After being injured in a car accident, a big question is often ‘how much is my case worth?’. In this podcast episode, Josh and Aaron talk about online personal injury settlement calculators. Do they work? Tune in to find out.
Listen here or read the transcript below. FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.
Intro: Thank you for tuning into summary judgment where Austin personal injury attorneys, Josh Fogelman and Aaron Von Flatern of FVF Law, discuss the ins, outs and in-betweens of personal injury cases.
Aaron Von Flatern: Alright, welcome back to Summary Judgement. This is Aaron Von Flatern, and I’m here with my co-founder of FVF Law, Josh Fogelman.
Josh, today, we have a fun topic, how injury settlement calculators work. We’re talking about those things online that say car accident settlement calculators or injury settlement calculators. Not a lot of people know what their case is worth, so what do you think about those? Let’s just start up top.
Josh Fogelman: Man, I’ve got some mixed feelings about them. A lot of people hop on to Google, they’ve been hurt, they don’t really know what to do, they don’t know what to expect, and they’re looking for some information about what they can expect an insurance company to pay on their personal injury claim. And they trust these mostly lawyer websites to provide them information about what the value of their case might be, maybe to try to use that information to negotiate a resolution of their claim. But the reality of it is, settlement calculators, just in most circumstances, absolutely cannot account for the significant number of factors and variables that come into play when evaluating what fair and adequate compensation for a person should be for the injuries they have sustained in an injury event. So, if I had to just give some basic advice to someone wondering whether they should trust one of those settlement calculators to give them a good gauge on what they should expect, I would say it’s probably not something to trust, and it would be a good idea to get on the phone and actually talk to somebody who can listen to the various aspects of the case and ask the questions that they need to ask to actually give you a customized idea of what your expectations should be.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, I think a lot of people are sitting there kind of afraid to call a lawyer, which is totally understandable, given the way that a lot of injury lawyers have marketed themselves. Kind of in your face type of marketing, and people are private. This is a private subject, a lot of times their injuries are very personal, a lot of times it’s affected their loved ones and there’s been some catastrophic event. A lot of times they just want their space and so they’re online, looking for some way to you get some information without having to actually talk to somebody. That is completely understandable, but if you just go through a few of these, I think you’ll see why we recommend avoiding them. The first thing that I notice is, as you pointed out, they are run by law firms who are trying to get your contact information. Within five or six questions they’re asking if you can give them their contact information in order to complete the evaluation.
For me, that would be very frustrating to be going through answering questions and then being told that I can’t actually get my free evaluation until I talk to a lawyer, which is what I was trying to avoid in the first place. So, they can be a little misleading. I think the other thing that strikes me – that as you pointed out, Josh – there are so many more factors than five or six questions. How many questions do you think you have to ask to be able to tell somebody even an approximate range of what their case is worth?
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, I can’t answer that question because there are just so many of them. Other than to say, it often takes months to even be able to get to a point to understand a person’s injuries well enough, or we can even start talking about what their future looks like to give them some idea of what kind of a recovery they should expect. In the settlement calculators, they’re not that sophisticated. They can’t do that.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, when our clients are deposed. So, a deposition is a formal hearing, you’re under oath. When you’re in a lawsuit, a lot of times the other side has the right to depose you and we have a right to depose the at-fault parties and any kind of witnesses, the deposition can last for hours, and in that deposition, there might be hundreds, sometimes thousands of questions to ask of a person. And the whole point of that is to see, well, what is this case worth? It takes that much digging. And so is it possible that somebody could design artificial intelligence to try to figure out the approximate value of a case? Absolutely, we know some big insurance companies who already do that. And as good as those programs are, which takes some millions of dollars into trying to create the right questions, they still get it wrong. How do we know that? Well, because they’ve given us their “top dollar” that their robot has told them the case was worth, you’ve gone to trial and gotten 10X of that number. Right, Josh? I think, you can remember a recent case like that.
So, obviously, a website that asks you six questions is not going to really give you a very good answer. Now, here’s an idea, if you come at it the other way, start searching for lawyers that you can talk to. People that you would be friends with, whether or not you had a case, just reputable lawyers who are nice and happened to be willing to be on the phone with you for as long as it takes to give you the answers with zero pressure. That’s not something you can really tell right away from a quick Google search, but if you keep digging and looking at the websites, you’ll find there are firms, I like to say that FVF Law is one of them. We may be, in my opinion, we’re the best in Austin when it comes to really taking the time to listen to everybody, including people that in seconds we know we can’t represent. It’s just not a good case for us to work on or whatever. We will still spend hours with those people, if we need to, to make sure that they’re not being taken advantage of by the system.
The system is extremely complicated, and Josh, you and I were just talking about how our next podcast, which is coming up, is going to be about what happens when you try to represent yourself and whether that’s a good idea. And we’ll get into that a little bit more in that podcast. But as a preview, I can tell you that the insurance company is betting on your lack of information. The asymmetrical information, it works to their advantage and they are hoping that you don’t pick up a phone and call a lawyer, they are hoping that you are put off by all those bad advertisements on TV. And so all we’re asking is, is that if you’re in that position, that you pick up the phone and try, and obviously, do your homework, and then pick up a phone and talk to a firm like ours, who will shoot you straight without any kind of pressure.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, Aaron. In theory, a settlement calculator, as you said, should be able to, maybe, give some sort of basic snapshot of what insurance companies are typically paying in personal injury claims where some of the injuries, or some of the losses are really basic and the medical bills are very limited. Maybe a little bit of lost earnings that you can quickly and easily account for and a person’s made a full recovery. They might be useful in trying to figure out what an insurance company might pay. But when we’re talking and looking at… When we’re looking at personal injury cases over and over and over again, we spend time with people who really have no clue what the long-term implications of their injuries are, and there’s just so much of an unknown. But more important than that, when one of our mutual mentors used to talk about identifying and underwriting and evaluating personal injury cases in terms of three different buckets, there’s kind of the liability bucket, whether the other person who you’re trying to collect money from was clearly at fault. There’s the damages bucket, which is how bad the injuries were, what kind of economic losses there are, what kind of non-economic losses there are.
And then, of equal importance is, the third bucket, which is, is there a pocket to go after, is there a source of recovery? And I think that that’s really good wisdom and I think that some of that information can be gleaned in the settlement calculator by using a settlement calculator. If you had that information already ready and you had done a good job of accumulating that information. But I found, and I think you’ll agree with this, in practice, that there’s really a fourth bucket, which is the unknowns, the intangibles. What kind of aggravating factors are out there that you can only find if you start really digging? What is it about the individual that an artificial intelligence machine can’t really understand that a jury of your peers would understand that make the particular injury that the person has sustained, much, much more valuable than what the artificial intelligence might try to tell you? And those are the types of questions that a good lawyer will answer or try to answer or counsel you and lead you to be able to answer in order to do what it is that you’re trying to do, which is maximize your recovery from the insurance company or from the company who harmed you. And I haven’t seen a settlement calculator that comes even close to being able to do those things. And I agree with you that they tend to be more of a trap for the wary.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah. I will tell you there’s something in our humanity that can’t be quantified and it causes us, as you know, Josh, sometimes, to have to turn to focus groups. We’ve been expertly trained from… A lot of our lawyers, including me, on the inside of insurance companies all the way through trial and here today. No one, that I know of, should be better than us at figuring out what a case is worth. And yet, we still, after spending months and months and maybe years with our clients, we still have to turn to focus groups, where we talk to third parties, just human beings to how does this person strike you, what do you think about this case? And there’s no way to predict, sometimes, how they’re going to respond. A lot of times, their responses are based on just how well they liked your client or how much they didn’t like what the at-fault party did. And a lot of times it comes down to, does the jury have a job to do?
The jury is the conscience of the community. They enforce the standards and the rules in our communities. And a lot of times, they feel it’s really important that their voice be heard. And in those cases, the value can be way more than any robot would tell you it’s worth. It’s just the nature of their job. So, I think this is one of those subjects that we could probably talk forever about. But I think we’ve got another podcast we want to throw back at you guys, about representing yourself in personal injury cases. And so if you’re curious about this topic, check out the next one, our next episode, it should be a good supplement to this conversation.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah. So, this has been a discussion about personal injury and car accident settlement calculators. We appreciate you all listened in to another episode of Summary Judgment. Stay tuned for more.