Most people when they come to see a lawyer would love to know how much their case is worth: “What can I legitimately expect to receive?” It’s really just about the most basic knowledge. And no honest lawyer can answer it early, except in the most unusual circumstances.
A couple times in the last few months, I have found myself talking to someone hurt by a bad accident, and going on and on about a lot of things that may not make sense to them – like how much a jury would award them, whether Ohio law limits how much a jury would award them, whether there is enough insurance coverage to give them what they need.
While I was talking about these different things, I tried to pretend I was in their shoes, listening to me. And I pride myself on being very clear, but there was a lot there that I think most people would find confusing.
I don’t like wars. But maybe the easiest way to understand this process is like a war that you have to fight to get a full recovery, with a series of battles. And how you do in the war – what you recover – depends on how you do in the battles.
Battle 1 – Liability
You can also call this “fault”. In most car injury lawsuits, this isn’t an issue. Usually, everyone develops a pretty clear idea of who is at fault early.
But liability can be an issue in car and truck lawsuits – especially in red light cases where different people say different things. Or in cases where there someone is speeding – because a speeder does not have the right of way, which means that the issue of who was at fault has to go to the jury.
Fault is almost always an issue in cases where someone falls because they slip or trip. Why? Because there is always an issue of whether the person who fell was looking where they were going, and whether they were being responsible.
If liability is not crystal clear – if there is even one person who has a story that is different from yours, and they sound OK, or if there is other evidence that you weren’t careful enough, or if there is evidence that a third party was at fault – that affects the value of the lawsuit. Under Ohio law – since 2003 – the judge has to ask the jury to determine the percent of fault attributable to each person.
Battle 2 – Finding Someone Who Will Pay
Usually, the bad driver’s insurance pays. The problem is that most insurance companies won’t tell you how much liability insurance their driver carries until you file suit.
Why not? They say it’s so they won’t violate the privacy rights of the other driver. The fact is that they can release the information with the other driver’s permission (and they have to once you file suit) – but they are afraid that once they tell you, that it will encourage behavior on your part designed to “tap” all the limits of coverage. Like going to a doctor or taking time off work if you really need to.
But it’s not that simple. If the other driver doesn’t have enough insurance to cover your injuries, your lawyer has to start asking a bunch of other questions. The first is whether you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage that is more than the other driver’s.
The question of insurance coverage can be very, very complicated. For instance, a lot of companies limit uninsured/underinsured coverage to people who are “family members” of the person who bought the insurance. If you are a passenger in someone else’s car –for instance, your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s car – you might have to check your own policy, and see whether you have enough coverage, rather than rely on the driver’s policy.
Another question is whether the other driver was on the job at the time of the accident, doing something to benefit his employer – if he was, you can sue the employer too. There are other questions, like whether the other driver was pursuing some common business interest with another person at the time of the accident. If he was, you may be able to sue his business partner, or another insurance company.
Battle 3 – Has Ohio “Capped” How Much You Can Get?
In 2005, the Ohio legislature passed, and the governor signed, law saying that you couldn’t recover more than $250,000.00 for pain and suffering in addition to your past and future medical bills paid by your health insurance company and past and future lost wages resulting from the accident.
Unless you had significant medical bills and lost wages because of the accident, in which case you could get past and future amounts paid by your insurance company on medical bills and past and future lost wages, plus up to the lesser of (a) $350,000.00 or (b) three times your past and future amounts paid by your insurance company on medical bills and past and future lost wages resulting from the accident.
Unless you had suffered the wrongful death of a loved one, amputation, paralysis, or the loss of an organ system because of the accident, in which case your recovery is essentially unlimited.
A good lawyer tries to develop a number of arguments. It is obviously key to document all the medical bills and lost wages – past and future – resulting from the accident. If the case is big enough and there is enough coverage, the lawyer will consult medical specialists and economists to get projections on how much this will cost your clients.
And if there is an argument that an injury is a “deformity”, or has caused “the loss of an organ system”, you make it.
Battle 4 – How Much Will The Jury Wind Up Awarding?
This is a battle in all but the hardest cases – that is, it is a battle in all cases where it is not obvious that the damages exceed both the available insurance limits and the caps. As I tell my clients: “No number is written in the sky.”
And, equally important, no one can evaluate a damages lawsuit accurately until the victim has recovered completely, or until the extent of their permanent disability is known. So when I meet you for the first time, I really can’t even guess how much you will recover.
Obviously, there are a billion other things to talk about – or smaller “battles” in personal injury lawsuits – like whether the jury will like the injured person or the defendant more, whether the jury will learn that insurance is involved (usually, they don’t), whether a claim for punitive damages exists or will benefit my client (Usually, it won’t help much) – but most of them wind up affecting one of these issues.
I wish I could make this all more clear and faster, at once. Sometimes I feel as though I have spent an hour numbing both my tongue and my client’s brain. But when I can’t give a straight answer to “What is my case worth?”, I would rather run the risk of confusing my clients than lying to them.
If you’re reading this, you obviously are interested in what you see. So why don’t you give me, a Cincinnati truck accident lawyer, a call.
I can probably give you an answer that will tell you more than anything you can read on a website or a blog.
If it makes you feel better, other lawyers refer their clients to me all the time. And if you decide you‘d rather hire someone else, that’s OK. My phone is 513-621-4775.
Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts pertaining to your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed. All discussions are limited to Ohio law unless otherwise indicated. And past performance cannot be used to predict future results.