DETERMINING THE VALUE OF A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM

DETERMINING THE VALUE OF A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM

         Another car blew a red light and ran into your car passing through an intersection on green. The police have investigated and issued an accident report holding the other driver at fault, and an ambulance took you to the Emergency Room of the local hospital. You know insurance will cover your vehicle, but realize the injuries involved will required a personal injury claim.  The first question will likely be the expected result of bringing a personal injury claim with or without trial.  Though the next step would likely be visiting an attorney, it's important to personally understand the factors involved with the value of a personal injury claim due to the effect on family and personal finances.
 
        One of the first things to understand in valuing a personal injury claim is that the level of liability for the other side effects the claim.  In the case described above, the liability the opposing side would likely assign to the other driver is 100%.  Therefore, whatever number a jury were to determining damages would be fully against that driver.  Other cases can involve situations in which the person bringing the claim has some level of liability.  In South Carolina, as long as the other driver is at least 50% at fault they can be sued for that percent of damages.  If the other side is less than 50% at fault (the plaintiff cannot be more than 50% at fault) they could not be sued in South Carolina.  
 
        A factor in evaluating the claim is the venue (county) the suit could be brought.  Counties have historic trends in jury verdicts and in some jury verdicts would be expected to be higher, while in other the verdicts are traditionally much lower.  Whether that appears fair or not, trials are in front of citizens from the county and their decision stands. The case can either be brought in the defendant's home county or where the accident occurred.  It's important to speak to your attorney about venue.
 
       As a general rule, many insurance companies will develop their personal injury damages primarily based on the medical bills from the ambulance, ER, and other medical doctor and specialist related bills.  They will also consider the other medical bills, like chiropractic bills, but normally put the most weight on the hospital/doctor bills.  If the bills solely involve an ambulance to the ER and ER evaluation and treatment (and release without inpatient treatment) with soft tissue injury, the "expected" settlement can range at 2-3 times those medical bills.  Therefore, if the total bill is $5,000.00, the settlement value can sometimes be expected in the range of $10-15,000.00.  This varies greatly based on venue, and other nuances of the case.  
 
       Understand that the valuation is based on the total medical bills, and not what was paid by medical insurance or co-pays by patients. In the event of a settlement, a medical insurer will likely have some kind of "lien" on the settlement. Normally, this is far below what the insurer paid on the bill, which was far less than the bill.  Therefore, for a bill of a few thousand dollars, an insurer might have a lien of a few hundred.  Either way, the other money is to cover pain and suffering and other such damages.
 
      In addition to those valuations of damages, other damages are considered as well.  For example, lost wages due to the accident should be calculated and sent to the insurance company.  The settlement will consider these on a 1 for 1 basis, and not the 2-3 times amounts like with the medicals.  Additionally, when injuries involve more serious injuries like broken bones or worse, the valuations can go well beyond the 2-3 times the medicals.  Additionally, the medicals are expected to go into future treatment and problems.
 
     In cases of serious injury, the biggest restriction on valuation can be the insurance limits available to cover damages.  In South Carolina, minimum insurance limits are only $25K per incident or $50K overall.  That's for the other driver.  Most drivers also have underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage on their policy which helps cover the excess medical damages.  Those limits are based on the kind of policy you have, and why to consider higher policies.  Also, lawyers can explain ways to "stack" UIM coverage of multiple vehicles on the policy to cover damages.  
 
       Every case is unique, and your attorney will give far more detail about the nuances of the case.  There is also the factor of settlements when the other side is still reasonably contesting liability and therefore not willing to settle at expected amounts.  You always have the right to take the case to courts and juries, but always understand the pros and cons of that process.
 
 
 
 

Bill Connor Orangeburg Attorney Bill Connor received his Bachelor of Arts from The Citadel in 1990, and after serving for over a decade as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, including three deployments to the Middle East, he received his Juris Doctorate from The University of South Carolina in 2005. In 2012, Bill was honored to receive an AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating by Martindale-Hubbell®, the top peer rating for American lawyers. Receiving this rating at such an early point in his career is unheard of among lawyers.

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