slip and fall attorney

What is My Case Worth and How is it Determined?

by Tom Teodori | September 20th, 2018

If you’ve made it to this page, its probably because you, a family member or friend sustained injuries resulting from the negligence of a company or individual. According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle crashes in the United States during 2017 resulted in 40,100 deaths and 4,500,000 seriously injured people. Those numbers are mindboggling—110 people die each day in a motor vehicle collision and more than 12,328 are injured daily. For teenagers, car crashes are the number one cause of death. Tragically, you have a 1 in 102 odds of dying in a car crash during your lifetime. Being struck as a pedestrian is 1 in 561 and for those riding motorcycles, the odds are 1 in 846. Slip and fall statistics are also alarming. You have a 1 in 119 odds of dying as a result of a fall. The above numbers are ridiculously high, and you can see the real life and close-to-home tragic consequences of such events.

Negligence is frequently the result of somebody’s violation of the safety rules which are designed to protect us and keep us safe. Some sort of distraction, lack of proper attention, inadequate training, not following protocols, taking short cuts and otherwise not doing what a reasonable person would do creates the negligent conduct. When that safety violation occurs, the negligent party has an obligation to make things right. The question is—what is right?

How much money is right? What factors are considered in valuing an injury claim?

Although some might think it unseemly to value injury claims in dollars, that is the only method our system of justice allows. The United States’ system of justice derived from the common law system developed in England. Although many changes and modifications were made following our Declaration of Independence in 1776, we still hold to the judicial system that requires a negligent wrongdoer to fully compensate an injured party for his or her losses. Failure to do so is a failure to do justice. We are very fortunate to have the system we do because a justice system used in other parts of the world dates back to around 1754 B.C. Known for Babylonia King Hammurabi, its called the Code of Hammurabi. You are likely familiar with this justice system based upon retribution, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.

So, returning to your inquiry, what is a case worth? Numerous factors dramatically affect the value of an injury claim. Many will be discussed below, but some common factors include the defendant’s conduct, the injuries sustained, medical care, lost wages, permanent injury and where the injury occurred. Although you may have heard from a friend or family member about a formula for determining case value, that system or process really has not existed for decades. Insurance companies today use computers to determine case value. Experienced injury attorneys are aware of this and have the tools and resources to fight for fair compensation.

Are there any liability issues?

The first step in assessing proper case value is resolving any and all liability issues. Liability simply means who is at fault. Is the at fault party completely at fault, or only partially at fault? Is fault disputed? Depending on the state where the negligence occurred, fault is crucial. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are three of the five jurisdictions in the United States that follow the concept of contributory negligence. In most states, comparative negligence is the standard. Why is that important to case value? In contributory negligence states, if the injured person is even 1% at fault then he or she is not entitled to any money—nothing! A harsh result, but that’s the legal standard in contributory negligence jurisdictions. In most of the US, the standard is one of comparative negligence. In such states, a comparison is made between the negligence of the parties and the injured person’s money award is reduced by his/her comparative negligence. So in a contributory negligence jurisdiction, if the injured party is found 1% at fault for a car crash, there would be no recovery. However, if with same set of facts the car crash occurred in a comparative jurisdiction (Pennsylvania) and the jury awarded $100,000.00 to the injured person, the award would be reduced by the injured person’s negligence (1% = $1,000.00), so the award would total $99,000.00.

Click here to learn more about how contributory negligence effects slip and fall cases.

How does an insurance company evaluate the value of your case?

In the past, an insurance company adjuster would use his/her common sense, education, training and experience to determine case value. However, in the mid 1990s, the claims departments of most large insurance companies underwent a radical transformation based upon suggestions by McKinsey Consulting. The suggestions were designed to reduce the amounts insurance companies were paying to injury victims, thereby dramatically increasing profits. So currently, most insurance companies use computer software based upon potentially hundreds to thousands of different data points to determine case value. One such program is called Colossus, which was originally created by Computer Science Corporation and leased to hundreds of insurance companies. The human element in reviewing claims has been significantly reduced, and at times, all but eliminated. The insurance industry cost savings have been huge while payments to injury victims have been dramatically decreased.

So, if an insurance company is going to use computer software to reduce the value of a case, what can be done about it? First, it’s important to retain a law firm experienced in handling claims with insurance companies using the computer software. Accurate documentation of injuries, type of medical care, body parts, loss of enjoyment, medical procedure codes, supporting records, medical billing codes, permanent injuries, etc. are important when preparing settlement demands that will be assessed by the computer.

Second, it’s critical to retain a lawyer and a law firm with a well-earned reputation for going to court. Insurance companies track and record which law firms fight for their clients by filing suit and which lawyers are more likely to just take the money and run. If your lawyer has a reputation for settling, you will get less of an offer than another lawyer with a reputation for fighting for his/her client. Normally, settlement value increases after suit is filed and may continue to increase as you get closer to the actual trial date.

Third, be prepared for a fight and you must remain patient. If the insurance company makes you an unfairly low offer and suit is filed on your behalf, the insurance company may hold on to its money until very close to trial. Insurance companies understand that they have the money and it doesn’t make much difference whether they pay today or one year from now. It’s not going to have much, if any, impact on the large insurance company. Insurance companies make money over time on their money through investments, so the delay is normally nothing but beneficial for insurance companies. You, on the other hand, have lost time from work, received less than you thought for the value of your vehicle, incurred medical bills that threaten to turn you over to credit agencies, spent through your savings and now feel the need to settle your claim. The insurance company now has you at a disadvantage. Again, an experienced injury lawyer will assist you through this difficult process and help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of the factors to consider in assessing case value include:

  1. The defendant’s behavior – The more outrageous the negligent behavior, the better the case value.
  2. The defendant – Will the defendant make a good or bad witness?
  3. The amount of insurance coverage
  4. The type of negligence claim – Minor rear-end crash versus tractor trailer setting off chain reaction collision.
  5. What county suit could be filed in – Certain jurisdictions are more favorable and insurance companies are aware.
  6. The injuries sustained and their extent and duration – Muscle strains versus herniated discs, brain injuries, fractures
  7. How the injuries effect your overall physical and mental well being
  8. The physical pain and mental suffering in the past and expected in the future
  9. Scarring – Scar to the face worth more than scar on back
  10. Medical expenses in the past and expected in the future
  11. Loss of earning in the past and expected in the future
  12. Past and future pain, permanent impairment, loss of mobility, companionship, enjoyment of the things you enjoy

No two cases are the same, and even similar facts and injuries frequently lead to widely different outcomes. What may be relatively minor for one person may be devastating for another—how can a computer make that determination? The problem is, insurance companies rely upon them to perform that function thousands of times per day. There is no humanity in using a computer to determine the seriousness of an injury and how it impacts and changes a person’s life. For that, you need an experienced lawyer on your side, one the insurance company knows will file suit if a fair offer is not made. Even so, because of the use of Colossus or similar programs, the insurance adjuster doesn’t have the flexibility to go above the computer value, so the decision must be made—settle or sue?

Ultimately, your case is worth this— what you’re willing to accept in settlement and if not, then what you are awarded at trial. A skilled trial attorney should be able to give you a pretty good idea of the value range of your claim based upon their experience.

A lawyer should also explain the settle or sue options so that a decision in the client’s best interests can be made. If the case ultimately proceeds to trial, then the value will be determined by a jury using many of the twelve criteria listed above.

The Life-Changing Impacts of Injuries

by Kyle Shoemaker | July 16th, 2018

Many people may know someone injured in a traumatic event, such as a motor vehicle collision or a fall. However, many people don’t, or the people they know who’ve been hurt have kept this information private. As personal injury lawyers, it is our job to help others, particularly juries, to understand the real and meaningful ways that an injury disrupts the lives of our clients, particularly when that injury is caused by another’s actions and decisions.

As anyone who commutes in the Baltimore-Washington metro area knows, rear end collisions occur every day. Sometimes, the drivers and passengers involved walk away with no problems. Other times, they are not so lucky. To illustrate the unseen effects of injury, consider this relatively simple example for a car crash involving Gary. (To be clear, Gary is not a real person, he exists only for this example). Gary is 32 years old and works as a welder for a utility company. He is driving work on an ordinary Monday morning when, while waiting at a red light, his car is rear ended. The police are called, the parties exchange information and both vehicles are able to drive away. Gary goes on to work. After all, he doesn’t feel too badly immediately following the crash, and he has bills to pay and a family to support. Since Gary works for a utility company, his work is physical. He has to move and lift heavy tools, move large metal objects, and engage in other physical activity. As the day wear on, what began as tightness in his neck and back became worse.

To an outside observer, neck and/or back pain may not seem like something that is terribly serious. Someone who doesn’t have first hand experience with this sort of traumatic injury may think that a bit of neck or back pain is no big deal. And Gary himself may not know how serious the injury is. The true severity of an injury like Gary’s may not always be apparent in the immediate aftermath of the collision.

So let’s take a look at some of the ways in which Gary’s injuries will impact his life. To begin with the broadest view: he will experience physical pain. Back and neck pain can cause even the most mundane of movements to be painful. What will that pain actually mean to Gary in concrete, real life terms? What will that mean for his relationships, his work, his hobbies, his goals? Let’s break that down in more detail.

How Physical Injuries Effect Family Relationships

Gary is relatively young at 32 years old. He has two young children: a 3-year-old boy and a 4-month-old girl. As any parent can attest, caring for young children requires a tremendous amount of work, even on the good days. Now imagine that Gary has arrived home after a long day of physical work. Even without his injury, he is tired and probably a bit sore. Layer on top of that the pain and stiffness from Gary’s injuries, and all of a sudden playing with or caring for his children is a much more difficult task. No parent wants this kind of interaction turn into a physically painful and difficult experience. A three year old may not understand why Daddy doesn’t want to pick him up when he gets home from work. Imagine how that makes Gary feel when he sees the hurt on his child’s face when he tells them no, Daddy can’t carry you.

But that’s not the only relationship that suffers when someone is injured. These days, many two-parent households are ones where both parents have to work to make ends meet. This means that both parents need to find time to take care of ordinary household chores (anything from major home repairs, to everyday tasks like carrying in groceries) in between work, sleep, and taking care of the children. When one of those parents is dealing with some kind of physical injury, that division of labor can be upset. So an injured person like Gary, who is already trying to get better, may be dealing with the feelings that come along with feeling like he is not doing his part to keep the family operating day to day. Effects such as those described above can stress on a relationship, which might already be strained thanks to the daily grind of working and taking care of young children. This isn’t to imply that Gary’s wife (or the partner of any injured person) wouldn’t be understanding in a situation like this. But even “minor” neck or back injuries can have effects which can persist. When you add the psychological stress brought on by some of the other factors discussed, even the healthiest relationships suffer.

When Injuries Prevent You from Working

How do Gary’s injuries affect his work? As I mentioned, Gary is a welder for a utility company. This means he may be working outdoors. Or maybe he works in confined locations inside power plants. He may find himself bending, crouching, or climbing. Welding is a skilled trade that is in demand in many areas. Welders have the potential to make a decent wage, but the work is physical. If Gary is temporarily placed on a limited or off work status, his family will likely face financial hardship. Only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. In the D.C. Metro area, there’s no way $1,000 covers rent or a mortgage; never mind utilities, gas, food… the list goes on and on. If Gary’s off work (or “disability period”) lasts a long time, or if he loses his job entirely, that financial hardship goes up tenfold – putting even more pressure on him and his family.

But that’s not all. Gary, like many Americans, takes a certain sense of pride and identity from his work, and from his ability to provide for his family. When an injury threatens Gary’s ability to go to work and provide for his family, more than just his job is threatened. Part of Gary’s very identity is threatened, and that is something that is impossible to put a price on.

When You Can’t Do the Things that Keep You Sane

Depending on what Gary likes to do for fun, his hobbies or recreational activities could be impacted by his injuries. If Gary enjoys physical activities like cycling, or playing basketball, or bowling with friends, he may not be able to do these things at all, or might find himself dealing with even more pain if he tries. But sports aren’t the only hobbies hampered by injury. Imagine that Gary enjoys working on cars as a way to enjoy his free time. If he has a neck or back injury that causes him pain, the last thing he will want to do after a long day of work is to get under the hood of a car. Further, if Gary is unable to spend times taking part in activities with his friends, those friendships may suffer, all because Gary was in a car crash. Even relatively stationary activities like reading a book can be affected if Gary’s neck or back pain make it difficult to sit in one position for an extended period of time.

Now, one may say that it is pessimistic to assume that all of these things will happen to Gary because he got hurt. But ALL of these things don’t necessarily have to happen to one person for that person’s life to be impacted in unexpected ways due to an unexpected injury. Even if just SOME of these things occur, that is enough to change a person’s routine, or make the challenges of daily life more difficult than they were before the injury.

What About Driving Anxiety?

All of these factors can combine with each other to create a profound psychological impact on an injured person, particularly through feelings of anxiety, fear, isolation, anger, or helplessness. Gary, or any other victim of a motor vehicle collision, may experience fear or anxiety related to driving. This can be crippling to a person who has to drive to meet their daily needs, such as going to work, shuttling children around, or running other routine errands. Additionally, a person who curtails their own driving due to fear or anxiety loses the freedom of mobility that comes with driving. This can cause a person to limit their engagement with other people in their lives and potentially grow isolated. Let us assume that Gary had a rich social life before being involved in his collision. If he doesn’t like to drive to different places and if it hurts to take part in physical hobbies, that social life is going to suffer. Through his diminished ability to perform his job, his inability to participate in the lives of his children, and his loss of ability to travel or do the things that he used to do for fun, Gary is left with a much different daily life than the one he enjoyed before. For a relatively young adult in the prime of his life, the feelings of isolation, the lack of control over one’s situation, and the uncertainty about one’s recovery can be overwhelming and debilitating.

Getting Medical Help

It may go without saying, but injuries like Gary’s will probably require some kind of medical treatment in order to resolve. As alluded to above, neck or back injuries from a car crash can be relatively minor, in the case of “soft tissue” whiplash injuries such as sprains. Or the same kind of crash may result in more serious injuries such as a disc herniation or even a fractured vertebrae. More serious injuries like this could even require surgical treatment if more conservative treatment measures turn out not to be successful. Surgery of any kind is risky even under the best of circumstances. Neuro surgery or orthopedic surgery carries with it risk of side effects, potential for failure, or other complications. Some injured people have good health insurance that can help ease the burden of the cost of surgery and follow up care, but other injured people may face the uncertainty of not knowing how such a bill will be paid. Still others may undergo surgery in an emergency setting and then get stuck with a huge medical bill with no way to pay it. Even assuming that a is successful, a person with a serious injury may never fully recover and may be left dealing with the effects of that injury for a life time.

But Why Do Injured People Need Attorneys?

So why do injured people need attorneys? Well, let’s look back at Gary’s case: The insurance company for the vehicle that ran into him wants to close his claim as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Gary is not in a position to truly understand the real value of his claim and the insurance company knows this. That’s why Gary needs an experienced attorney that’s looking out for him. Obtaining representation when you find yourself in Gary’s position is not about taking advantage of anyone or anything. It is about making sure that the insurance company (which makes a profit by finding a way to not pay a fair claim value) does not take advantage of a person who is in a rough spot. That is why it is so important for someone who’s been injured in a car crash, slip and fall, or some other circumstance caused by another’s carelessness, to contact an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney to determine their rights and see if they need an attorney. Make sure you talk to someone who is looking out for you, and willing to go to bat for you when the insurance company tries to play games.

If you are reading this post and you’re lucky enough to have never been injured as the result of someone else’s negligence, I hope this information can give a bit of insight into what it’s like for someone who has had their life disrupted by circumstances outside of their control. If you have been injured in a car crash, a slip and fall, or as the result of another’s carelessness, I hope this has helped you understand why its important to at least consult with an attorney to help understand your rights and what you’re entitled to.

 

After the Fall: Collecting the Best Evidence After a Slip and Fall or Trip and Fall

by Patrick Stewart | April 13th, 2018

At ChasenBoscolo, we frequently consult with clients involved in trip and falls or slip and falls. These cases are so common because falls can happen anywhere, whether it be at home, at work or around a store or restaurant. Specifically, these cases are referred to as premises liability cases because the owner of the premises may be liable to the injured person. The owner may be liable for failing to fix a defect on their property, failing to warn guests or customers about a defect on their property or failing to prevent slips or falls on their property. For more information on slip and fall cases at rental homes or apartment complexes, take a look at my colleague Shakétta Denson’s blog post.

Premises liability cases almost always end up in litigation. When you pursue a claim, the property owner’s insurance company will commonly undervalue your injury as well as your pain and suffering from that injury. These minimal insurance evaluations happen no matter how serious the injury or how much it seems the property owner is at fault. The reason for this is twofold. First, insurance companies hope that injured people will take the low offer rather than go through costly and time-consuming litigation. Second, insurance companies know that if proper evidence has not been collected and maintained at the beginning of a case, it becomes harder for the injured person to prove their case in court.

The common mistakes people make after falling are:

  • Not getting full contact information for eyewitnesses
  • Not notifying any employees or managers on site
  • Not creating any written report or claim with the store on site
  • Not taking any photographs or video of the defect or hazard that caused their trip or fall

While your lawyer can help gather this information during an investigation, the best point in time to gather this information is immediately after your fall.

What should I do if I am hurt in a fall?

If you do fall, what steps should you take to increase the chances that you and your lawyer can win your case if and when it ends up in court? The best cases are initially built on four core pieces of evidence:

  1. Witnesses
  2. Employees
  3. Reports
  4. Photographs

1. Witnesses

In order to be liable to an injured person, a property owner must first have notice of the defect on their property. In other words, before the fall, the property owner or their employees had to have been aware that there was a defect or hazard that needed to be fixed, cleaned or warned about to their customers and/or guests. Sometimes when a person falls, an eyewitness will say:

  • “I almost just fell there too.”
  • “I just told them to clean that.”
  • “I just told them to fix that.”
  • “I just told them they should put a warning sign up.”

If someone says something like this to you after your incident, get their first and last names and phone number immediately. Their testimony may be the key to proving the owner had notice of the problem and failed to fix it or warn other people. However, that testimony may not occur until 2–3+ years after that incident. Your lawyer will want specific contact information for the witness so they can take a statement, get it in writing and have the witness sign it. During litigation, your lawyer can use this signed statement to refresh the witness’ memory when they testify. The more contact information and description about the witness, the better. Only obtaining the first or last name is not enough. If you only obtain the witness’ first or last name, it may be impossible to locate them to testify. Some witnesses may have to be subpoenaed to come testify, so this contact information will ensure that they can be served and compelled to appear in the future at a deposition or in court. In summary, you would want as much of the following information as possible from an eyewitness:

  • First and last name
  • Home phone number
  • Cell phone number
  • Home address
  • E-mail address
  • Physical description (in case they need to be subpoenaed in the future)

2. Employees

Another great source for notice of a problem on a property are the employees who work there. Employees can be the first people to respond to an injured person. Sometimes those employees may make an offhand comment that shows that the store was aware of the problem before the fall. Clients in the past have had employees tell them things like:

  • “That has been happening a lot lately.”
  • “We have been meaning to clean that up.”
  • “We have not gotten around to fixing that.”
  • “We really should put a warning sign up.”

If an employee says something like this to you, get their first and last name and job position immediately. Similar to eyewitnesses, these employees may not have to testify until 2–3+ years after your fall. During that time, the employee may have changed jobs or moved out of the area entirely. If that employee is no longer with the company, the company does not have to voluntarily produce that former employee as a witness. In that situation, your lawyer may have to locate and subpoena the ex-employee just like any other eyewitness.

Alternatively, there may be employees who do not help or talk to you after you fall. We have had cases where employees have seen our clients fall and have laughed, pointed or joked to one another about our client. These employees’ names and positions are just as important because their behavior shows a failure of the company to follow their own policies and procedures, as well as displays a lack of basic human decency. When jurors hear stories like that in court, it can help drive their verdicts.

Lastly, do not leave without talking to a manager-on-duty (MOD). These are usually the last company employees that will speak with you before you leave. If you cannot speak with all the employees discussed above, then the MOD should provide that information, as well as their own contact information, so you can make a proper insurance claim. In summary, when dealing with company or store employees and managers, you should gather the following information:

  • First and last name
  • Job title
  • Physical description (in case they need to be subpoenaed in the future)

3. Reports

Potential clients will often discuss how after they fell, they talked to one or two people and then left the scene to go seek medical attention. Your health and safety should always come before gathering evidence and talking to witnesses. However, if you can talk to employees and managers on the scene, then you should obtain a copy of the written report or a report/incident number. If you do not have this information, then your case is not starting off on the right foot.

Companies should have policies and procedures in place where they create reports after injuries occur on their property. These procedures are in place so that the company can notify their insurance company and handle the claim. These reports should list some combination of the date and time of the incident, a description of the incident, your name, witness name(s), employee name(s), manager name(s) and an incident or reference number. This is basic information that will help prove that you were at the site when you were injured and that you took the appropriate steps to notify the company. If the report is not immediately available and there is no reference number yet, you should also ask for the contact information for the store’s insurance claims representative. You can even call that representative while you are on site.

Occasionally, a manager may offer some incentive or giveaway to you as an “apology” for falling at the store or restaurant. These incentives could include a coupon or discount for a free meal or a free drink. While it is generally okay to accept these, they can really be meant to distract you from getting the right information and making a written report with the company. Remember to avoid these distractions and make a proper report. If you are injured, a $20 free meal will not make up for a life-changing injury.

4. Photographs and Video

Pictures and video can be the most credible forms of evidence because, while the plaintiff and defendant may tell their own version of the incident, the pictures and video speak for themselves. A verbal description of a hole, a puddle, a spill or a defect is never as accurate as photographs or video showing the actual problem. With all that in mind, if you leave the scene of your fall without taking your own photographs or video, it can be a major detriment to your own case. In a time where nearly everyone has a cell phone with a camera and video capabilities, leaving the scene of a fall without taking photographs is inexcusable.

The property owner’s initial response will be to clean a spill, fix the defect or put down a warning sign. If that happens and you do not have pictures that show the conditions at the time of the fall, then it becomes your word vs. the owner’s word. Furthermore, evidence that the owner fixed the defect or cleaned the spill is not admissible evidence at a trial. This is because courts want to encourage property owners to fix defects before another guest or customer is hurt. It is best to photograph or record the scene before any corrections are made.

Aside from not taking pictures at all, a common mistake is taking photographs that are blurry or so close-up that they are incomprehensible. A good photograph is one that you could show anyone on the street and they would immediately know what they were looking at. You should take as many pictures as you can from as many angles as you can. You can place a common object down next to the spill or defect to demonstrate its scale and size (e.g a shoe, a dollar bill, a pen, etc.). Take photographs and video from a 360° view from different distances. The more pictures, the better, because you and your lawyer can always choose which ones to present in court.

Many stores and restaurants will have security cameras inside and outside the store. If you have fallen, you should ask the manager to preserve the security video as soon as possible, and you should put that request in any written report. Since the cameras run for hours at time, owners will usually choose to record over old footage rather than preserve old footage where no incident occurred. Lawyers can send letters asking companies to preserve this information for court. However, if weeks or months have gone by since the fall, the footage may have already been erased. That is why taking your own videos and photographs is just as important as obtaining the store’s own camera footage.

Tl;dr (too long, didn’t read): Tips for Gathering the Right Info After You Fall

Falls can obviously result in severe injuries. Many commercial properties have insurance policies to cover injuries that occur on site. However, those insurance companies are not always eager or willing to pay claims related to those falls. More likely than not, an injured person will have to pursue a lawsuit to be fully compensated for their injuries after a fall. A good premises liability case begins with witnesses, employees, reports and photographs.

At ChasenBoscolo, we are not afraid to go to battle with an insurance company in court, but we have to have the right amount of ammunition to win. We have certainly pursued premises liability cases in the past with only some of the evidence listed above. Additionally, we can obtain witness names, employee and manager names, reports, photographs and much more during a lawsuit. However, the best time to gather this information will always be on site immediately after the fall. It ensures that visual evidence is preserved for the future and begins the process of making an airtight injury claim.