Value of a Personal Injury Claim: The Defendant’s Likability
The personality and actions of the defendant are yet another important factor. If the defendant’s actions were particularly outrageous, the sky is the limit as far as the jury may be concerned.
Example: Dave was struck in the back by a car as he was walking along the side of a country road. The compensatory damages, that is, the damages that were strictly to compensate him for his pain and suffering and out of pocket expenses for medical bills and lost wages, totaled about $75,000. However, the punitive damages part of the case made it interesting.
The defendant had seen Dave when he was several hundred feet away. He nevertheless struck Dave in the back without altering the direction of his car. He testified at his deposition that he did so because he didn’t want to go over the double yellow lines, even though there was no oncoming traffic. He reasoned that it would have been illegal to cross a double yellow line. He felt that it would be preferable to severely injure a human being than to break the law.
He testified in a very calloused, unfeeling manner. He expressed no remorse for injuring Dave and seemed to deeply resent being forced to answer any questions at his deposition.
This case eventually settled for $160,000. The insurance company knew that the jury was going to hate the defendant and would be inclined to award huge punitive damages.
A couple of other factors from the example went into Dave’s decision to settle. First, punitive damages can be difficult to collect, as discussed in Chapter 4.
Second, the insurance company probably would have simply conceded liability for the accident and not presented this man as a witness at the trial. This would have prevented the plantiff’s attorney from showing just how heinous this individual and his actions were.