How Do Attorneys Determine How Much A Case Is Worth?

Posted by Scott Edwards | Mar 11, 2021 | 2 Comments

Yesterday the school nurse told me she arrived on the scene to see Ava lying face down.

Her face pressed into the ground by her body and the wheelchair still lying on top of her.

A long three minutes before, the nurse was sitting in her office when she got a call telling her what happened. She hung up and began the long walk outside. Though she hurried, her running days were many years in her past. She had to go all the way across the school to the ramp that led from the middle school to the two portables outside. She understood what happened and the need to get to Ava quickly.

She knew Mercedes Gonzales, the elderly and somewhat frail substitute aide assigned to look out for Ava during the school day, was unable to hold onto Ava's wheelchair. She knew that when Ms. Gonzales let go, Ava's wheelchair rolled out of control down the ramp. She knew, both from experience and from the call still echoing in her mind, that at the end of the ramp were six stairs. Those stairs descended even further to the gravelly ground below.

When she finally arrived she saw Ms. Gonzales, and both Dani and Warren (the school security guards) standing near Ava looking confused and unsure what to do to help. Ava was still strapped and seat belted in her wheelchair. It was still lying on top of her.  It added to the weight of Ava's body still pressing her face into the gravel and dirt on the ground.

You see, Ava has cerebral palsy. It's a condition that severely limits her strength and physical mobility—especially in her legs. As she lay under her wheelchair, her face pressed in the gravel, her cerebral palsy prevented her from being able to relieve the pressure of all that weight bearing down on her face.

The school nurse asked Warren to help and together they lifted the wheelchair off Ava. Still on the ground, they assisted Ava to a seated, upright position. In doing so, they were able to see the damage caused to her face when she landed, face first, at the bottom of those six stairs.

Her upper lip was torn from her nose. Doctors had to stitch it back together. A large laceration disfigured her lower lip. It too had to be sutured. The force of the impact damaged Ava's Trigeminal nerve. Damage that permanently decreases the feeling Ava has on the right side of the front of her chin. The decreased sensation makes it difficult for Ava to keep food and liquid in her mouth. As a result, she drools sometimes. That won't ever go away. The pictures of Ava's injuries were more distressing than I felt comfortable sharing publicly on this platform. 

How Did I Evaluate Ava's Case?

As personal injury lawyers we hear stories like Ava's every day. These are our clients' stories. Indeed, our clients' lives. Our job as trial lawyers is to not only understand and present these stories to juries, but also to advise our clients as to the value of their case.

Usually we're able to draw upon our experience and the experience of other attorneys to estimate the value of a case. But Ava's case was difficult. It was a hard one for me to evaluate. Her story is compelling, and the damage caused to her is permanent. I conducted focus groups to help determine the value of that damage. Those focus groups told me that the value of the harm caused to Ava is greater than what the school district has offered to balance that harm.

The school district and Ava and her family have been unable to resolve the case through settlement negotiations. So we continue to prepare Ava's case for trial this summer. Not every case settles, and we are trial lawyers. I'm ready to fight for Ava and her family. This is what I do. It's why I went to law school. 

I took the deposition of the school nurse just yesterday.

That's when I learned Ava laid face down for over three minutes while other school employees stood by.

Watching.

In fact, I took four depositions yesterday of various school employees. Each of them were either witnesses to the fall or people who worked with Ava either before or after her injury. I learned valuable information in each of them because depositions allow attorneys to understand what a witness will say at trial and also to learn more about the case.

I have taken more depositions in Ava's case than any other case in my career. I will take more depositions still. I refuse to stop preparing my client's case until I feel absolutely prepared to present their story. I'm not yet prepared. So I will continue my search for the truth. 

Ava's story is a sad one. But its clients like Ava, and stories like hers that make me proud of my job as a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer. I fight for victims like Ava who's lives are changed because of another's carelessness. She deserves to be heard. She deserves to be seen. Ava deserves a voice. 

Questions for You

What about you? What intrigues you about Ava's story? What stands out? What questions would you have for Ava? For the school nurse? For Mercedes? For Warren? For Ava's parents? For the school? How would you place value on the harm caused to Ava? How would you balance the scales of justice?

Feel free to respond in the comments section or send us a private message. We'd love to hear from you.

About the Author

Scott Edwards

Scott Edwards is a partner at Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards law firm. Scott is licensed in both Oregon and Washington, and has been practicing law since 2008. Though Scott started his career working for insurance companies, he now focuses his practice on personal injury, auto accident, biking accident, and insurance cases. In his free time, Scott enjoys spending time pedaling around the streets of Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon on his bicycle.

Comments

Linda JonesReply

Posted Mar 11, 2021 at 16:13:54

Had the employees that were with Ava (before the nurse arrived) been trained not to help for fear of causing further injury?
Why didn’t they take the chair off her so that she had a modicum of relief?
Who assigned a frail woman to look after a wheelchair-bound child?
What measures will be taken in the hopes that another child won’t have this happen to them?

The harm done to Ava is incalculable. Her body was already disfigured now her face is also.
In my opinion, there are no school districts or even corporations with enough money to counteract the harm done to her.
Get what money you can for her. More importantly, try to change how the districts interact with impaired students:
*Aides that are able to interact appropriately with the students emotionally, mentally and physically.
*Ramps with more gentle grading.
*Better training if there is a fall.
These three ideas might give Ava some peace of mind that no other student will have to suffer what she has.

Scott Edwards Reply

Posted Mar 13, 2021 at 07:40:33

Linda, thank you for your thoughts. They are most helpful. It’s an amazing case for sure. Like with all of our clients, Ava will get our very best. Her story is one that needs telling.

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