What affects settlement value in Car Accident cases?
Each and every car accident settlement is different in Maryland. This is because each and every car accident settlement has varying facts that may play a part in changing the value of a case to a great degree in some circumstances, or in other circumstances to a minor degree. Facts such as the people involved, the evidence available, explanation of the accident, degree of negligence, and jurisdiction can all affect a case.
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The people involved in an auto collision case can have a fairly substantial impact on the value of the case.
When dealing with any legal case what must be considered are the individuals that are directly involved in the case. This can go outside of the personal injury arena into other areas of law as well. It is the unfortunate truth that people judge based on demeanor, looks, and overall presence. When a jury of peers is involved in a trial the parties in the lawsuit must cater to what they believe the jury wants to see and hear in order to obtain a favorable verdict.
Settlement value in a car accident case can be impacted substantially depending on who the defendant or the person being sued is. A defendant of a particular race or religion may be put at an automatic disadvantage depending on the particular area the incident occurred. This is not only because a jury will be selected based on the location of the accident, but when negotiations are taking place between the defendant and the plaintiff, the defendant will most certainly leverage the potential jury pool while negotiating. What this means is that, for terms of settlement, the value may be decreased greatly just because there is the possibility of a jury being selected mostly of a different religion than the plaintiff- with a different set of core religious beliefs.
Setting aside appearances or religion, how the parties will testify, their demeanor, and presence will play an intricate part in the value of any car accident settlement. If the defendant is a very likable person, who has a fair amount of charisma and charm, with good social skills, than she may have a fair chance at coming across as more believable and likeable than the plaintiff. If liability is questionable in the case than the defendants “likability” and veracity is essential to the defenses case. If liability is already established and the defendant is deemed negligent the likeability could still play a big part in settlement value in a negligence lawsuit. People are more influenced by someone they like and if it is expected that the defendant will be able to draw the jury into liking him than the insurance adjuster will likely offer less in settlement negotiations.
Settlement value in a car accident case can be impacted substantially by the plaintiff’s character traits and personality. Does the plaintiff come across as someone that is sue happy or a serial lawsuit filer? Does the plaintiff seem to be taking advantage of the system to get a pay day, or are they genuinely injured and seeking retribution? Is the plaintiff someone who will come across as believable when they testify. Attorneys with experience are able to learn which plaintiffs will come across as trustworthy when testifying or whether they will be viewed with a skeptical eye from the jury. When assessing any case for settlement the likeability of the plaintiff and the defendant can play a huge part in negotiating a settlement. Ultimately, if a car accident case is settled it is because the risks associated with a jury or judge trial outweigh the benefit of settling the claim. Having an unlikable plaintiff and a defendant that will be likeable can make settling the best option.
It is not necessarily just the demeanor of the plaintiff or the defendant that will matter. Sometimes there is a relationship between the parties. In that scenario there will be a lasting impression on most jurors. It is surprising to most that one family member might sue another family member. The mere thought of it may lead to immediate distaste for some, however further explanation can help most completely understanding the situation and even cause them to view the case in a different light. The scenario: a family member makes a horrible mistake while driving the family car full of other family members. The accident resulted in some serious injuries among the other family members. Serious enough that the cost for medical treatment would leave the entire family in bankruptcy and homeless because they simply did not have the money to pay for medical treatment. Luckily, the member driving the car had auto insurance and because of this the injured could file a claim or suit against the family member and recover money to pay for life saving medical treatment. In a great majority of these cases the family member is more than happy to be sued by their other family members because it will help with the medical bills and could potentially prevent catastrophic financial debt.
Under the Maryland rules of evidence insurance must not be discussed at trial. This means that any actual lawsuit filed against a family member would look just like one family member viciously and greedily suing their beloved family member who had a lapse of judgment. Thus leaving a horrible impression on the members of any jury. These types of car accident cases often have a reduced settlement value.
The ultimate decision maker in settling any car accident case is the adjuster. If the goal is to settle and not go to a trial than ultimately the plaintiff is left to the mercy of what the adjuster finds is a reasonable settlement amount. These amounts will vary dramatically among each adjuster and each automobile insurance carrier. It is not advised to just take what the adjuster offers and cases should always be handled with the intention of going to trial!
The attorneys involved in the case will also play a role in the amount of the car accident settlement. An overall good attorney that meets the needs of the victim and is willing to fight when necessary is ideal. The aggression should also be mirrored by a sense of reasonableness so that in the end a good settlement offer is not turned down in light of zealous representation. When and if a lawsuit is filed the defense attorney will also have some impact on any settlement numbers. He or she may be able to influence what offer the adjuster made previously. He or she may also be a bit more conducive to settlement negotiations. Once a lawsuit is filed there will be an influx of evidence which will enter the case. This could be good or bad.
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The available evidence will also play a role in evaluating a car accident case for settlement
Pictures are one of the most provocative and influential forms of evidence that lead to increased settlement. People are generally more responsive to pictures rather than relying on their own imagination because actual pictures are accurate depictions. If there is a large amount of damage to an automobile than pictures of the damage can help to “shock” the conscience of the viewer and lead them to provide a higher verdict or jury award. Pictures of the automobile will help tremendously when it comes time to negotiate settlement. Pictures of physical injury are even more influential. If there is bruising, x-rays of fractured bones, surgery pictures, or pictures revealing the pain a person was enduring then car accident settlement value could be increased dramatically.
While pictures can be helpful forms of evidence there are a number of other evidence types that may affect the value of a car accident settlement. Once the case goes to litigation, ie an actual lawsuit is filed with the court and discovery of evidence begins. Numerous documents and lots of information is revealed between the plaintiff and defendant. Included in these documents can be the parties criminal or traffic violation history, information regarding prior auto accident cases, prior settlements obtained, even personal documents that may reveal negative character traits. Among these documents may be some damning information that could dramatically increase or decrease settlement value. For instance: Consider the defendant being sued for negligence revealing he has numerous prior DWI convictions; alternatively consider the plaintiff that has filed an auto accident lawsuit every year for the last 10 years.
The facts of the car accident could affect the settlement value of the case
Great litigators, trial attorneys, know how to make a generally boring car accident case into a drama filled event that impacted the lives of the victims greatly. Unfortunately this is something that can simply not happen in every case although a qualified attorney will certainly do what he can to make the facts of the case more appealing.
Imagine the typical rear end collision case. Plaintiff was sitting at a stop sign when defendant negligently failed to apply his breaks and come to a stop. Defendant collided with the plaintiff. Plaintiff received medical treatment for about 8 weeks and was discharged from care.
30 year old, Tracy, mother of two toddlers, Timmy & Sarah, was driving to pick her kids up from school on a sunny Thursday afternoon. She approached and stopped at the intersection of Main street and Clover Rd. An intersection she traveled through daily. As she normally would, she slowed and came to a complete stop at the stop sign. As she waited on traffic to clear she began thinking about what she would prepare for dinner, spaghetti and meatballs perhaps. Then, out of no where a black Ford Taurus plowed into the trunk of her car traveling at approximately 20 mph. Tracy’s head and neck thrust forward as the steering wheel air bag deployed directly into her face. The little Honda Civic she was driving was thrown into the intersection and eventually came to a stop. She had burns on her face from the airbag dust, her neck was in agonizing pain, and back was so stiff she had difficulty picking up her children as she so often use to do. After 8 weeks of intensive physical therapy she returned almost to her normal pre accident self. Unfortunately to this day she still has difficulty playing with her toddlers because of the pain.
In any car accident case settlement analysis should at some point consider the degree of negligence by the defendant
Why is degree of negligence by the defendant important? For a number of reasons including both technicalities under the law but also impact on the jury. To cover the most important technicality in Maryland- contributory negligence. If the defendant is not 100% at fault, and the plaintiff is even .000001% at fault then settlement value in a car accident case is severely reduced. This is because Maryland is one of a few states that recognize the legal doctrine of contributory negligence. The doctrine finds that if the plaintiff was even in the slightest bit at fault, or negligent in their own actions, than their is not liability on the defendant’s part.
Looking at the defendant’s negligence in a more abstract manner can help an attorney evaluate the settlement value of the particular car accident. “Simple negligence” can be explained as the defendant making a mistake that the ordinary person in the same situation would have avoided by exercising due caution. “Gross negligence” involves an elevated level of negligence which can be liken to the drunk driver causing an accident. These cases often have increased settlement value. Beyond gross negligence is negligence that can be liken to an intentional act. One that the defendant intended to do but did not prepare for the consequences. Perhaps in the circumstance of the drunk driver but add an additional level of misconduct intentionally geared towards the victim. The levels of negligence I have explained here are not necessarily established Maryland law, but should be taken as
Something as simply as the proper court could have a great impact on settlement value
This is something that personal injury attorneys struggle with daily. The exact same accident with the exact same people, property damage, and injuries can have great disparity in settlement value simply because the accidents happen in two different jurisdictions! Auto accident cases in Prince Georges county tend to have a higher settlement value than those that occur in Frederick County. This is in part because of the potential jury pools in these areas, but as well as the Judge pool. Conservative jurisdictions are much more likely to return a conservative verdict or judgment.
Take the movie, My Cousin Vinny for example. While it is based on criminal law and does not involve an auto mobile accident or settlement it is a great depiction of how jury selection in any given jurisdiction can mean devastation for any court case. The wrongly accused defendants were before a jury pull in Alabama. In an area dominated by rural life, livestock, farmers, and good ole’ country boys. The general consensus was that the outsiders (city slickers) who were being charged with murder need to be put in the electric chair. The minds of the jurors were almost completely made up prior to the start of trial.
The same situation can occur in some jurisdictions involving car accident claims. Jurisdiction of the court can mean the difference of thousands of dollars. In the more severe car accident cases it could mean the difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For more reading on car accident cases see Pain & Suffering.