Charles Flaxman, a lawyer at Flaxman Law Group, has been fighting personal injury cases for over 37 years. While he admits that putting a price tag on an accident is certainly more of an art than a science, in this article he tries to explain how lawyers figure out exactly how much to sue for.
How much should we sue for?
When it comes to determining the value of a case, the numbers are not as hard and fast as we might like to think. For this reason, in addition to many others, it is important to hire an experienced and qualified personal injury lawyer. Perhaps surprisingly, very often the insurance companies are the one that wiil determine the value of the case. Often it has less to do with the caliber of the lawyer and more with which insurance company you are suing. The insurance company will usually offer you a certain amount, but you can’t really know if what they offering you is the most you can get without consulting a lawyer. You have to bite the bullet and get signed up and they will take a third of the damages.
I happen to know, from my experience as a personal injury lawyer, and perhaps even more importantly from my experience as an insurance claims adjuster, the usual amounts that a plaintiff can expect to collect. I know, for example, that if it is a rear-end whiplash case with a certain insurance company, you will usually get about X amount. As corporations, they will try to give you the least possible amount and as lawyers and plaintiffs, we will try to collect for the highest reasonable amount.
Most lawyers have not been claims adjusters for the insurance companies. I have been on the other side, so I know what they are afraid of and what will force them to settle for what I want. What are insurance companies afraid of? They are afraid of a lot. They are afraid they will be liable for a whole lot more if they don’t do the right thing in mediation. If the jury thinks the insurance companies are screwing over a poor victim, then they are going to punish them for it. No one ever wants to lose a case and then owe all that money for attorneys fees. That’s why most people settle.
What about if you are suing a corporation? Or a government organization?
When someone files a lawsuit against perhaps the city counsel, the state or even very large companies, those entities will have self insurance. Those bodies actually hire their own independent adjusters as part of their teams. They have people working full time for them who adjust claims. Most large corporations and governments have internal risk management departments. Corporations are all about the bottom line and those people are there to keep you from the corporate coffers. For this reason, it is much more difficult to get money from cities or large chain stores. Unlike insurance companies, whose business it is to pay out claims and have a fluid system for doing so, corporations are in the business of furthering their own interests, which is making money, not paying claims, so it is a lot harder to collect from them.
Is it always for money? What else do you sue for?
Yes, when we are filing a personal injury lawsuit, we are going after monetary compensation. Technically, according to the law, you can file for an injunction or a restraining order or divorce or for foreclosure on real estate or force something to occur or not to occur. That is pretty much what civil court is for. Of course, there is also criminal court, which is an entirely different fighting venue for very different thing. When we file a civil personal injury suit, we are looking for money.