Question: What are you suing for? What is my case worth?
Clients often ask these questions at our first meeting.
I. “What We Are Suing For?”
The amount that we seek in complaint or in negotiations is not the final number that we seek at the settlement table or in the courtroom. The number that we seek is always higher than the value of the case.
New York used to require that complaints state a dollar figure sought as damages. All lawyers asked for high amounts because a rule prohibited on collecting any amount awarded in excess of what you asked for in the complaint. Hence, New York lawyers would ask for extraordinary amounts in their complaints. It was not unusual for our complaints to seek $1,000,000 although the client’s case had nowhere near that value.
The law has changed so that it is unnecessary to state a dollar amount. In the last few years complaints from our office did not have a dollar amount.
Therefore, the question of what we are seeking in the lawsuit is farily irrelevant in relation to the final determination as to the value of the case for settlement or trial purposes.
II. What Is My Case Worth?
At the beginning of the case it is too early to tell the monetary value of a case. Typically, the client is still treating, and it is too early to tell whether the injury will be permanent and how it will impact the client’s life, such as disability from working, future medical treatment, etc.
Believe it or not, the time delays in bringing a case in court can work to a client’s benefit. The long time in getting a case settled or tried allows both sides to see how the accident affects the client’s life regarding permanency, inability to work, and loss of enjoyment of life. Often, it takes time to see the permanent ramifications of an accident,
Two clients may have the same injury, however, each client’s course of recovery can differ widely. For example, two clients come in the same day with what appears to be the same injury. Each has a torn mensicus. One client does not have surgery, and through therapy the injury improves. He has little time out of work. In comparison, the second client has the need for surgery. Post-surgical therapy does not improve things, and he is unable to return to work as a painter. The value of each client’s case differs. The second client has a more serious injury as far as monetary values are concerned.
It is safe to think of a client’s case as building a building. In the beginning there is a piece of vacant land. It has some value, but its ultimate value will be determined upon what you build there. Will it be a cheaply made one family house? Or will be it a deluxe mansion made of the finest materials and designed by noted architects and interior designers?
The final value all depends upon the facts and how you develop this piece of property. Property values in the area are also a factor in that the identical house will get a different price in a different location. The same applies to a case.
Therefore, the question of the ultimate value of a case depends upon what has been “built” by the attorney in preparation as well as other factors.
Mark E. Seitelman, 7/20/08, www.seitelman.com