What is my case worth?
This is often the first question you want to ask your lawyer when you've been the victim of an accident, have been ripped off, or have been cheated in a business deal.
Usually your lawyer won't give you an immediate answer. First he has to ask a lot of questions. He interviews you for as long as two solid hours, and gathers what he calls "the facts."
You answer a ton of questions. At the end of the interview you shake hands and leave his office without an answer. Often you leave with an assignment to gather documents or to write a summary or chronology of events.
Once you've answered all your lawyer's questions and have provided him everything he's requested, he likely spends the next few weeks mulling over the facts of your case.
Then he does a little legal research. He determines whether you have a case in the first place. Assuming you have a case, your lawyer may look up trial statistics so he can answer your first question.
What is my case worth if I win?
Let's assume you were in a car accident. Other than having lost your spleen, you are healthy and vibrant and the only sign of permanent damage to your body, or even your emotional well-being, is an 8" scar on your abdomen.
When your attorney finally calls you back, he gives you the answer you were after. Yes, you have a case. Your chances of winning are 50/50%. If you win at trial, the loss of your spleen is likely worth an average of $35,000.
The basis for your lawyer's uncertainty is that though you weren't at fault for the accident, you were legally intoxicated when it happened. This throws a wrench into the situation, even though the uninsured, single mother of four children, who ran the red light and hit you broadside, is clearly at fault.
There is no telling what a judge or jury might do with regard to determining liability because there is untested law on both sides of the equation. Yours and hers. One statute says you lose just because you were legally intoxicated, even though you weren't at fault and there is no evidence your driving was impaired. Another statute says you win, at least on the fault issue, because she was an uninsured motorist. Hence, this is why your lawyer says your chances of winning are 50/50%.
So, assuming you prevail on the liability argument at trial, your lawyer goes on to finally answer your original question.
"According to the trial statistics I've looked up, your case is worth about $35,000. That's what a spleen usually goes for in a winning plaintiff's case."
Ok. Now that we know what a spleen might be worth in a hypothetical case, I am going to give you the bad news.
I'm not going to tell you what your case is worth. Why? Because you never know. Without writing a book, I'm just going to say you never can guess what your case will ultimately pay out when you go to trial. All I'm going to do now is tell you how much this hypothetical case might cost you, whether you win or lose.
What is my case worth if I lose?
First, in the hypothetical case I've just presented, you likely lose even if you go to trial and win a judgment for $35,000. Why? Because the mother of four that ran into you is uninsured. She likely has no money. If she did, she'd probably have had car insurance the day she broad sided you. If she had a job before the accident, she might not have one now. She can't drive to work because her license has been revoked for having an accident while uninsured.
Even assuming she has a job, if you try to garnish her wages, there is a change she doesn't make enough money to have anything legally taken from her check. If she does make enough money, there is a chance her being a single mother of four children will legally entitle her to a substantial reduction of any amounts you try to collect via wage garnishment. Her burden may legally be reduced to as low as 10% of her salary.
Additionally, your case may actually cost you a lot, in real dollars, if you lose. Even assuming your lawyer took your case on contingency, there is a chance going to trial and losing could result in your being ordered to pay the defendant's attorneys' fees. After all, you were drunk, and there is some untested law out there that might not work in your favor. It may punch you hard in the gut for having tipped a few too many that fateful night.
Lawyers cost a lot of money. Even if the defendant's lawyer only spent two full weeks working on her case, including trial, if he charges $250 an hour his bill for representing her will be $20,000. This is now your $20,000 bill. The judge says so. You are a drunkard and must pay for having been at the wheel when you were a victim of negligent or reckless driving.
So, in the end, the math is this:
If you go to trial and sue for your spleen, you have a 50/50% chance of winning an average of $35,000. If you lose, you could end up owing a $20,000 attorney's fees judgment for taking the case to court in the first place.
"What is my case worth?"
If you asked me, I'd recommend you just not sue. Try $500 at the blackjack table and call it a day.