Before you can determine what the value of your motorcycle accident claim, you need to look at two very important factors:
- Was the other party liable?
- Were there property or personal injury damages?
Unless you can prove the answer is yes to both, the value of your case is virtually zero.
This is because “liability” is a fancy word for “fault” and if fault can’t be established, the value of a case – even with significant damages – plummets.
Let’s look at a couple quick examples:
Example 1: Liability Without Damages
Let’s assume that you were at a stand-still and the car behind you collided with your motorcycle. In the state of California, rear-end collisions are nearly always the fault of the second vehicle. So the first threshold of liability is met.
However, let’s assume that in this collision, you were not injured and your motorcycle was not harmed. In that case, there is liability without damages, creating a motorcycle accident with zero value.
Example 2: Damages But You’re Liable
Let’s assume you were speeding and cut in front of a vehicle which hit you in an intersection. As a result, your motorcycle was damaged to the tune of $18,000; you were injured and incurred medical expenses for a lengthy hospital stay plus physical therapy totaling $92,000. This would seem like a HUGE case, right? WRONG. In this example, there are clear damages but the liability (or fault) rests with you.
And the burden is on you, as the injured party, to establish liability. If you’re hit by a car in an accident and it’s determined the car was at fault but there were no damages – there the case has little value. Conversely, if you’re at fault for some reason and there is lots of damages, the case has little value to you.
This article will outline how your personal injury attorney will assess your case to determine its worth to you.
Types of Damages in a Motorcycle Case
Damages come in two forms:
1. Special Damages
- Lost earnings or ability to earn – These damages are capable of exact calculation because you have a dollar figure attributed to your earnings, whether that is $17.00 per hour or $50k per year.
- Lost earning capacity – This is a little harder to calculate because it often requires an economic expert to evaluate your income, taking into consideration your life expectancy, cost of living increases over time and whether you would have earned raises, bonuses, etc.
- Medical Bills – These are bills directly related to your automobile accident.
- Property Damage – This is the damage sustained by your motorcycle directly related to the accident.
2. Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering are not capable of exact calculation because there is no dollar amount attributed to back pain or whiplash. Therefore, a skilled attorney will take your special damages and use those figures to determine the value of your pain and suffering with a damages multiplier. (e.g. medical bills of $5,000, multiplied by a damages multiplier of three equals a settlement value of around $15,000).
Now that you understand what is required to establish value in the first place, let’s move to type of value (Settlement Value vs. Trial Value) to determine what your case may be worth.
Motorcycle Accident Settlement Value vs. Trial Value
Settlement value is what you hope to receive in a settlement from an insurance adjuster outside of court. This value is usually lower than trial value because the whole purpose of settlement is to strike a compromise and value your risks: risk of winning or losing in trial vs. immediate settlement.
Trial value is what you should expect if you go through a court trial, taking all of the expenses of trial into consideration.
Settlement vs. Trial Value in the Motorcycle Accident Example
Using the motorcycle accident example from before, let’s assume this time that liability was with the driver who hit your motorcycle. There were $110,000 in damages! You believe that a jury would award you $300,000, (based on what?) but you think your chances of winning are only about 20% then where does $300K come from?). You have been offered $190,000. (by the driver’s insurance carrier?)
Settlement Value of $190,000
- With a $190,000 settlement value, the attorney may see $62,700.00 as his/her attorney’s fees leaving you with $127,300.00.
- You still have $92,000.00 in medical bills to settle, but typically those bills can be reduced when the settlement is not much higher than the bill. If reduced by $36,800 or 40%, that leaves a medical bill at $55,200.00 to be taken from your settlement.
- You now have $72,100 from which to repair your motorcycle (-$18,000) leaving you with a take home amount of $54,100.
An attorney can usually handle the course of settlement without the need of court appearances, and all you need to do is approve the amount offered to settle your case. When your time and stress are factored in, $190,000 in the above scenario may sound like enough.
Trial Value of $300,000
Trials are very expensive.
In the course of trial (even if the chances of winning were much higher than 20% in the above scenario) a potential award of $300,000 is reduced by many things.
- Prior to a trial, both sides participate in a fact-gathering exercise called “discovery“; this can take time and may cost money in the form of depositions (taking testimony under oath) and acquiring documents.
- Expert witnesses, those with particular expertise in the subject matter of the trial, are often called to testify. Examples of expert witnesses are accident reconstructionists, medical doctors, psychologists, and vocational rehabilitation specialists, all of whom may charge hefty fees to appear and testify.
- In addition, an attorney who may normally charge a contingency of 33% to settle your case before trial may raise his or her fee to 50%.
- With a $300,000 verdict that you may or may not get from a jury (so the risk is inherently built in), your attorney will see $150,000, leaving you with $150,000.
- The medical provider will not likely reduce your medical bills by 40% because there is enough money to pay, but a reduction of 10%, or $9,200, would not be unreasonable to expect. Once you pay your medical bill of $82,800 you have $67,200.
- You wanted to depose the other driver’s medical doctor who refuted your injuries, and the deposition took two days. His fees are $500 per hour x 15 hours of time, or $7,500.
- You also wanted to hire an accident reconstructionist to substantiate that the accident was not your fault, since liability was in question. The expert cost $5,000 and his report was $2,500.
- You paid a background investigator $1,600 to find records proving that the defendant had been in six prior accidents.
- At trial, two of your doctors also testified at your request, each charging $8,000 for their time and preparation. This brings your award down to $34,600.
- You will then repair your motorcycle, leaving you with a only a take-home amount of $16,600. You have also lost two weeks of wages from the time spent in court, plus devoted 100 hours to pre-trial preparation with your attorney such as document collection, preparing witnesses and depositions.
- Trials also take some time, so while you could have received a settlement within eleven months of your accident, your trial did not occur for almost two years due to delays by the defendant.
After evaluating all these factors, you can make a decision about whether a) the value of your motorcycle accident claim is worth pursuing and b) does it make settle your case or take it to trial. These are decisions that a skilled motorcycle accident attorney can help you make.