Claim Worth: Value Amplifiers
Certain types of cases or facts can dramatically increase the value of your case. Here you will find discussions on what to look for so that you can identify and present value amplifiers to the adjuster in your Demand.
Disfigurement & Scarring
Disfigurement refers to scarring. Scarring or disfigurement almost always has value. Make sure you get good pictures of the scarring. The value for disfigurement and scarring can vary dramatically based on the following:
If the scar is visible while wearing normal clothing the claim value is greater because you cannot hide the scar from everyone. On women for example, a scar on your upper chest that would show when you wear a blouse or a scar on your face is worth substantially more than one on your thigh that will normally be covered by clothing.
Male v. Female
Society places more value on the appearance of women. Scars on women are worth more.
The younger you are, the more the scar is worth because you have longer to live with the disfigurement and may also have the self esteem issues that can come with having visible disfigurements.
Scarring can be worse, raised and more visible, on some skin types. This is called “keloid scarring.” If you have scarring, you should consult with a plastic surgeon to see if they can do scar revision surgery, which is a procedure used to improve or reduce the appearance of a scar. Get the plastic surgeon to give you an estimate for the procedure and include the amount in your special damages calculation for future medical expenses. Remember to ask the surgeon for a total estimate and not just his fee. There may be a facility fee where the procedure is to be performed as well as other specialists needed to perform the surgery.
Driving Under the Influence
Your claim’s value is greatly magnified if the other person was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In many states, this will allow you to seek punitive damages against the other driver. Even if your injuries were minor, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to offer you policy limits. That is because juries will punish the other driver (that’s what punitive damages are) for driving under the influence and these verdicts can easily exceed policy limits.
The police report will normally show that the other driver was driving intoxicated. If there is a suspicion the other person was driving intoxicated, you’ll need to make sure you get the full police report from the police department. Many police departments will create a supplemental report with the blood alcohol content test and other findings. This may be a separate document to the original police report. It also goes without saying that the more intoxicated the other driver was, the stronger your argument for policy limits becomes. Many times DUI drivers are repeat offenders.
If you really want to go after policy limits, you can learn about the at-fault driver’s prior DUI is by sending an open records request to the county police department where the defendant lives. The police report will tell you the at-fault driver’s address. Google it to learn what county they live in. Then call the solicitor’s office for that county and ask them how you go about getting prior DUI’s on the other driver. You also want to ask whether your state has a central DUI record keeping system or do you have to call each surrounding county to discover other DUIs. They will normally tell you over the phone if they exist or not. If they do, send an open records request. Criminal records are open records. If the at fault driver is a repeating DUI offender, your claim will go up even more in value because of the inflammatory effect that will have one juror’s.
Many states impose punitive damages against hit-and-run drivers just like they do for DUI drivers. Additionally, if a driver is fleeing the scene, there is almost always some other skeleton in the driver’s closet – outstanding warrants, under the influence, suspended license, illegal immigration status, etc.
There is a growing trend in many states to penalize at fault drivers with punitive damages for driving while distracted. Recent research studies have determined that driving while talking on a cell phone or texting is the equivalent of driving drunk.
If the other driver was distracted while on the cell phone, you may have an argument that will magnify the value of your claim. You will include a section in your Demand Package talking about the dangers of driving while distracted. In order to use this argument, however, you have to have some evidence other than just saying the other driver was on the phone. Sometimes the police officer will put that in his/her report. You can also locate and interview witnesses to your accident and specifically ask them if they saw the other driver talking on a cell phone or texting. Even if you cannot locate additional evidence to support your claim that the other person was using a cell phone or texting when the accident occurred, you should still tell the adjuster that the other driver was doing so and also included in your Demand Package. Just do not expect the argument to carry as much weight as if you had supporting evidence.
There is one other source of evidence to support your claim that the other driver was distracted by a cell phone or texting. Unfortunately, you will not be able to get to that evidence unless you file lawsuit. When you file a lawsuit, you gain subpoena power. You or your attorney is then able to subpoena the other driver’s cell phone records. These records will show the date time and duration of calls. You can then match up the time of your accident with the other person’s cell phone call times that the person was on the phone at the time of the accident. Again, this powerful evidence is not available unless you follow suit because there is no way for you as an individual to request the other person’s cell phone records.
Severe Property Damage
While property damage to your car is also a separate claim for which you are entitled to compensation, it is also a prominent component of your personal injury claim. Adjusters look at your property damage figure as one of the few “objective” measurements of how severe the car accident was in terms of its force of impact. The more expensive and substantial the damage to your car, the greater the force of impact. A high property damage claim will support more severe injuries more easily then low property damage. But, it is possible for low property damage (i.e. low speed collision) to still cause herniated discs, etc.
Permanent Impairment Rating
If your joint injuries don’t heal 100%, you should request your doctor to give you a “permanent impairment rating.” This is a way of quantifying how far from normal you are. Your doctor will use formulas and tables in the American Medical Association Guidelines to assign you a percentage of impairment. Impairment simply means that you are not 100%. For example, if you broke your hip, your doctor will examine your range of motion in your hip and assign a percentage representing how off normal your hip movement is. The doctor will then use the AMA formulas to take the hip impairment percentage and extend it to your whole person. Impairment ratings are one of the few known value drivers that can act as a multiplier for your claim’s value.
A typical impairment rating/statement from your doctor will look like this:
“Ms. Smith has a 25% lower body impairment arising out of her right ankle fracture which correlates to a 10% whole body impairment rating under the AMA 5th Ed. Guidelines under table 17-33 on page 574.