I take calls from the general public every day. Many callers have been recently injured, but their doctors have not yet diagnosed the full nature and extent of injuries. Yet, a frequent question is, “how much is my case worth?” In order to the evaluate monetary “value” of a personal injury claim, the attorney must thoroughly review all of the facts and medical history surrounding a particular injury. And often people don’t yet have a clear picture of their injuries. So, nobody should be surprised if an attorney says, “I don’t know how much money your case is worth right now.”
Unfortunately, insurance claims adjusters are not obligated to follow the same high ethical standards as attorneys. Many times people ask “how much is my case worth” because an insurance company has offered a sum of money to compensate the caller for his or her claim. And too often the offer comes well before the full nature and extent of injury is known to the insurance company, or the caller, or the caller’s doctor. It may be the “job” of the insurance adjuster to try to settle valid personal injury claims before an injured person’s doctor knows just how injured that person really is, but it is rarely wise or ethical.
The public needs to become more aware that they do not have to settle claims before the full nature and extent of their injuries are known to their doctor or themselves. The insurance companies may give the false impression they have a crystal ball to see the future and can accurately calculate how much money can even begin to make up for the unique losses someone suffers when, for example, a person is about to be stuck in bed during for 3 months because of a broken leg. Will an infection develop? Will the person’s employer decide they can’t afford to pay them for time off? Will his daughter make the baseball state championships but he can’t watch?
As the Oregon Supreme Court put it almost a century ago: “There is no fixed standard as to the amount that the plaintiff should recover for his injuries. That is a question of fact for the jury, and different juries would return different verdicts under the same state of facts.”* The compensation must be fair, just, and reasonable. That will mean different things for different people. The point is that people should generally not jump to quickly settle claims with insurance companies who pretend to see the future of medical conditions that a doctor can’t even see.
*Malpica v. Cannery Supply Co., 95 Or. 242, 248, 187 P. 596 (Or. 1920).