The number one question most personal injury lawyers get from clients is “what is my case worth?” It’s a delicate question that requires a delicate answer. No honest attorney can answer that questions with absolute accuracy, and the truth is that ten juries might give an injured plaintiff ten different verdicts.
The difficulty in valuing personal injury cases usually because general damages are so difficult to value. General damages are commonly referred to as “pain and suffering” damages, but are really much more than just the pain and suffering someone has endured due to a personal injury accident. Indeed, the California jury instructions describes those damages to include shock, anxiety, worry, embarrassment, disfigurement, grief, fear, the loss of enjoyment of life, in addition to pain and suffering. There is no set value on general damages and these damages are determined on a case by case basis.
An ongoing case here in San Diego illustrates the difficulty in valuing pain and suffering damages in injury and death cases. In 2008, a Navy jet malfunctioned and crashed into a suburban San Diego neighborhood. The crash was tragic, and claimed the lives of four people, the wife, mother-in-law, and two infant children of Don Yoon, who was not in the home at the time. As a result of the crash, Yoon sued the Navy, who has admitted its liability for the accident. The trial that began this week is simply about the value of the case.
What is the value of the case to Mr. Yoon? Here is a man whose young wife and two young children were taken from him due to someone else’s negligence. Of course, to Mr. Yoon there is no sum of money that could compensate him for his loss, and he would no doubt give up anything to have his family back. But in a San Diego courthouse, a judge is going to have to place a value on the lives of all those lost.
According to new accounts, the two parties tried to settle the case prior to trial but simple could not agree. The government has apparently offered just under $1 million to the family, but Mr. Yoon’s attorneys have demanded $56,000.00. The reality is that ten different juries would probably view Mr. Yoon’s loss differently, and make ten different awards. The judge in this case has his work cut out for him.
A good personal injury lawyer will make every effort to highlight the aspects of the case that have the most impact on the injured person’s life. More important than the literal pain caused by the accident is the impact the accident has had on the persons quality of life and the ability to enjoy life. Being able to articulate those damages is where the value of a case lies.
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