Case Value: “What Is My Case Worth?” (Part 1)
It is common at an initial client meeting to be asked how much the client’s case is worth. Generally, I advise them that, although I know some information about their case, I don’t have enough information at the first meeting to determine case value. I think it’s important for people to understand how an experienced lawyer determines what the value of a client’s case.
All personal injury cases in New York State are based upon two major components: Liability and Damages. Liability is determined by the factors that caused an accident, distinguishing between those that are substantial factors, who caused them, and those which took little or no part in the causation. The damages are the injuries that someone suffered including:
- Pain and suffering;
- Economic injuries;
- Property damage;
- Lost wages; and
- Liens placed on properties to pay medical costs.
Based upon these two major considerations, liability and damages, we begin to evaluate what a case could be worth.
Different types of cases have different factors that affect their value. That’s because the burden of proof changes depending on the situations. That affects the liability picture but not damages as much. For instance, in motor vehicle accident cases we need to know whether the client is a driver or a passenger. How many vehicles were involved? What were the causes or substantial factors that resulted in the accident occurring? Were there violations of New York State vehicle and traffic law? These factors help us to determine the liability.
In slip-and-fall (or trip-and-fall) cases, the type of defect affects the burden of proof, whether it was a banana peel, raised sidewalk, snow and ice, or a wet floor inside a food store. In these types of situations with slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall cases, notice is a major component of liability that the plaintiff has to overcome. In other words, did the property owner or whoever is responsible for the property know about the defect? If so, did they have sufficient time to remedy the condition prior to your accident?
In a past case, we were able to prove that by either constructive or actual knowledge, the management of a grocery store knew of a persistent water leak from an open-air refrigeration case, and had the time to correct it before our client slipped and was injured.
Sometimes we prove liability through circumstantial evidence (a wet or sticky residue on the clients clothing), other times we can prove it through direct evidence such as the testimony or photographs.
Dog Bite Cases
When someone is bitten by a dog, liability is based upon whether we can prove the vicious propensities of the dog. In New York, there is a common belief that dogs and their owners are entitled to the first bite for “free.” This is often referred to as the “one bite rule,” meaning that dog owners are afforded one chance to improve their dog’s behavior. After that, liability will rest upon the dog’s owner for any future bites. It’s important to know, however, that the “one bite” rule is a misconception and not an absolute right. If it can be proven that the owner of the dog knew of the dog’s vicious propensities, whether or not that dog has bitten someone, then we can prove liability. The factors that go into determining this are based upon:
- The dog’s breed;
- Whether the owner muzzles the dog;
- Whether the owner uses a choke collar on the dog;
- The presence of “beware of the dog” signs posted; and
- The animal’s quality of life and exposure to people.
Construction accidents are a different type of personal injury case because the statutes involved create different burdens of proof. For example, if someone trips and falls over debris at a work site, that is governed by New York State Labor Law section 200, which is a General Safe Place To Work statute. In these cases, general principles of fault and negligence apply just as they do in other types of cases. However, there are many workplace accidents that result from either a fall from a height or something that fell from a height to cause the client’s injuries. These are controlled by New York State Labor Laws sections 240 and 241, which create absolute liability on the part of the contractors and property owner and lower the burden of proof for the injured party.
Medical Malpractice Cases
These involve proving that a standard of care was violated by the doctor or doctors involved. Typically an analysis will be done to determine whether the injury or problem was likely to occur as a known risk of the procedure. That will determine whether there is liability on the doctor and whether a medical malpractice case should be filed. The other major component, damages, also varies somewhat based upon the different case types. So, for instance, motor vehicle accident cases are controlled by New York State Insurance Law section 5101 et.seq. and that relates to proving a serious injury or what’s known as the ”New York State No-Fault Threshold.”
As you can see, it takes an extensive knowledge of liability, evidentiary rules, insurance, and damages in order to come up with a realistic value for a case. Instead of wondering, or listening to friends and coworkers, find out today by contacting me.
James F. Leonick
Leonick Law, P.L.L.C.
TEL: (631) 486-9500