assigned to different injuries. However, an experienced lawyer can provide you with some guidance. Also, insurance companies keep statistics on injury cases so they have some idea how much a case is worth. Typically, if an insurance company makes an offer to you, they may indeed be low-balling, but their offer often has some basis in reality. Therefore, if they offer you $1500 on a minor soft tissue case (minor whiplash from a car accident), it's because they know juries rarely award very much for such cases and it will cost you more than that to file a lawsuit. Factors that can affect the value of your case include how old you are (the older you are, the more likely you are to get injured), the severity of the impact, the amount of property damage, the severity of the injury, and any residual medical problems you may have from an accident.
Surprisingly, there are times when “how much” just isn’t the most important issue for my clients. In fact, I would say most of my clients aren’t out to “get rich” by bringing a claim for personal injury. What they want is fair compensation, payment of their medical bills, protection from surprise bills, etc.
I recently was involved in a case where there was significant potential for a higher settlement. However, without getting into all the details, the client just wanted to settle because he was exhausted. For two years, he tried to handle the case himself and the insurance company for the responsible party strung him along. It has now been another year, and he’s reached his breaking point. Sometimes, just getting “done” with the matter is valuable to a client…in other words, they can potentially get a higher settlement but that’s not as “valuable” as putting the case behind them. I try to listen to my clients to make sure that whatever course of action we take, they are on board and in agreement. Sometimes, settling a case for less can be of greater value to you. Just make sure you communicate such to your attorney.
Many times people call my office and they say, “Rob, how do I know if I actually have personal injury case?” Let me make something very clear: Just because an accident happened doesn’t mean that you have to make a claim. There needs to be a showing that someone was negligent, and that their negligence caused injury to you – and that injury has to be more than a little scratch on your nail! It has to be a compensable appreciable injury. If you want to discuss your personal injury case with me please feel free to contact my office. Thank you very much.
Just because an accident occurred, and it wasn’t your fault, does not necessarily mean that some insurance company is going to pay your medical bills and other related expenses. There needs to be a showing that another party or entity actually caused the accident to occur, whether it is a car accident or other kind of injury matter. You must be able to show that someone was negligent at the very least and that negligence caused your injury to occur. Many times clients tell me that they were involved in an accident but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. If we cannot show the other party did something wrong or negligent, we will likely be unable to prove that you should recover any kind of compensation.
Aside from a basic showing of "negligence," we also have to prove you had "damages" from the incident. Just because you can show someone was negligent doesn't automatically mean you get compensated. If you had no injuries, then you can't legitimately bring a claim...especially one for personal injury. You can of course bring a claim for property damage if you actually incurred property damage. Therefore, there needs to be a showing of negligence, and there needs to be a showing of actual damages incurred. Without both, you are wasting your time.
Many people are afraid to hire a lawyer because they figure they will get less compensation since the attorney typically takes 1/3 the recover as a fee. In some case, that might be true and a good lawyer should tell you if you are better off without a lawyer.
However, in 1999, the Insurance Research Council (a nonprofit organization supported by leading insurance companies across the United States), conducted a study and found that insurance companies generally pay higher settlements to people who use an attorney versus those to try to handle matters on their own. Generally, they noted that people who use the lawyer received on average 3 1/2 times more money and settlement than people who settled on their own without a lawyer. That certainly does not mean there is a guarantee of recovery. It only means that in some cases, you are indeed better off hiring a lawyer who can zealously represent you and get the most compensation they can.
I always use the analogy of river rafting. If you go river rafting, you always have a professional river guide in your boat because they’ve been down the river and they know how to get you down the river safely. It would be silly (or dangerous) to go down the river without a guide. Having a guide doesn’t guarantee your safety, but it sure improves your odds of arriving safely. A good personal injury attorney has been “down the river” and can guide you effectively.
We’ve discussed this issue before, but it’s always good to discuss whether or not hiring a lawyer makes sense for your personal injury case. If you have medical bills and lost wages that are less than $2000, you probably don’t need an attorney.
If there is no visible damage to your car, it’s going to be difficult to prove that you had any appreciable injury to most juries and insurance adjusters. That doesn’t mean the impact wasn’t severe…it only means that it will be difficult to prove the impact was severe. Over the past several years, juries have grown less patient with cases involving only “soft tissue” damage. For most jurors, being present every day and serving on jury duty is giving them neck and back pain! They don’t want to hear about yours.
If the accident was your fault, don’t bother hiring a lawyer (unless you need one to defend you). I will be honest with you. I’ve turned away many cases because I honestly believed the client would be much better off without my involvement. It’s not that I don’t want to help….it’s mainly because the client will probably be better off doing it themselves. Of course, I’m still available to help people evaluate their case. Feel free to call.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.