the value of your utah personal injury claim at trial

Published: January 8, 2022
Utah's Top Attorney

how much is your personal injury case worth at trial in utah?

My clients always want to know how much their personal injury case is worth. The answer is always the same: it depends.

One thing it depends on is whether the client wants to settle the case without going to trial or if he or she wants a jury to determine the true value of the case at trial. The value of a case at trial is potentially much greater than a settlement before trial, but comes with potentially significant risks, including, among others the risk of losing if a jury finds in favor of the defense.

If you decide to take your case to trial, there are a number of factors that could potentially affect its value. Several of them are outlined below. Of course, every case and every jury is unique and different factors could be more or less relevant in your particular case.  

For more information on the settlement value of your case before going to trial, see our post on pre-litigation settlement values.  

who is the plaintiff?

First things first. Who is the Plaintiff?

At trial, the plaintiff matters. A lot. Imagine if you were on a jury and the plaintiff who had been badly injured in a motor vehicle accident was none other than LeBron James. Imagine his injuries were such that he could no longer play sports or do endorsement deals. How do you think the value of his personal injury claim at trial would stack up to a mere mortal, like one of us?

So let’s talk about some of the factors the jury will look at when assessing the plaintiff.

Will the jury like the plaintiff? Is he or she a likeable person or is the plaintiff someone who will inherently rub the jury the wrong way?

The plaintiff’s age is a factor. If the plaintiff is too old or too young that can affect the value of the claim. The ideal age range for a plaintiff’s case value is 25-65 years old.

The plaintiff’s educational background is a factor. The more education the better. Better educated plaintiffs generally present better in front of a jury and generally can establish more significant damages.

What does the plaintiff do for work? Does he or she have a significant income? Those could be critical issues at trial.

How solid is the plaintiff’s employment history? It is important. It tells the jury something about who the plaintiff is and how reliable and trustworthy he or she is.

Appearance is important. Like everyone else, juries make decisions about people based off appearance. A well put together plaintiff makes a difference at trial.

The plaintiff’s prior health is also a factor. The value of a personal injury case is all about quality of life and how that quality of life has been affected by the accident. As a result, the parties closely dissect the plaintiff’s prior medical records. If the plaintiff had similar pain complaints prior to the accident, the defense will attempt to seize on those issues at trial.

Or did the plaintiff have pre-existing medical conditions that were asymptomatic before the accident, which then became symptomatic as a result of the accident? If that is the case, the plaintiff’s attorney will make sure the jury understands that the accident caused those pre-existing medical conditions to become symptomatic when they never were before.

Non-accident-related problems may also affect the value of a case. Has the plaintiff had health problems subsequent to the accident that are also contributing to a decline in his or her quality of life? Maybe the plaintiff’s life is worse since the accident, but the decline can be attributed to other health factors.

Has the plaintiff had any subsequent auto accidents? Subsequent accidents can create significant problems for a plaintiff’s claim at trial. Defense attorneys will do everything within their power to convince the jury that the subsequent accident (not the original accident) is to blame for plaintiff’s injuries.

A plaintiff’s criminal history can also affect the value of a case. If the plaintiff has prior felonies, those convictions may be an issue at trial. Do the felonies involve crimes of dishonesty? Those can be a big deal for a jury at trial, especially if the jury is required to make a judgment call on whether the plaintiff is trustworthy.

who is the defendant?

This question is also important at trial, although generally not as important as the above-referenced factors regarding the plaintiff.

Is the defendant an individual or a company?

If the defendant is an individual, the same factors will be at play that we discussed for the plaintiff, namely the defendant’s age, educational background, appearance, employment, criminal history. As mentioned, those factors are not as important for the defendant as they are for the plaintiff, but they still can affect the claim.

Is the defendant a government entity? Historically juries have been a little wary of claims against government agencies like police departments, although some of that has been changing with recent events.

Maybe the defendant is an insurance company? Juries (like everyone else except defense attorneys) do not like insurance companies. As a result, if you can bring a claim directly against an insurance company it is likely to be well-received by the jury.

jurisdictin/venue/judge

Venue and jurisdiction of the court are also important factors.

The venue of your case can make all of the difference. If your case is in federal court that will certainly affect the value of the claim. In Utah, federal court requires a unanimous jury verdict unlike state court. And it draws from a much broader jury pool geographically which makes it more difficult to have a good sense about what type of jury you are going to get.

Also, there is no right to voir dire in federal court, which can me a significant limiting factor at trial.

What about the judge? Does the judge limit voir dire? What kind of evidence does this particular judge allow in opening and closing? Does the judge have a bias for the defense? For plaintiffs?

Or maybe the case is in binding arbitration. Arbitration is quicker and more efficient but the awards are generally much lower.

liability

Liability and causation are a critical factors affecting the value of your case at trial.  

Is liability disputed by the defense? If so, do you have favorable witnesses? If liability is disputed and you have favorable witnesses, the case is even more valuable at trial than if the defense admitted to liability. Juries tend to return larger verdicts in disputed liability cases—assuming, of course, that you are able to prevail on the disputed liability issue. Once you do that, the jury is likely to reward you with a strong verdict.

What if you do not have any witnesses on a disputed liability case? That is difficult and could make your case tougher at trial.

What if there are witnesses but they are unfavorable? Attorneys are generally able to deal with one unfavorable witness. Two is much more difficult. More than two unfavorable witnesses becomes very tough to deal with at trial.

causation

Defense attorneys love to fight over causation. Causation is a legal element of plaintiff’s injury claim, requiring the plaintiff to provide that the accident was the proximate cause of his or her injuries?

In defending the causation element of a plaintiff’s claim, the first thing defense attorneys look at is when the plaintiff’s symptoms first started?

Did the plaintiff tell the officer at the scene of the accident that he or she was “fine” or that “no one was injured.” Did the officer note any of plaintiff’s injuries or symptoms in the police report?

Did the Plaintiff immediately go to urgent care or the emergency room? If so, do those records reference the accident and plaintiff’s injuries or symptoms?

If plaintiff’s injuries show up early in the records for the case (i.e. the police report or ER records) that can greatly increase the value of the plaintiff’s case at trial, especially if there is a consistency of diagnosis throughout all of the Plaintiff’s medical records from the first medical encounter following the accident to the last.

expert witnesses

The quality and quantity of expert witnesses at trial is important in disputed liability cases. Are the plaintiff’s experts as good as the defendant’s experts? Do their opinions of plaintiff’s experts hold up on cross examination? Will the jury like plaintiff’s experts better?

Maybe one of the experts did not do reliable work and you are able to convince the judge to prohibit that judge from testifying at trial on a motion in limine.

Or maybe you can prove that one of the experts is nothing more than a hired gun who will say anything for money. Maybe the defendant’s attorneys have a long history of working with that expert because he will way what the defense attorneys want him to say because they send so much work his way.

comparative fault

Comparative fault can destroy a case at trial. Comparative fault looks at whether the plaintiff is also at some fault for the accident.

If the plaintiff has too much fault in a case it can be devastating. Juries generally do not like to award plaintiffs large sums of money if they played a significant role in the accident.

But remember in Utah, a plaintiff need only prove that the defendant is at least fifty-one percent liable to recover damages. So while a plaintiff’s comparative fault may affect the overall value of the claim, it does not prohibit plaintiff from recovering an award at trial so long as the jury determines that the Defendant(s) are at least fifty-one percent liable. 

aggravating factors

Are there any aggravating factors in the case? Aggravating factors can greatly affect the amount of money a jury will award at trial.

For instance, was the other driver distracted? Texting or otherwise using his or phone? Juries do not like distracted drivers and will increase the amount of the award in plaintiff’s favor at trial.  

Was the defendant under the influence? Of course, juries are especially sensitive to accidents caused by drivers under the influence. If the defendant was impaired at the time of the accident, you can expect the jury to punish him or her with a substantial verdict.  

These factors (distracted, texting, impaired) can dramatically increase the value of your personal injury claim at trial by as much as 20, 30, or even 50%.

miscellaneous factors

There are a few miscellaneous factors that could also play big at trial.

Did the plaintiff get too much medical treatment for his or her injury?

Or maybe not enough?

Was the plaintiff’s treatment self-procured or attorney referred? Defense attorneys love to make a big deal out of this one, suggesting to the jury that the plaintiff’s attorney is orchestrating unnecessary care. It’s not true, but defense attorneys will try to make a big deal out of attorney referred treatment.

Does the claim involve a workers compensation claim crossover? That can be a negative factor at trial affecting case value.

Does the plaintiff’s claim involve psychological claims? Anxiety, PTSD, depression, negligent infliction of emotional distress? Those claims are hard at trial and can be difficult to prove.

If you would like to discuss the value of your case, please give me a call. I would be happy to go over it with you in greater detail without charge.

If you need help with a Utah personal injury lawsuit, call Shane immediately. He has significant litigation experience. He represents injured clients in catastrophic injury cases throughout Utah. Call him immediately to discuss your case.

To contact Shane, call or text 385-429-9960 or e-mail s@gosdis.lawyer

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