Personal Injury Awards

Knee Injuries: What is the Trial and Settlement Value?

Jury Verdict Research reports on a study it conducted that found that in the last ten years, the overall median compensatory award for soft tissue knee injuries, strains, and cartilage and ligament damage is $40,972.

The average trial value of knee injury cases involving knee lacerations, contusions and inflammation is $57,884 ($8,952 median). The average verdict for a knee strain case is $70,055 ($10,412 median). The average verdict for chondromalacia knee injury (abnormal softening of the knee cartilage on the underside of the patella) is $215,434 (median is $45,000).

I think these numbers are a little bit low but they are of interest to lawyers trying to determine how much is the settlement value of their knee injury case.

Motorcycle Accident Verdict Affirmed

The Western District Missouri Court of Appeals last week affirmed a $ 950,000 jury verdict in a motorcycle accident case, concluding that the condition of the road during construction was the primary cause of the man’s injuries.

The jury award surprises me. Plaintiff was driving his motorcycle through an “inactive” construction zone. While passing a truck at 70 miles per hour, he lost control of his motorcycle as the result of uneven payment, a nearly two inch difference in the grades. (Arguably that 70 mph did not help, either.)

Plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged the motorcycle accident would not have occurred if there had been proper warning of the uneven surfaces. The jury largely agreed, finding the defendants 95% at fault for the accident and the motorcyclist only 5% at fault (which would lead to a defense verdict under Maryland law). http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=51217

On appeal, the defendants argued that it did not know that the uneven pavement was a dangerous condition and likely to cause injury to a third party. The contractor also tried the whole “the state told me to do it like I did it” defense which didn’t fly – there is a non-delegable duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the public using the highway.

The appellate court’s decision was a no-brainer. The jury’s call to find the motorcyclist only 5% at fault for his own injuries is a surprise to me. Our law firm would never take this case because even this jury’s verdict would have resulted in a defense verdict under Maryland’s antiquated contributory negligence law.

You can find the court’s opinion in Harlan v. APAC-Missouri Inc. here.

Man is Awarded a $1.1 Million Verdict For a Fall Down the Stairs

A California jury has awarded a $1.1 million verdict to a man who sued his landlord after a slip and fall.

Plaintiff fell down the stairs at his apartment on January 1, 2010, and later developed disk injury and symptoms of lumbar strain. A houseman for a wealthy San Francisco family, Plaintiff was forced to quit his job because of the pain. Torres sued the property owner alleging that he failed to keep the stairs clear of slippery algae, and did not install a handrail, as required by local code.

The owner or his insurance company let the case to trial. Bad choice. A jury awarded Torres $1,070,801 for economic losses, including $850,000 for future lost earnings.

Plaintiff’s slip and fall attorney said, “If the defendant had provided the minimum protection of a building code-required handrail, at a cost of less than $100 and an hour of time, this lawsuit would have never been necessary….” This really makes you step back and think. As a retired general contractor, Fleming could have installed the handrail himself. What made him think it was worth the risk NOT to install the handrail?

Plaintiff and his family had moved to the apartment in 2008 after losing his Novato home to foreclosure. Hopefully, with a million dollar verdict, he’ll be able to find another home.

Maryland slip and fall cases are now getting a bit easier to get to a jury after a recent Maryland Court of Appeals opinion that softens Maryland’s still somewhat draconian assumption of the risk law.

How Much for the Wrongful Death of a 25 Year-Old Girl?

An Illinois jury awarded $1.275 million to the family of a 25 year-old woman who had almost completed her nursing degree and was killed while driving to her job at a hospital. Tired driving appeared to be the cause of the car accident: the Defendant just fell asleep and hit the Plaintiffs’ decedent.

The damages only trial lasted four days. The jury heard four grueling days of testimony from the family. Not that a tragedy like this can get worse, but this young girl had already been through a lot: surviving two kidney transplants only to be senselessly killed by someone driving down the road.

You hate to say only $1.275 million. That is a lot of money. That said, it seems like an extremely low verdict for the death of a 25 year-old girl. In Maryland, jury awards are cut in cases like this – it is unlikely there was significant economic damages for the family of this young woman. Still, juries in Maryland and in most states are not told about a cap and I think, just symbolically if nothing else, the award should be higher for a 25 year-old girl who overcomes such adversity to survive and thrive.

Also not mentioned in the article: was their sufficient coverage? I would think there was – usually you don’t put on a four day trial without a good liability policy. But who knows?

You can read a story about this verdict here.

Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages

A critical component of damages in wrongful death car accident cases is loss of services of the survivors from the victim. Loss of services is a dumb legal expression we would do best to get rid of. Solatium damages is an awful phrase, too. But at least it does not imply in the definition that the loss is pretty much someone doing less for you. (Noneconomic pain and suffering damages is a little better, I guess. We will use that.)

In Maryland, we describe these wrongful death damages to a jury as “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education where applicable.” Most states use similar strange language but the gist of it is: what has really been lost – calculating everything – from the death of this person?
Here are the statistics nationally on noneconomic pain and suffering jury awards:

The study provided some more interesting data:

Loss of Services Awards to Spouses of Decedents to Age 49

  • Award Median: $1,000,000
  • Award Average: $1,799,530

Loss of Services Awards to Spouses of Decedents Age 50+

  • Award Median: $742,591
  • Award Average: $1,790,938

Overall Loss of Services Awards in Death Cases:

  • Award Median: $900,000
  • Award Average: $2,834,460

I’m not surprised by the gap between victims under 50 and those over 50. It is probably cold and unfair. But jurors do have a clear understanding of life tables and the idea that loss is relative. In Maryland, this is not ultimately a big issue in wrongful death cases because of the cap on non-economic damages.

Passenger Accident Lawsuits

Jury Verdict Research did a study that found that the average money damages verdict in a car/truck accident case brought by the passenger is $486,098. Sounds like a lot but high (and maybe uncollectable) verdicts distort the average. The median passenger verdict is $30,000.

Here is where it gets interesting. I think it is difficult to lose a passenger accident case. Certainly the passenger is not responsible for the accident (ignoring for a second the “I knew he was drunk out of his mind and I got in the car with him anyway” passenger). Yet plaintiffs only receive money damages in 62 percent of passenger cases that go to verdict.

I just can’t make sense of the numbers. Here is how it breaks out:
Host Driver’s Negligence: 58%
Both Drivers’ Negligence: 64%
Driver & Business Negligence: 73%
Driver & Government Negligence: 74%
Passenger Suits Generally: 62%

I would love to grab a random handful of the defense verdicts and look at the fact pattern. Because it makes no sense to me. These should be very easy cases for accident lawyers to always win.

Head Injury Verdicts

Head injuries are the most common cause of fatalities in car accidents. Jury Verdict research provides some interesting data on the median value of head injury cases, breaking down some of the different types of head injury claims:

Head Lacerations and Contusions: $10,016
Concussions: $22,638
Skull Fractures: $100,000
Cranial Nerve Damage: $160,095
Head and Skull Injuries, Overall: $14,034

Keep in mind these are median awards. The averages may be more than 10 times this amount and small “technically head injury but not really” cases drag down the median. Still, these numbers do seem very low.

Value of Amputated Leg

Another interesting graph from Metro Verdicts Monthly, this time on the median verdicts in leg amputation cases for Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. The District of Columbia and Maryland have comparable verdicts, $2.1 million and $1.97 million, respectively. Virginia? $500,000. I expect some verdicts in Virginia to be lower because the rural areas of Virginia have conservative juries. But one-fourth of the amount?

Obviously, this data is not to be taken too seriously by accident lawyers in Maryland or in Virginia, as I discussed earlier this month. But in that post, I noted that Virginia’s verdicts in femur fracture cases is twice the Maryland average. So I cannot figure out the rhyme or reason to these comparative numbers.

I think it is fair to say that with respect to pain and suffering, you have to value a leg amputation case in Maryland on damages as the statutory cap on damages plus Plaintiff’s economic expenses. In terms of making the noneconomic damages case, it is important to consider future costs of a prosthetic leg. Last time we tried a leg amputation accident case, we brought in a prosthetic’s expert from the client’s prosthetic manufacturer from Hanger Orthopedic in Minnesota who I thought was a very effective witness at trial.

Ankle Injury Settlements in Car Accidents

In car accident cases, there are typically relatively “good” settlements on ankle injury cases. For our purposes here, “good” is defined as the probability of getting a reasonable settlement offer before filing a lawsuit.

Why are ankle injury cases easier to settle than other accident claims? But the most obvious explanation is the nature ankle injuries. With neck and back injuries, which are common car accident injuries, people with the exact same radiological findings can have very different manifestations of pain. Given this, insurance companies tend to assume the lowest level of pain in these types of cases.

In contrast, ankle injuries are far less often the result of degenerative changes and are usually caused by trauma, rarely leading to concerns about preexisting injuries or arthritic changes. Just as importantly, they are typically objective injuries we can see on a radiology report. It also helps in reaching a value of an ankle injury for settlement purposes that the treatment of ankle injuries is generally not as involved as other car accident injuries which decreases the extent of the “you should not have gotten so much treatment” arguments from the insurance company.

Four years ago, the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog reported on ankle verdicts and settlements in Maryland. A recent Jury Verdict Research study found that the average ankle injury verdict is $290,130 ($90,000 is the median). Maryland’s median – again, four years ago – was right on par with the national average at $88,000.

I think this is useful data in determining an appropriate value for an ankle injury settlement. That said, all average verdict data is of questionable usefulness in a given case and ankle injury data is probably even less useful than most other types of car accident injuries. You can drive a truck though the difference in settlement value between a hairline ankle fracture and a crush injury. So, as always, take the ankle verdict data with a grain of salt.

Cecil County Car Accident Verdict

Metro Verdicts Monthly reports on a jury verdict in a five car rear end chain reaction car crash in Cecil County, Maryland. The case was not exactly an accident lawyer’s delight. Cecil County is a tough jurisdiction for personal injury cases because, historically, jury verdicts have been relatively low. Adding to the concern, there was a soft tissue/exacerbation of a previous injury which means there is no real objective evidence that the Plaintiff was injured in the car accident.

The jury awarded $103,130 which is a pretty good verdict for a soft tissue/exacerbation of a prior disc injury case. It probably did not hurt that the Defendant Driver was driving a commercial vehicle which allowed the Plaintiff’s lawyer to point to a concrete company instead of just the driver. Moreover, the Defendant Driver was also driving a Ford F-350 which helps further the argument that Plaintiff suffered injuries in the accident. (I wish MVM would include how much property damage was in the accident.)

Is this a good verdict? I think so. We don’t have all of the facts. We do know that the verdict actually came back closer to the way the defendants’ accident attorney viewed the case. The offer was $40,000; the demand was $300,000.

Still, it sounds like a good verdict in a case that certainly had its share of weaknesses.