Expanding Access to Justice for Personal Injury Victims: Why We Built CaseYak

Access to justice is a well-documented problem in America. We built CaseYak to encourage more people to seek legal assistance for injury claims.

What is CaseYak? The elevator pitch: CaseYak is an artificial intelligence platform to predict the value of personal injury claims. We are still in our early stages, however, we believe our product has the potential to someday reshape the way in which personal injury claims are pursued and negotiated. But this isn't a product pitch or a roadmap of our vision. We think that the story behind our product and the mission that guides us are equally important, and we wanted to share.

Access to Justice: A Well-Documented Problem

You've likely read or heard about access to justice issues in America. I won't recite all the data for you here, but it is undoubtedly a problem. A staggering amount of people facing legal issues lack the means to obtain adequate representation to prosecute or defend their legal interests. Legal aid programs do their best to provide services to such underserved client groups as tenants facing eviction, individuals facing discrimination of some sort, and others with legitimate needs. However, the demand for legal services by such underserved groups far outstrips the supply of lawyers to provide them.

But what about in a field of law like personal injury, where attorneys typically collect their fee from whatever compensation they can recover for a plaintiff? It stands to reason that access to justice issues are less pervasive where a plaintiff can receive no-money-down representation. While this makes logical sense, our theory was that people actually seeking legal counsel for injuries represent only a small percentage of potential plaintiffs with legitimate claims. We believed this for several reasons:

  • Most injury cases stem from motor vehicle accidents, most of which are covered by auto insurance. Faced with the option of an immediate payout from an insurance carrier, many plaintiffs do not pursue further what could be a valid claim worth significantly more money.
  • Seeking compensation via judicial process for bodily injuries is stigmatized in American society, as are the attorneys that specialize in this field.
  • Lack of sophistication among many groups in society leads to a lack of knowledge about legal options available after an accident or, in some cases, intimidation about the prospect of retaining a lawyer.

The small amount of publicly available research on the topic supports this theory. In 1991, a study conducted by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice found:

  • one in every six Americans sustains injury in an accident resulting in economic loss;
  • one-third of those victims suffer moderate to severe injuries;
  • yet, only 10 percent of injured victims ever file a claim for compensation;
  • only 2 percent of injured victims file lawsuits.

While we can acknowledge that the data isn't exactly new, we can also presume that there has not been a seismic shift in these percentages. There is a clear gap where many injured persons are not--for whatever reason--seeking compensation to which they are entitled. Some might be dissuaded from seeking an attorney or zealously pursuing a claim for some of the reasons stated above. Others might have a minor to moderate injury that is just not estimated to be worth enough where an attorney will take the case.  Some might live in remote areas where finding an attorney seems too difficult.

Whatever the cause of hesitancy or hindrance to the ability of injured people to access and navigate our judicial system, our aim is to expand that access.

Lots of words, but how do we plan to fulfill our mission? It starts with a seemingly simple question.

"How Much Is My Case Worth?"

This is the first question most injured people have for their personal injury attorney. The answer is generally some variation of "it depends." Personal injury cases are complicated. After all, how can one truly put a price tag on categories like "pain and suffering" and "disfigurement." The American judicial system does the best it can, but a plaintiff's compensation in these cases--especially if a case goes to trial--are not readily capable of prediction via simple arithmetic. Attorneys generally take a plaintiff's medical expenses and lost wages (together, known as economic damages), and apply some sort of multiplier to this number based on other factors such as severity of injury, aggravating behavior of the defendant(s), amount of post-accident surgery, and many others. On the attorney's part, it is a mixture of basic math, past experience, knowledge of the field, and perhaps some voodoo. From here, the attorney finds a starting point for negotiating with the insurance carrier for the putative defendant. While some attorneys are excellent at pulling this number together, there were not any data-driven methods available to plaintiffs to estimate case values.

Finding an objective, data-backed answer to the question, "what's my case worth?" was the impetus for founding CaseYak. We knew there was high demand for answers to this question. We believed if we could provide objective answers, then we could connect more people with attorneys who might otherwise not seek relief for their injury claims. This was the guiding principle behind our first iteration, a form which law firms can plug into their websites to allow visitors to obtain quick case value estimates for motor vehicle accident claims based on historical jury verdict data.

As our product evolves and we continue to grow into other states and practice areas which align with our focus, we will remain committed to our mission of enhancing access to justice.

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