How much is my personal injury case worth? (Part 1)
In this edition of “Who to sue” I examine a very common question. Clients with a personal injury often ask me “How much is my case worth?” The answer is not simple. My job is to get the client the maximum amount possible. Here are some things to consider.
Let’s start with car accident cases. Fortunately, for New York car accidents, an injured party is entitled to have $50,000 of medical bills paid for under the “No-fault” system. This money comes from the insurance company of the “host” vehicle in situations where a driver or passenger is injured. If a pedestrian is hit by a car or motorcycle, then the insurance for the vehicle involved pays for the pedestrian’s medical bills. This money is to be paid regardless of who is at fault for the accident. The $50,000 in medical bills goes directly to the medical providers and is not used to compensate the injured party for that person’s pain and suffering. That type of compensation comes from the liability portion of the automobile insurance policy.
Drivers in New York are only required to carry $25,000 of liability insurance. Many drivers carry just this amount. This is often not enough to adequately compensate an injured person. Let’s say a car with that amount of insurance hits a pedestrian. Assume we have three independent, uninterested eyewitnesses who place 100% of the blame on the driver. Let’s also assume the pedestrian suffers a major injury-a fractured femur with emergency surgery required. All the injured party can get is $25,000? In most cases yes.
Clients often ask me “Can’t we sue the driver personally?” We can always sue the driver personally. Unfortunately, most drivers don’t have personal assets. In other words, we could take the $25,000 now, or we could go to a jury trial (three years from now) and get a huge verdict. Perhaps a jury would award $750,000 for this type of an injury. Then we would have a piece of paper that said that this driver now owes the client $750,000. This would not be worth the paper it is printed on. Why? How could we collect $750,000 from someone who has no money? This is a sobering thought and it is very sad to see injured people walk away with no money from a car accident. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association works tirelessly every year to raise the minimum liability limit so that more drivers have higher amounts of insurance available to compensate injured parties. For the time being, however, many accident victims are stuck with $25,000.
Now let’s assume that the driver who hit the pedestrian had a $10 Million policy. How much would that personal injury case be worth? Would he automatically get the $10 Million? Who decides? More on that in the next post.