How much is my lawsuit worth? Let’s get real. If you want to call a lawyer, you’re thinking about the money. It’s an important question, but one that is very difficult to answer, especially during the first stages of a lawsuit.
So … What’s it worth?
- Many people are disappointed to learn that their case may not be worth as much as they had hoped.
- No matter how devastating losing your job might be, many terminations are simply not against the law. Even where terminations or other negative job actions (such as demotion, failure to hire, failure to promote) are against the law, most cases have a modest value, at most.
- The amount of recovery varies with the type of case. Disability discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act may allow for punitive damages (damages to punish the employer), while an age discrimination case under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act will not.
- The amount of recovery varies with the employer, as some employers refuse to settle and tend to be more litigious than others. You must also factor in the employer’s ability to pay.
What other factors impact the value of my case?
- Your actual losses, including past and future wages.
- The strength of the evidence you have, the evidence that could be obtained, and the availability of credible witnesses and documents. Is it your word against theirs or is there objective evidence of wrongdoing?
- The estimated cost of your lawsuit, including attorney’s fees and other costs.
- The time it is going to take to get you a recovery. Money you get today may be worth more to you than money that takes three years to recover.
- Note that it is difficult to value a case early on because one critical piece of information is missing: what is the other side’s story and what evidence do they have to support it?
But I’ve read about verdicts that award millions of dollars?
- Most cases settle well before trial, for much less money than would appear by reading media reports. Here are some things to consider when assessing how much your case is likely to be worth:
- The overwhelming majority of cases settle without ever going to trial or even having a suit filed. Results in these cases are likely to be much lower than those cases settled after the investment of the time and money of litigation.
- Even when large awards are granted by juries, many of these awards are reduced by a judge or settled for a much lower amount in an effort to avoid an appeal. These award reductions often go unreported or are reported with less fanfare than the original large verdict.
- Many employment law matters permit an employee to recover "compensatory" damages only. This means that you may be able to recover the value of your lost wages and some future salary and maybe your attorney’s fees. The huge award reported in the paper typically deal swith massive punitive damages in non-employment cases. Not every type of case permits for punitive damages.
But my case is a slam dunk!
- "Slam dunk" cases very rarely exist. This point cannot be over-emphasized. You may have documents to support your position, people who promise that they’ll testify on your behalf, and what appears to be a clear case of injustice. But smoking gun documents are very rare, injustice is not always or even typically unlawful, and what people say they will do on your behalf often changes once they are asked to speak out in public and place their own employment at risk.
- There are no certainties in the law. Sometimes, despite good lawyering, a case will end with no money award at all. Discoveries about the facts or the law made after the case has begun can change how a case develops as can matters entirely external to the case, such as getting assigned a judge who is known to be "bad" for plaintiffs or a state agency that takes years to adjudicate a matter.
What should I hope for?
Be realistic. Focus on being compensated for the wrong committed against you and not on reaping a windfall.
What should I do?
Contact us, of course!