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Factors That Shape the Outcome of Your Personal Injury Case

What are your chances of winning a personal injury lawsuit?

The circumstances of every accident and case are unique, and only an experienced injury attorney can give you a reliable answer. However, you can gain a better understanding of your situation by educating yourself on the factors that most commonly affect case outcomes. Bear in mind that the capability of your legal team is a factor, and that having a skilled attorney with knowledge of how to approach the details of your case will affect all of these factors in an important way.

Need to Know

  • The factors that influence the success of your case include the defendant’s insurance, the degree and duration of damages, the victim’s occupation and earnings history, the presence of favorable witness testimony, and the venue in which the case is tried.
  • A skilled attorney understands the factors that may influence a case and how they pertain to your situation.

In This Article

Insurance Limits

Unless the potential defendant in your case has exceptional financial resources, you may expect any compensation you receive to be paid from the defendant’s insurance policy. This means that the existence, and extent, of the defendant’s insurance will be a primary factor in whether your compensation is commensurate with your injuries, or sufficient to serve whatever medical or personal needs may result from them.

An experienced attorney may, by examining police or incident reports and investigating the entities concerned, be able to reasonably estimate what you can expect in terms of your defendant’s insurance coverage. Your attorney should reach out to the potential defendant’s insurance company and receive, in writing, a representation of the coverage involved. The most reliable way to determine the extent of available insurance coverage is through court-ordered discovery where the actual proof is turned over because a judge mandated it.

Many states have different laws concerning the disclosure of insurance information. In New York State, the defendant’s insurance company must release the requested insurance information to your attorney as soon as it is practical, regardless of whether a lawsuit has been filed. This requirement is adhered to rather inconsistently, making it important to have a knowledgeable and dogged attorney working on your behalf.

A good attorney will also carefully investigate your case to identify every responsible party, rather than rely on the insurance coverage offered by the most obvious defendant. For instance, in one case settled by Block O’Toole & Murphy, our client suffered skull fractures and severe brain damage after being hit by a minivan that crashed into another vehicle in Queens. The collision occurred partly because overgrown tree branches mostly obscured the stop sign at the intersection.

Learn how Partners Stephen J. Murphy and David L. Scher investigated the traffic accident that caused our client to sustain serious injuries, including severe brain damage.

While some lawyers might have gone with the most direct, and simplest, route of settling the case for $1.3 million—the combined insurance limit from the two vehicles involved in the accident—our handling attorneys visited the area in Queens, knocked on doors, and spoke with witnesses. After investigating the scene thoroughly and working with experts, our lawyers discerned that the City of New York was another possible defendant, as city representatives had reason to be aware of this developing problem with the stop sign. In fact, our firm was able to prove that the City was called to the scene of the accident to fix the problem. Instead of doing so, they trimmed the wrong tree, leaving the tree which blocked the stop sign in place.  Because of these efforts, our client received a settlement of $7.5 million from the City of New York in addition to the insurance from the vehicles for a settlement totaling $8.8 million. Our ability to achieve this settlement was no trivial matter for our client, given the catastrophic nature of her injuries, which, even following extensive rehabilitation and surgery, would affect her for the rest of her life.

Proving Fault

To bring a successful lawsuit, your attorney must be able to establish, through compelling evidence, that the defendant in your case is at fault. An experienced attorney will want enough evidence to feel comfortable that they can prove that there is a viable defendant responsible for your accident. 

New York is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning that even if you, as the plaintiff, are found to be partially responsible for any injuries that occurred, you may still recover . However, if evidence shows that you were 100% at fault in an accident that injured you—in other words, that the potential defendant  and you behaved unreasonably—you will not have a viable case.

This is why a good lawyer will investigate before taking you on as a client. Let’s say you were hit by a bus after crossing a designated bus lane instead of using the crosswalk. While it is clear that your behavior was not ideal, it is possible that the bus driver was also negligent, and people who operate public transportation vehicles are held to a higher standard of driving than your average motorist. If a preliminary investigation reveals, for instance, that the driver did not follow the rules of the road, or failed to see what was there to be seen, which might have prevented the accident, there is a good chance you will be able to prove a sufficient percentage of negligence against the defendant to recover damages.

If you are in doubt as to who is at fault for an accident, however, the best course of action is always to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney who can provide an informed perspective on your accident. Whether or not you are at fault, there is no shame in having questions about your accident, and you will lose nothing by being, at the very least, reassured that legal action is not worth pursuing.


As you probably realize, the nature of the damages incurred—including the extent and duration of your suffering—will determine the value of your case. A person with more severe injuries is likely to require more compensation to approximate how the accident has impacted their ability to enjoy their life and receive the medical care they need.

The duration of injuries is also likely to increase the amount of any award a plaintiff receives. This includes not only the question of how long it will take you to recover from your injury, but—in the event that an injury is expected to last the rest of your life—your age. A 10-year-old who has lost the use of a limb will be living with the results far longer than an 80-year-old with the same injury. The lifelong consequences of that injury will, for the 10-year-old, have greater personal repercussions. As a result, the recovery for that person will be substantially higher. 

Understandably, people with greater injuries, or whose lives are more grievously impacted by the injuries they have, are more likely to have a successful case because their suffering speaks for itself. Many personal injury clients, however, have been hurt in ways which are less apparent to a jury, but equally in need of redress. In cases where a client’s suffering is more difficult to communicate, a good attorney helps to bridge the gap.  An effective lawyer can persuade a jury that the pain and challenges experienced by an injured person are not always visible. The ability of an attorney to artfully present a case which makes the injuries and suffering endured by their client apparent to a jury—even if looking at the client doesn’t necessarily reveal those injuries—is an invaluable asset. 

For instance, it is easy to argue to a jury that a client sustained a broken leg and is in a wheelchair. You have the x-rays and the client sitting in a wheelchair with a cast on her leg.  That doesn’t require much in the persuasion department. But what about a client who has sustained a herniated disc, but outwardly appears to be otherwise healthy? This is a more challenging case, requiring the artistry of a skilled trial lawyer. By eliciting testimony from a client as well as experts who are able to bring this injury to life, such an attorney allows the jury to understand how this injury can be every bit as debilitating as—or worse than—one that they can see with their own eyes.

Client Occupation

If your injury prevents you—temporarily or permanently—from doing your job, the financial value of that job will impact damages. Your salary, your earnings history, the duration of time that you are out of work, the benefits you earned from your job, and any pension or retirement income you may be deprived of are all factors that affect your compensation. This means that if, for example, a foreman and one of the employees under his supervision are both unable to work for six months, you may expect the foreman’s compensation for lost earnings to amount to more money.

In wrongful death cases, the income of the victim will likewise affect the compensation owed to surviving family members. In the United States, each state has its own wrongful death statutes. For instance, New York law uses loss of future earnings as a basis for compensating the surviving family of the victim, but does not consider the pain and suffering of surviving family members—a part of the law that our lawyers are actively campaigning to change. The current statute makes it important to recognize other routes to better compensation for grieving families. If the deceased had minor children, for example, the family may bring a claim for loss of parental guidance. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to take stock of your situation to determine what damages claims may apply.

Client Injury History

Prior injuries, accidents, or health problems may complicate a personal injury case. Suppose a pedestrian suffers from lower back pain after being hit by a car. If the victim has no history of back pain and is therefore unambiguously suffering as a result of the accident, the case will typically be more easily resolved, and prove of higher value, than a case in which the victim has a history of medical treatment for a back herniation.

It is not impossible to argue for damages if you have had prior injuries, but your attorney will need a strong strategy to make your case. In one case handled by Block O’Toole & Murphy, our client suffered severe neck and back injuries after being injured by falling gravel from an excavator which was improperly operating over his work area, and was unable to return to his job as a union plumber.

Our client had been involved in two minor motor vehicle accidents some years prior, and an MRI study of his lumbar spine revealed that his lumbar disc pathology after the accident was identical to that before the accident. Based on this, the defense claimed that his back injury was unrelated to the accident.

Our handling attorneys responded that during the eight years since our client finished medical treatment following the motor vehicle accident, he had never complained of pain, had never consulted a doctor about his spine, and had only missed one week of work. Furthermore, he had never had an MRI taken of his neck at all, and until the accident involving the excavator, he had never consulted a surgeon, whereas he required two spinal surgeries following the excavator accident. By making these important distinctions and preventing the defense from hiding behind the earlier accidents, we were able to settle the case for $3,075,000.

Evidence and Witness Testimony

Naturally, the quantity and quality of evidence in your favor is critical to establishing a strong case. It is possible that your case may rise and fall based on what your attorney can achieve within the first 48 to 72 hours of investigative work.

To demonstrate: one case handled by Block O’Toole and Murphy hinged on the story that the defendant, a bus driver who had injured a pedestrian, told his dispatcher about the accident moments after it occurred. Early on, our handling attorneys obtained a recording of the phone call, in which the defendant claimed that the victim had jumped suddenly out from between two cars, giving him no warning. An investigation of the scene easily determined that this story was an outright lie, casting a strong doubt on the defendant’s case right at the outset.

The presence of people who can support your story will benefit your case by strengthening your liability and damages claims. The most obvious source of testimony comes from witnesses to the accident; if one or more witnesses can testify in your favor, your chances of a favorable resolution increase.

However, a knowledgeable attorney will not only investigate to turn up witnesses to the accident but will also consider what other kinds of testimony may be valuable. Experts who can provide context for the defendant’s negligence, doctors and physical therapists who can testify to the extent of your injury, coworkers who can note how the injury has influenced your ability to work, and close family members who can detail how the injury has affected your lifestyle may help to make your situation clearer to the jury. 

Place and Presentation

Where your case takes place matters. Different venues may be more or less plaintiff-friendly than others, according to their overall results.

Moreover, juries tend to be more favorable to people that they relate to or with whom they share a similar background. For instance, in New York City, it is possible for ten or so minutes between separate neighborhoods to make a difference in how your case is received.  A skilled attorney will be informed about different venues and will consider such factors when evaluating and shaping the direction of a case.

Relatability, however, is about more than a shared background; a person perceived by the jury as reasonable, good-hearted, or charismatic will do better than someone who lacks these (often unqualifiable) characteristics.

Usually, the person who is perceived as more likeable is an effective communicator—one who can make a jury understand the difficulty and pain caused by the accident, where another person, equally deserving of sympathy, might experience the same degree of pain without being able to give voice to it as easily.

One of the responsibilities of a good attorney is to aim for fairness by helping clients to make their voices heard. Perceived appeal, likeability, and even good behavior are not necessary qualifiers for being an innocent victim. While you are responsible for listening to your attorney’s advice about presentation and for behaving in a reasonable manner, a responsible attorney will examine the case and your own life in order to tell an accurate story that makes your situation more understandable to the jury.

Working With Your Attorney

As this article hopefully makes clear, it is important to retain an attorney you can trust. Do your homework when searching for an attorney, making sure that you have found someone suited to your needs who will be able to represent you with authority, good judgement, and conviction.

Being able to trust your lawyer will allow for the kind of communication that makes for an effective case. You should feel confident enough to tell your attorney every detail of the case—regardless of whether it appears to you to be helpful or hurtful to your cause. Your own assessment of the case will not have an attorney’s perspective, and knowing the full story will allow your attorney to thoroughly investigate and to be proactive about any challenges that may arise.

The experienced attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy handle cases throughout New Jersey and New York. Contact Block O’Toole & Murphy to receive a free legal consultation by calling 212-736-5300, or by filling out our online contact form.

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