Personal Injury Calculators: Why Worry?
Wouldn’t it be great if somebody offered a calculator so that you could figure out exactly how much your Erie injury case was worth? I mean, if you knew exactly what your Pennsylvania injury case was worth, you wouldn’t have to worry about whether you settled too early for too little. You wouldn’t have to worry that you turned down the right offer and, as a result, incurred unnecessary delay, expense, and risk. Well, worry no more because personal injury calculators abound on the web. (See, for example, After-car-accidents.com and personalinjurycalculator.net.)
Of course, if it really is possible to mathematically determine how much a case is worth, why would anyone, anywhere, ever take a Pennsylvania injury case to trial?
The truth is that personal injury calculators are amusing and, in some limited respects, educational diversions. However, with one limited exception, they offer little insight into the value of a claim.
How Personal Injury Calculators Work
How do personal injury calculators work? Well, there are really two answers to this question. First, there is the answer that describes how they appear to work. Second, there is the answer that describes how they actually work.
Let’s address appearances, first. One calculator I saw asks users to input a variety of data, including medical bills, collision damage repair costs, rental costs, and lost wages. The user inputs the data and the calculator produces a range of values. The calculator appears to consider a variety of factors and employ a complex formula to offer the user a meaningful guide to the value of the personal injury case.
In fact, the calculator simply takes the medical bill number and applies multipliers (in the case of the one I tried, 3 and 5) and then adds in the other numbers. In other words, the calculator makes a simple equation appear complicated (and thus, perhaps, more sophisticated and accurate). All the calculator tells the user is that the value of a personal injury case is somewhere between three and five times the cost of the medical bills.
In fact, it can be dangerously misleading to rely on a formula like this one to assess the value of your personal injury case.
Personal Injury Valuation in the Real World
When I first started to practice law, I went to work for a big law firm and represented big insurance companies. (Yes, it’s true that I started on the dark side, but, in my defense, I’ve since repented, atoned for my wrong-headed ways, and now work for the good guys.) Back then, the senior lawyers in my firm and the insurance companies we represented were busy trying to break the common industry standard of valuing cases by simply multiplying medical bills by three. This practice, they argued, was absurd because it undervalued big cases and overvalued small cases and, as a consequence, resulted in insurance companies paying too much in cases where they faced little or no risk and offering too little in cases where they had substantial risk. The net result of this old practice? Insurance companies settled the easy, little cases; tried the harder cases; and lost big verdicts.
The insurance industry figured it out. Now, they base their valuation on risk, not multipliers. The hard part is knowing how insurance companies perceive risk. In this regard, insurance companies consider three significant factors. First, how likely is it that the case will go to trial? Second, if it goes to trial, how much value will a jury assign to the case? Third, what are the limits of coverage?
We’ve discussed why a lawyer who actually tries cases is a benefit in a personal injury case elsewhere on this site and so we won’t make much more of the point except to note that insurance carriers know that some lawyers are never going to try the case and so they never offer top value to these lawyers.
Trial valuation is a more nuanced analysis, involving the complicated interplay of various factors such as geographic location of the jury pool; the personal response that a jury is projected to have to the plaintiff and the defendant; the facts of the accident or negligence at issue; the existence of preexisting conditions; and the nature of the injury. However, most critical to jury valuation is the ability to demonstrate to the jury how money damages will help to remedy the harm, i.e., pay for medical bills, replace past or future lost earnings, and make up for the losses that can be neither fixed nor helped.
Finally, coverage limits impact the risk analysis. An insurance company with limits that are relatively low risks exposing their insured to liability in excess of those limits and thus may be less willing to test the plaintiff’s resolve and more willing to pay those limits. On the other hand, an insurance company with very high limits may be less willing to try a case because they have greater exposure to the unpredictable result that juries sometimes deliver.
The Value of the Personal Injury Calculator
The one thing that these personal injury calculators have in common is that they demonstrate a direct connection between medical treatment and value in Pennsylvania personal injury valuation. Indeed, there is a direct connection between treatment and value in Pennsylvania personal injury litigation and, to the extent that these calculators help to drive that point home, they’ve helped to educate the public.
The Bottom Line
If you’re trying to figure out what your case is worth and you’re using online personal injury calculators, you’ve done some positive things. First, you’ve begun to think about value and that can’t be bad. Second, you’ve looked for resources to inform and guide your thinking and that, too, is good. Now, take the next step. Go get a free consultation with a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer. In fact, invest the time and effort to meet with multiple Pennsylvania injury attorneys. Ask them how they value cases and whether they can tell you what your case is worth.
Beware the lawyer who gives you a number. There is no way to meaningfully evaluate a case in the initial consultation. A lawyer who offers such an analysis is essentially offering you the equivalent of an “online” calculator. There may be some shred of value in the number, but the process is fundamentally flawed and misleading. Instead, look for the lawyer who explains a process that includes consideration of multiple factors and who understands that value is directly linked to preparation and willingness to go to trial.
Contact a Pennsylvania Injury Lawyer
For a free, no-obligation consultation with our team of experienced Erie injury lawyers, call today at 814-833-7100 or toll free at 814-833-7100, or fill out the online consult form.