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What Are Your Injuries Worth?

Experienced NYC personal injury attorneys address the accident victim’s #1 question

The first question that most of our seriously injured clients ask is “How much am I going to get for my injuries?” It’s a natural question, of course, but since no two cases are identical, it’s not a question that lends itself to mathematical precision. Your friend did not get “$1 million for the same exact injury,” no matter what he says. And the lawyer who tells you at the first meeting that “you have a great case” and he’ll “get you $1 million” may be more of a salesman than an advocate. The truth is, many variables affect the outcome of a case, and we believe it’s best to be honest with our clients about those variables.

2012 accident illustrates complexity of personal injury claims

In 2012, Steve Hanna (name changed to protect his privacy), a 48 year-old mechanic, was standing on the sidewalk at the corner of Queens Blvd. and Woodhaven Blvd., waiting for the traffic light to change. As the light on Queens Blvd changed from green to yellow, a truck making a left turn failed to yield to a car going straight.  The front of the truck struck the rear left corner of the car, causing the fast moving car to spin around wildly. The car veered toward the sidewalk and barreled into Steve, pushing him through the plate glass window of a restaurant at the corner. The combination of Queens Blvd’s immense width and heavy automobile traffic has made it one of the most dangerous thoroughfares in New York City. It has earned city-wide notoriety and morbid nicknames such as “The Boulevard of Death” and “The Boulevard of Broken Bones”. In fact, from 1993 to 2000, 72 pedestrians were killed trying to cross Queens Blvd, an average of 10 per year, with countless more injuries. Steve was now among its victims.

Steve’s injuries were profound and terrible. His left leg was severed just above his knee. His right leg was crushed. After 18 surgeries, hundreds of agonizing physical therapy sessions, and dozens of infections, he has a prosthetic left leg, and his right leg has multiple plates and screws in it.

Steve’s economic losses were relatively easy to project. We retained doctors, a vocational rehabilitation expert, a life care planner, and an economist to establish that Steve was permanently disabled and to calculate his lost earnings. However, the pain and suffering that Steve endured was incalculable. Through witnesses, doctors, and a videographer who filmed a video of a single day in Steve’s life after the accident, we were able to present a compelling picture of Steve’s suffering.

Because the truck company had no assets, we were limited to the available insurance. After three years of intense litigation, the defendants’ insurance companies offered the full amount of two liability policies, $6 million. If the truck company had $10 million of liability insurance, we would have gone after it. Frankly, no amount of money was sufficient to fully compensate Steve for his pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. We tell Steve’s story to illustrate how many factors go into computing the value of injuries sustained in accidents.

Factors that determine the value of personal injury cases

The first issue that accident attorneys look at is liability, or who is at fault for the accident. Liability attaches when a person who has a duty to act carefully violates that duty by acting negligently, recklessly, or deliberately to do something that causes another person harm. Although it is rarely an issue, the harm to the injured party (the plaintiff) must have been reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances. There may be solid evidence that the defendant was at fault, or liability may be more difficult to prove. The plaintiff may bear some responsibility for the accident, or may be entirely blameless. New York’s law of comparative negligence reduces jury verdicts by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault.

Other obvious factors that determine how much an accident victim may be awarded include:

  • The severity of the injuries
  • Whether the injuries were pre-existing or caused entirely by the accident
  • Whether the injuries are permanent
  • Whether the injured person is temporarily or permanently disabled
  • How much medical treatment the injured person received
  • Whether future surgery is likely
  • The client’s age
  • Whether there are out-of-pocket costs for medical care and replacement services

The occupation and earnings of the injured person are also critical factors. For instance, if a firefighter injures his knee and is disabled from returning to work, the value of his case is based on his pain and suffering and his economic losses. His future lost income, including his prospects for promotions (which would increase his salary and future pension payments) would be a huge factor for a jury to consider. On the other hand, a lawyer who suffers a similar injury to his knee might very well be able to return to work within weeks of his accident. There would be no claim for future lost income. The final verdicts of each case, with identical injuries, might very well be millions of dollars apart.

As much as some lawyers like to think that their shark-like reputation is the primary factor that defendants’ insurance companies consider when negotiating a settlement, there are two other factors that are far more important: the demographic make-up of the jury and the plaintiff’s credibility. Since a jury must decide each party’s percentage of fault and the value of the injuries, the particular county where the lawsuit is brought is often critical. Some counties in New York State are extremely generous to victims of accidents. Others are very conservative. We have seen juries in Suffolk County and Rockland County award $100,000 to an injured plaintiff, who might have gotten well over $1 million from a jury in the Bronx.

But, perhaps the most important factor is the credibility of the plaintiff. Insurance adjustors assess a plaintiff’s credibility during the pre-trial process. They often base their pre-trial settlement offers on what they imagine a jury will think about the victim. Insurance adjusters know that if they don’t offer a fair settlement, an experienced attorney will take them to court, where the jury will decide how much the plaintiff gets. If the jurors like and believe the plaintiff, they will award a fair amount money. If they think that the plaintiff is exaggerating the injuries or stretching the truth, they will be far less generous, and may even send the plaintiff home with nothing.

Be sure to retain an experience NYC personal injury attorney for your accident

While prior verdicts and settlements are no guarantee of future success, we hope this article has helped you understand how many factors contribute to the value of a personal injury case. Lawyers must analyze a case based on the specific factors of each particular case, and no two cases are alike.

If you are injured in an accident, we recommend that you speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to learn your rights. A reputable personal injury firm never charges for a consultation. To schedule a free consultation with a lawyer from Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson, call 888.746.8212 or contact our New York office online.

Sample verdicts and settlements

Every client we represent has a back story as compelling as our client Steve, whose life was forever changed the moment he was struck down on Queens Blvd. In the cases listed below, we were able to secure verdicts or settlements after unexpected accidents forever changed our clients’ lives. We are grateful that so many people have put their trust in us, and proud that we have given so may people the opportunity to regain their sense of security after an accident.

$7 million for an undocumented teenager who sustained severe pelvic and urological injuries when his bicycle was struck by a truck making a left turn — Suffolk County;

$1.125 million for a 47-year-old NYC firefighter whose neck injuries required cervical fusion — New York County;

$920,000 for a 55-year-old police officer who, after stepping on a defective stair in a housing project, required a total knee replacement — New York County;

$650,000 for a 45-year-old sanitation worker who suffered a torn rotator cuff that required multiple surgeries after the driver of a car attempted to pass the garbage truck he was loading — Kings County;

$750,000 for a 42-year-old nanny who was hit by a car as she attempted to cross the street while pushing a baby carriage (thankfully, the child was uninjured). Her injuries included a fractured elbow requiring surgery and the insertion of a metal plate and screws, fractured teeth and nose, and a fractured thumb requiring surgery — Rockland County;

$350,000 for a 35 year old teacher who fractured her ankle requiring surgery to insert a plate and screws and a 2nd surgery to remove them, as a result of her leg getting caught in the gap between a subway train and the subway platform — New York County;

$450,000 for a 41-year-old construction worker whose auto accident aggravated his pre-existing bilateral knee conditions requiring medial meniscectomy surgeries on both knees — Staten Island.

 

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