FAQ – How Much is My Case Worth?
If you become our client, we will talk about the value of your case during our first meeting. Please understand we are not trivializing the harm the wrongdoer caused you to suffer. Rather, the civil justice system monetizes damages, which means that in most cases money is all we can get for our clients to compensate them for their suffering. Accordingly, it’s important that we have a frank and candid discussion about the value of your case, even though you won’t owe us any legal fees unless we recover money for you.
Our core cases are employment law and civil rights cases. The laws that control these types of cases only allow plaintiffs to recover certain types of damages. Specifically: (1) actual damages; (2) compensatory damages; and (3) reimbursement of the costs to bring a lawsuit, including attorney fees. In some cases, punitive damages are available.
These are “hard” damages that can readily be proven. In the context of employment cases, actual damages are generally confined to lost wages and benefits. Employees are entitled to the amount they would have earned had they not been wrongfully terminated minus any amount they actually earned from a new job. In employment cases, the amount of lost wages is usually the most important factor in valuing your case.
These are what our adversaries refer to as “soft” damages and include compensation for things that are imprecise and don’t have a clear monetary value such as emotional harm. Minnesota juries and judges generally don’t award large amounts of compensatory damages unless the unlawful conduct is particularly egregious. In employment cases, employees who are awarded compensatory damages are typically awarded an amount roughly equal to the amount of lost pay and benefits. This means that if an executive who earns $200,000 suffers the same level of emotional harm as a laborer who earns $20,000, a jury who awards compensatory damages is likely to award the executive 10 times more than the laborer. Of course, this isn’t fair. But it is what it is.
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer. Minnesota judges and juries generally don’t award punitive damages unless the unlawful conduct is particularly egregious. The amounts awarded tend to range across wide extremes.
Valuing Your Case.
In most of our cases, even our strong ones, there is a chance that we will lose. Because the area of law is unsettled. Because the facts in your case are ambiguous. Or even because we think the judge we drew is going to get it wrong. So we typically estimate the reasonable settlement value of your case at less than the wrongdoer’s total exposure (i.e., the amount the other side will have to pay us if everything goes right for us and wrong for them at trial). In some cases a little less and in some cases significantly less. Accordingly, valuing cases is more of an art than a science.
But that’s where hiring a lawyer comes in.
We are constantly monitoring jury verdicts, settlements, studies, and new developments in the law for guidance in case valuation. We have probably worked at least several cases with facts similar to yours. We tend to go up against the same lawyers and law firms over and over and are familiar with their strategies. We have probably been in front of the judge we drew in your case several times and can use that experience to help predict how she will rule in your case.
For these reasons, we will put you in a position to make an informed decision about whether to accept a settlement offer.
Maximizing Your Recovery.
We are very selective about the cases we take on, therefore we are frequently in a position to advise our clients to settle for nothing less than a full monetary vindication. But even in cases where we would advise our clients to settle for less, one factor has the greatest impact on whether the other side will make a fair settlement offer:
Your willingness to embrace risk and take your case to trial.
Many people who reach out to us believe the other side will make a fair settlement offer when confronted with evidence of wrongdoing and a lawyer willing to bring a lawsuit. Sometimes the other side does just that, and our clients are able to move on with their lives. Unfortunately, that’s not how most of our adversaries behave.
We have sued people and entities who have done some truly reprehensible things, and the other side pushes back hard–at least initially–pretty much every time.
The wrongdoer doesn’t want to make a fair settlement offer because (a) they’re in denial about engaging in wrongdoing, and (b) they’re cheap.
If the wrongdoer has insurance coverage, the insurance company doesn’t want to make a fair offer because its business model, at bottom, is to collect high premiums, make lowball offers, and avoid fair payouts.
If the wrongdoer or its insurance carrier hire a law firm, those lawyers don’t want your case to settle, as they get paid by the hour and are mostly interested in billing their client for their work.
For these reasons, the other side is incredibly unlikely to make a fair settlement offer unless they truly believe the only alternative is going to trial and trying to convince a jury that their conduct was acceptable.
Thus, the single most important thing you can do to maximize your recovery is to embrace the process and be willing to take your case to trial if the other side refuses to make a settlement offer that you can live with.
While we can’t guarantee specific results, we will not accept your case unless we think it has merit and we can win at trial. In other words, if the other side doesn’t do the right thing and make a fair offer, we are ready, willing, and eager to try your case to a jury.
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