In determining how much your case is worth, there are many factors to consider: Do you have the funds to pursue or defend this matter? Is it covered by my insurance policy or policies? How much will I actually end up getting or paying after all the fees and expenses are considered? How long will this take to complete? What county is it filed in? Is it a state or federal case?
This very limited discussion focuses on personal injury cases and is from the plaintiff’s perspective (the person doing the suing), but it can be applicable to defendants in deciding whether to settle the case or go to trial. This discussion also assumes that there is significant liability that be proven in your case.
1. Stage of the legal claim
In order to make a determination as to what your case is worth, you have to consider each stage of the legal claim separately because the value of the case changes from stage to stage. There may be different settlement values as the case progresses, such as before filing, at the time the case is filed but no work is done, at the time the depositions are done and the case is ready for trial, at the time of trial, at the time of appeal, and so on.
For example, settling a case before a lawsuit is ever filed will usually result in a smaller settlement number than if there has been three years of litigation, 36 depositions, and $200,000 of costs incurred. Not always, but more often than not.
2. Total amount of medical bills incurred as a result of the accident
In Illinois, it is the amount of medical bills incurred, no matter if they are paid or unpaid, that can be considered by the jury in determining a verdict in your case. If it is a case where the total medical bills are $5,000, it is usually going to settle for an amount less than a case where the total medical bills are $500,000 assuming both cases have the same liability..
Other factors in determining the value of the case include the extent of any scarring, permanency of the injury, loss of normal life, amount of past/present/future medical bills as well as past/present/future lost wages and past/present/future pain and suffering.
3. Settlement value of similar past cases
Another factor affecting how much your case is worth is the settlement value of similar cases that have gone to trial. There is a resource lawyers use called the Jury Verdict Reporter. This service allows them to look at cases similar to yours and see what the jury verdicts were for your type of case. A quick internet search can also be informative. But be very careful of cases with extremely large verdicts in a different state than yours. These kinds and types of case results are usually unreliable and may not apply to your case under the laws of this state.
A good attorney will advise you of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and should be able to get you into a position where you can negotiate for the best possible result. When considering the question of settlement, keep in mind some of the advice that I have heard over and over from the judges that I have been in front of: “a bad settlement is better than a good trial” and “a good settlement means that both sides are unhappy”. Not all cases will or should settle. Some cases will have to go to trial to get resolved. But a settlement is almost always the least expensive and least time consuming option.
The best way to handle a settlement and determine the value of your case is to pick an experienced attorney who has worked with these kinds of cases and knows the community the case is being filed in.