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SigMTWinter20/21

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TEXT BY ROLAND DUROCHER BACK TO BUSINESS SiG MT 23 e American justice system uses money to try and fix all sorts of harm. In a case about replacing property, like a car, one can find a substitute with a price tag. e system works well for that. But the same system applies to physical injuries, mental anguish, changes in lifestyle, even death. ese things do not get bought and sold, so using money to fix them gets complicated. A jury typically gets the final say if the sides do not sele, and certain factors generally affect results. Severity of harm plays a major role. No jury awards millions for minor injury (regardless of what that friend's brother heard from a guy). Economic effects of the injury may play the biggest role. For example, the death of a 30-year-old parent with a $50,000/year salary will take away $1,750,000 from that family ($50,000 x 35 more years of work lost). Death of a retired 90-year-old may cause emotional harm, but not economic loss. Nerve damage in a finger that does not affect a lawyer, could end a surgeon's career, costing him or her millions. A back injury that inconvenienced the surgeon could end the career of a carpenter. ese examples show the uniqueness of each case, and each individual must be treated as such. Yet they only reflect damages a jury or judge may consider. No award is made without liability. For example, two people entering an intersection may collide, and both suffer severe injuries and economic loss. eir damages may be the same, but the one who caused the wreck is entitled to nothing. Also, not all cases involve simple yes or no questions of liability. Montana uses comparative fault. e jury evaluates the fault of the person sued (defendant), and the person suing (plaintiff ). For example, if a store with slippery floors gets sued by a customer who falls, the jury can find the customer partly at fault for not seeing the hazard. at reduces damages by the percentage of fault (e.g., 25% fault reduces $10,000 to $7,500). A plaintiff more than 50% at fault gets nothing. Beyond the injury, losses and liability, a myriad of other considerations may come up. A jury may award more against a drunk driver than a mother distracted by her child, even if the legal liability and damages caused are identical. A person rear ended while legally stopped, but in a stolen car, will not likely get much money regardless of severe injury, which is why the most common question I am asked "how much money?" must be answered with "it depends." Until all the harm is known, that is impossible to answer. Even when the facts have developed, experience teaches that we only have guidelines, not absolute numbers. Run fast and far from anyone who claims to know for certain what a jury will do with a given set of facts. S M T How Much Money is an Injury Case Worth? Roland Durocher has practiced law since 1994. His practice focuses solely on helping people injured in accidents or by malpractice with insurance claims and litigation.

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