When Will My Lawyer Tell Me What My Car Accident Case is Worth?

Early on, it can be difficult to determine what a car accident case is worth. Here's what your lawyer will want to learn when it comes to your claim.

By , J.D., Villanova University School of Law
Updated by David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Car accident lawyers will tell you this is one of the most common questions from clients, but it's also one of the hardest to answer, especially when key pieces of the car accident puzzle are still missing.

As the case progresses, a car accident attorney should be able to provide a ballpark estimate of what the plaintiff can expect to recover by way of settlement. But it's a different story if a car accident case goes to trial.

In any event, a car accident attorney will want to manage the plaintiff's expectations while focusing on the factors that have the greatest impact on car accident case value. Let's look closer at these key factors.

What Is the Scope of Your Car Accident "Damages"?

There are two main types of compensable losses ("damages" in the language of the law) available to someone who's been injured in a car accident case: economic damages and non-economic damages. You and your attorney need to have a fairly complete picture of both of these categories before you can start to attach a dollar value to your car accident case.

Economic Damages After a Car Accident

Economic damages are out-of-pocket losses directly related to the car accident. These include:

  • medical bills from treatment of car accident injuries
  • lost income from inability to work (including paid time off from work because of your injuries)
  • vehicle repair costs, and
  • any other financial losses stemming from the accident.

In a car accident case, economic damages are the easiest to calculate, although it can be difficult (or it may take some time) to determine their full scope and extent.

Non-Economic Damages Resulting From a Car Accident

Non-economic damages refer to car accident losses that are less tangible, and that are tougher to capture with a dollar figure. These include:

  • physical and mental pain and suffering resulting from the car accident injuries
  • inability to pursue interests or hobbies
  • missed vacations, special events, and other life limitations caused by the accident.

What Does the Car Insurance Coverage Picture Look Like?

When you file a claim against another driver for injuries resulting from a car accident, it's rarely the driver who actually pays out a settlement or court award. Instead, it's the other driver's car insurance company that pays. So, their car accident policy limits may determine how much money you can realistically recover. (Get details on different types of car insurance.)

Until your lawyer can confirm the details of the other driver's car insurance policy, and get a sense of their overall finances, the attorney can't know for sure what your case is worth. This is because even if the attorney can somehow accurately estimate your damages, if the other driver carries only the state's minimum car insurance coverage, and has no significant income or assets, your case value will likely match the policy limits. Learn more about how car insurance affects a car accident case.

How Strong Is Your Car Accident Case?

Unless both sides are in agreement on the extent of your damages and who was at fault for the car accident (which is unlikely), you'll have to provide strong evidence backing every aspect of your claim. That means, among other things:

  • establishing the other driver's liability (fault for the car accident), and
  • proving the scope of all your claimed damages, from the legitimacy of your medical treatment to the extent of your physical and mental pain and suffering.

It's rare for an attorney to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a client's car accident case without first doing a fair amount of investigation and preparation. That means it will be difficult for your lawyer to estimate what your case is worth until:

  • your medical treatment is completed (or the scope of your future treatment needs is understood)
  • your lost income and other financial harm is documented, and
  • you and your attorney can build a case proving the other driver was at fault (this will be done through police reports, traffic or dash cam footage, car accident witness statements, depositions, and other investigation).

Where Would a Car Accident Trial Take Place?

Most car accident cases end in settlement, and only a very small percentage of car accident lawsuits make it all the way to trial. But even the prospect of going to trial can have an impact on the perceived value of a car accident case.

Not all juries and judges will decide cases the same way. Some counties, even those right next to each other, will have significant differences in the tendencies and biases regarding personal injury lawsuits. Local attorneys learn which counties are more "plaintiff friendly" or "defendant friendly."

In some situations, there will be more than one potential location where a lawsuit can take place. Until your attorney chooses where to file the lawsuit, and the defendant confirms it won't contest the chosen location by filing a motion for change of venue, there may be a significant unknown in determining what your case is worth.

Next Steps After a Car Accident

In the days and weeks after a car accident, it might help to focus more on protecting your health and building your claim, and worry less about what the outcome of your case might look like. That means:

When your car accident injuries are significant, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how a car accident lawyer can help your case, and how car accident lawyers get paid.

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