What is the value of our life, liberty, or happiness? Many people in the legal world fail to fully understand the human losses in injury and death cases. This is true for plaintiff personal injury lawyers who represent the injured or killed person and it is true for the insurance industry and their defense lawyers.
Do not use Robinson v. Bates as a multiplier for settlement value
Insurance adjusters and defense lawyers commonly base their settlement offer on the total amount of special damages incurred in a case. Special damages are easy to calculate and include lost wages and medical bills. Using medical expenses as the relative marker for determining the value of a case is a defense tactic and should rarely be followed by injury lawyers. A common mantra in the insurance defense industry is that a good settlement offer is three times the medical expenses and many times the offer is much less. Furthermore, the insurance industry will use the amount of medical bills that were paid as the multiplier and not the billed amount citing the Robinson v. Bates case which allows defense lawyers to reduce the billed medical expense to the amount that was actually paid by the health insurance company.
Use the true harm caused by the defendant – the human losses – for settlement value
Medical expenses and lost wages are often a small portion of the actual damages inflicted in injury and death cases. The biggest harms are the human losses. Human losses are non-economic loss. Human losses include the love that is lost between a parent and a child or between two spouses. Human losses include the worry that a serious injury brings a family as a result of medical bills, an uncertain future, and the freedom that was taken away from the injured person.
The best personal injury lawyers understand human losses and look beyond lost wages and medical bills. Lost wages and medical bills are certainly part of the damages in a case but they should not be used as an anchor for the value of a settlement. Two recent settlements in our firm are examples of how we refuse to use special damages as an anchor for settlement.
Two recent examples of high settlements despite low economic loss
In a recent case, we had a young man on a motorcycle who was forced off the road by a semi-truck on interstate 75. The young man avoided the truck but was thrown from his motorcycle when he hit the grassy median injuring his ribs and shoulder. Our client was a truck driver and did not incur lost wages as a result of his injuries. The total amount of medical bills that were owed as a result of the crash was just over $11,000. We were able to settle the case for $125,000.
A second case was more difficult because our client suffered a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of a rear-end collision. Our client had no lost wages because his employer was optimistic about his recovery and continued to pay him the same salary as he slowly recovered. The total amount of medical bills that were owed was $33,000. The insurance company had a difficult time understanding the human losses in the case because our client was working full-time, traveling, and had relatively low medical expenses. After demonstrating the true human losses through statements and documents from his friends and family, the insurance company realized what their reckless driver took from our client and settled the case for $500,000 before trial.
Focus on true loss and not economic loss
Defense lawyers understand the concept of anchoring. When lost wages and medical bills are low, people tend to believe that the human losses should be low as well. People have a natural tendency to award a lower number for the non-economic damages in a case when the economic damage numbers are low. They anchor to the low number when thinking about the value of a subsequent number. At Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima we often choose not to present special damages like lost wages and medical bills when we present cases for mediation and trial. We focus on the most serious damages; the loss to life, liberty, and happiness.