I have been practicing law for 30 years. People always ask me, how much is my case worth? There is no secret formula. There is no set schedule that dictates how much an injury is worth either. In fact, the assessment of someone’s damages can be complicated and time consuming and it can involve various different factors. With that said, if you are an accident victim, it is more important to understand the different factors that will be considered when your claim is, ultimately, evaluated and the sooner the better.
If you are an accident victim, at some point your claim is going to be evaluated by a claims adjuster. Claims adjusters are trained on how to evaluate damages. They are trained to think that people with pain, normally, go to the doctor. They think that people who don’t go to the doctor, normally don’t go because they either (a) have no pain or (b) they simply do not have the kind of pain that they (the insurance company) should have to pay for. They think that if you didn’t go straight to the Emergency Room you simply did not experience that much pain immediately. They think that if you did not go to see a physician or some other type of healthcare provider the next day that, once again, you were able to manage your pain without medical intervention. They think that the longer it takes you to get to a doctor translates to how much pain you are in. They think that if you are able to manage your pain with a chiropractor or physical therapy and without medical intervention in the form of medication, injections, procedures or surgery that is also a reflection of how much or how little the pain is that you are in.
This is important because pain and suffering is really where an accident victim’s settlement or award comes from but claims adjusters don’t really evaluate pain. They evaluate your treatment as though it is a reflection of your pain and, after all, it is or it should be expected to be. While many people are just afraid of doctors and medical treatment, if you are able to manage to only treat with a chiropractor or physical therapist, the pain that you experienced will be deemed to have been managed conservatively without the need for medical intervention. An argument that someone has a high pain threshold, what is more, is simply another way of saying that the pain didn’t bother you that much.
Fear of doctors and medical intervention, on the other hand, is natural. What’s more is that I believe that fear of doctors and injections is innate. I remember when my kids were young that they would always ask me, whenever I had to take them to the doctor, “I am not going to have to get a shot, am I daddy?” Nobody wants a shot. In my experience, the only person who gets a shot – especially one in their neck or back – is someone for whom their fear has been overcome by their pain. It is my opinion that no reasonable person would take medication or submit to injections, procedures or surgery unless they were in enough pain to warrant it.
In any event, when evaluating how much a case is worth, it should be noted that there are only two (2) types of damages that an accident victim can be compensated for and this is true for every personal injury case in Florida. The two (2) types of damages are: (1) Economic Damages and (2) Non-Economic Damages.
Economic Damages are basically medical bills and lost wages. However, if you recover money for medical bills, who gets the money? The answer, essentially, is the doctors and/or medical providers or the health plan that paid them. What about lost wages? The answer is almost everyone in Florida is either retired, unemployed or they work for a living. Retired and unemployed people have no lost wages and people who work for a living typically return to work hurt because they have no other way to make ends meet. As a result, much of the time there just isn’t much to be recovered for lost wages either.
So where does a settlement or award come from? Most of the time, the money that my clients actually receive is for their non-economic damages. In Florida, non-economic damages are for pain and suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, aggravation of a disease or physical defect and loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life. Everything that you do or don’t do after an accident reflects on your pain or lack thereof. In fact, the first thing every medical and healthcare provider an accident victim sees is going to ask, every time you see them, is how he or she rates their own pain on a scale from 1 – 10. The insurance claims adjuster knows this and, accordingly, the first thing they are trained to take note of is how the accident victim rated their own pain. All this information should be notated by the treating or attending healthcare providers in the accident victim’s medical records. Medical records thus become evidence upon which your personal injury claim will be evaluated.
In the end, the claims adjuster is trained to evaluate medical records as well as other pieces of evidence. The better and stronger the evidence is in a case, the more the damages will be worth. Personally, I find that it is worthwhile for my clients to review their medical records periodically in order to make sure that the doctors and healthcare providers that they are seeing are preparing accurate records. If the records are not accurate, that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.
How much a personal injury case is worth will, ultimately, come down to a number of different variables but if you are an accident victim, you only get one chance to recover for your damages so it is important for every accident victim to understand what treatment options are available to try to deal with and/or manage their pain. Again, if an accident victim is just treating with a chiropractor or doing physical therapy and not getting better, then other treatment options need to be considered and the sooner the better as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result will be deemed to make no sense. There may very well be other treatment options available that will not only serve to alleviate pain but may very well improve the value of the case as well.