“What is the value of a personal injury, products liability, or wrongful death claim?“. It does not matter whether you are the victim of a defective product, a negligent commercial truck driver, a careless driver of an automobile more engaged in text messaging then driving safely, or you are injured by a large corporation or governmental entity, my reply to the client is that if I or any other attorney offers you an opinion on the value of your case at the first meeting or even at some point in time shortly thereafter, you should run for the exit door. I tell the client, you may not elect to hire me, you may elect to interview one or more attorneys, but whichever law firm or attorney you select, anyone who stands there and beats their chest as a guerrilla in the wild to signify that they are brave and will recover large sums of money for you in their first or second meeting with you is someone with whom you should not enter into a lawyer/attorney-client relationship. “The value of a personal injury claim” is a good question, but typically cannot be answered immediately.
The evaluation process to answer what is the value of a personal injury claim, regardless of the type of claim that brings the client into the office, is arrived at in the same manner. While the evaluation should always begin with client interview, it has to be followed by the careful, businesslike collection of documents, photographs, witness statements, medical records, wage records, and other information that speaks to fault of the offending party and the damages and harms suffered by the client. As an example, recently I was asked by another law firm to take on a wrongful death case as we have the manpower and financial ability to pursue complicated litigation. We accepted the case as the trauma was significant, the surviving family was beautiful and caring, and we have always enjoyed cases involving construction site injuries or deaths, especially road construction sites. Everyone, other than the defendant, spoke glowingly of the deceased. The evidence was that he was a kind, loving, and supportive family member, and a good employee. But not reported at the time the case referred to our office was the fact that he had minimal earnings over a significant number of years. Earnings history, while not the only factor, is almost always a significant factor in any evaluation of a case. If I had offered an opinion on the evaluation of this case when it was first referred without the earnings information later available to me, I would have been in significant error.
As I told a recent prospective client, each case goes through several phases to answer what is the value of a personal injury claim. The first phase following initial interview is to collect that information which can be collected without filing a lawsuit. After we have received tax returns, medical records, personnel files, documents concerning the accident facts and other information, we can sit down with the client to give them a better perspective of what the risks and benefits are in proceeding with their case, and we may even be able to provide some broad description of the value of the case. The client should not be surprised if the answer to what is the value of my personal injury claim goes up and down as additional information is collected. For example, how appealing do we believe the defendant would be to a jury may affect the case. Typically we cannot make an assessment or evaluation of the defendant until a lawsuit has been filed and the defendant has had their testimony taken by deposition. In the case of the surviving client who suffers mental health and/or physical injuries, we typically have to have the person evaluated. The defendant also has the right to such an evaluation. The opinions of these professionals, typically medical doctors, is another factor that has to be considered in determining the value of the case.
The best way for the client to understand the value of a personal injury claim is to meet with the attorney periodically after certain documents, depositions, and other material have been obtained. I encourage you to ask questions such as, how does the information we obtained affect the value of the case. Lawsuits are breathing, living creatures. In this day and age of electronic documents, there is no reason for the attorney or law firm to not provide you with any of the information obtained in your claim. To the extent that information can be provided electronically, it should be provided to you for free. Your attorney should encourage you to read the information obtained in your case, and you and your attorney should exchange opinions on how that information affects the value of your case.
In short, any time you are offered an answer to what is the value of the personal injury claim, please make sure that you also ask upon what information the attorney is relying upon by way of facts and data particular to your case to answer what is the value of a personal injury claim.
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