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A Good Lawyer Will Admit at the First Meeting They Don’t Know What Your Case is Worth.Posted January 20, 2017
By Jonathan A. Karon
Sometimes when I first meet potential clients, they ask me what their case is worth. I almost always have to explain that I don’t know enough at that time to give them a meaningful answer. What anyone’s personal injury case is “worth” is ultimately based on a prediction of what a jury of folks you’ve never met would decide if you tried your case to a verdict. To answer that question you need to figure out how likely you are to prove that your injuries were someone else’s fault and how badly injured you are. There’s usually not enough information to answer both questions at the first meeting.
Sometimes, the first question, whether someone else is responsible for your injuries, seems pretty clear. For example, in an auto accident case, if the defendant ran a red light and was cited by the police, the odds are pretty good that you will be able to convince a jury it was their fault. In other cases, however, particularly where the facts are more complex, like in products liability or professional negligence cases, the likelihood of success can only be judged after extensive investigation and discovery, such as consulting with experts, visiting the scene of the injury, interviewing witnesses and obtaining the defendant’s version of events.
If you can establish that your injuries were caused by someone else’s negligence, the law allows you to recover for your medical expenses, your loss of earning capacity (which in Massachusetts at least is not quite the same as your out of pocket lost wages) and for “pain and suffering” which essentially is all the ways in which your life was worse because you were injured. The value of all of these items is based on how badly injured you are.
Because clients usually meet with me shortly after they are injured and before they are done treating, it’s usually impossible to know just how badly hurt they are. For example, most cases involving spinal disc injuries are initially diagnosed as back strain. It’s usually only after the symptoms persist for a significant period of time that an MRI is ordered and a more serious (and permanent) herniated disc injury is discovered. Similarly, most people who sustain a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) do recover, but unfortunately a substantial minority have permanent cognitive issues. Such cases simply can’t be valued without allowing sufficient time to get an accurate read on what the future will likely hold. In any personal injury case, it’s important that a lawyer not rush to settle the case, before knowing what the real impact of the client’s injuries on their life is likely to be.
In every case, my job as a lawyer is to advise my clients whether they are likely to get more if they accept a settlement offer or if they try their case to a verdict, so they can make an informed decision. In the end it’s a prediction, usually of a possible range of verdicts, based on my experience, judgment and evaluation of their case. I provide my clients with this advice in every case, but only when I feel there’s enough information upon which to base such a prediction. So, although it’s frustrating, a good lawyer will admit at the first meeting they don’t know what your personal injury case is worth.
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