What is “Fair Value” for my claim?
I wish I had a simple answer to this question for each of my clients. But the fact of the matter is, that just as each individual person is unique, each and every case is unique, rising (and sometimes falling) on the facts of each individual case. Placing a value on a claim is both “Art” and “Science”. The best I can do is to tell you some of the factors that go into evaluating the “fair value” of a claim. These are factors that both sides look at, or at least should look at, if they have any experience in this field at all.
What are all of the witnesses saying as to who is responsible for the accident? Juries tend to disregard, or at least discount, what both the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the person being sued) are saying about how the accident occurred. This is because the jury recognizes that both parties have a vested interest in the outcome of the case. The jury sees that the plaintiff is asking them to award monetary damages. They also see (because they are never told about insurance) that the defendant has potentially a lot to lose if they find the defendant responsible. So, generally speaking, the jury doesn’t ”trust” either party. Usually they most value the testimony of an independent third party witness who has nothing to gain or lose. Oftentimes, bringing out the best circumstantial evidence (such as the length of skid marks indicating excessive speed) can also sway a jury.
- Even though the jury tends to discount what both parties are saying, it is still important to evaluate what kind of an impression those parties are likely to make on the jury. Do they appear nervous or confident in what they are saying? How old are they and how much life experience do they have? Will the jury relate to them? Did either of them make any mistakes or important concessions at trial or in their deposition testimony?
- Once an attorney has grasp of the likelihood of a finding of liability in favor of the plaintiff, (i.e., is it 60 % likely or closer to 90% likely) he can then begin to look at the amount of damages he can reasonably expect a jury to award. How much is there in total medical bills and what is the nature of the injury? Is the injury permanent? Was there time missed from work? Is there any scarring?
- A very significant factor here is the forum where the case is brought. That is, which courthouse is the claim going to be tried in? What are the general tendencies of juries in regard to the award of monetary damages in that particular forum? Some counties within Illinois are far more favorable for a plaintiff than others. Only an attorney with a lot of courtroom experience in Chicago Area courts can best evaluate this factor. Also, there are certain things that can be done in order to insure that the case is filed, and stays in, the forum which is most favorable to the plaintiff. Many attorneys do not have a good understanding of this particular dynamic. Once again, experience is a big factor in knowing how to achieve the best result here as well.
The “fair Value” of a case is really a very fluid concept and can actually change from day to day, with each witness that is deposed, and each document that is discovered. That is one reason it is very important to have an experienced attorney evaluating the case throughout the entire claim process. You need someone who has been down the road, with hundreds of cases and personal experience with many juries and many different factual situations. A young attorney can have a surprisingly different, and far less accurate, assessment of a case than an attorney with 30 years of experience.
These are only a few of the things that go into evaluating the value of any given case. Suffice it to say, the more experience your individual attorney has, the more accurately he can evaluate the “fair Value” of the claim.