Clients ask me, “What’s my case worth?” Potential clients ask me, “What’s my case worth?” The typical attorney will dodge the question. “It depends,” the typical attorney says. Or “whatever a jury thinks it’s worth” is another answer.
You deserve a real answer to that question. After all, you want to know whether to file a lawsuit. You want to know whether to settle. You want to know whether to go to trial.
And you’re probably doing mental math about how much you’ll net after the attorney’s fee, after the case expenses, and after any medical liens.
So, “how much is my case worth?”
The problem is that there isn’t a real satisfying answer.
When I was a young lawyer, I heard old lawyers say “Never answer that question.” Those old lawyers said “If you need a lawyer, and your lawyer answers that question, then run the other way. Any lawyer who gives you a number is a liar or a fool.”
That response from the old lawyers never made sense to me. The client was coming to me for advice. I owed them a real answer. They were investing their time in this case. Shouldn’t they be able to make a real decision based on my best guess?
Then I heard another lawyer answer the question. This lawyer was a bit more clever. He told a client with very significant injuries that he would fight very hard and get just a little bit of money. He was actually planning and hoping for 5 times the amount of money he told the client. He told me, “This way, when I go back to the client with 5 times more money on the table, they will be even more impressed.” He was “managing expectations” and giving himself a margin in case he couldn’t quite get full value.
I understood the attorney’s reasons. But I also saw the client’s reaction. The client thought the attorney didn’t care. Didn’t get it. Didn’t understand the amount of pain the client was in. It damaged the relationship. Ultimately, the attorney was a good attorney and the client trusted him. The attorney delivered a fair and substantial settlement, but there wasn’t a need to “manage expectations.”
So how do we answer this question? We’re Wyoming car wreck attorneys. We try cases from Cheyenne to Jackson Hole. If the client is paying us for any skill or specialized knowledge, they’re paying us to answer the question “how much is my case worth?”
In Wyoming, you can recover medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering, among other claims. Those elements are called damages, or the amount you can recover. Damages are the correct answer to the question: how much is my case worth?
So tell me your damages and I’ll tell you what your case is worth.
Here’s the problem: the legal system revolves around shared facts developed through litigation. What are your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering? What are your damages?
You need to be able to prove your damages to the jury or insurance company, and you don’t know what you can prove until you litigate.
Consider the damages in this hypothetical car wreck case:
Day one: the client comes to you with $30K in medical bills from a car wreck, and a hurt back. The client thinks he’s going to get better and go back to work in the oilfield. What’s the case worth? I dunno. $80K to $150K? Wait and see, and I’ll tell you.
Day thirty: the client’s doctor says the client has a bad back and can’t work in the oilfield again. The client used to make $100K a year. Now, the client is out hundreds of thousands in future income. What’s the case worth? 500k? More?
Day sixty: the insurance company finds a Facebook post of the client playing football. Apparently, the back isn’t hurt? Is the client a liar? What’s the case worth? $30K?
Day one hundred twenty: it turns out that the Facebook post was a Facebook memory (true story) and the client can prove it was taken three years before the wreck. So the insurance company is wrong about the Facebook post. What’s the case worth at settlement now? Back at $500K?
Day one hundred fifty: an investigator recovers a security camera that captures the footage of the wreck. Is the footage good or bad? Tell me and I’ll tell you what the case is worth.
Day one hundred seventy: a key witness dies. Now, what’s the case worth?
Day one hundred eighty: the client’s doctor says something different. Now the client needs another surgery that costs $50K, but the client will likely heal and be able to work again. So what’s it worth today?
Day two hundred: the insurance company hired a defense doctor. The defense doctor for $800/hour will testify that the client can go back to work immediately without any surgery. Maybe a jury will believe the defense doctor. Then the case is worth $50K. Maybe a jury won’t believe the defense doctor. Then the case is worth $500K.
Day two hundred and ten: your trial attorney gets a stellar verdict in another case–completely unrelated to your case. The insurance company fears your attorney. More money is on the table.
Day two hundred and twenty: the judge decides to exclude a doctor from testifying about the benefit of a speculative treatment. Which doctor was excluded? The defense doctor? Your doctor? Tell me for a better estimate.
Each of these events affects the value. Some of these events you can predict at the start of the case. Some of these events you cannot predict. That’s what makes it interesting.
On day one, the value of the case was driven mostly by medical expenses. On day thirty, the value of the case was driven by the loss of wages. But then on day sixty, the client’s credibility is on the line and the value of the case dropped. Next, the client’s credibility is rehabilitated and the value increases again. However, the football takes another bounce, and a new doctor gives a new opinion. The value changes.
You may say this example is extreme. And it is. But the value of a case does change over time.
Being a lawyer is a privilege. Representing real people is an honor. This is interesting work. Why? You (the clients) change. Life happens. And life changes and happens for the defense too. We’re not plugging numbers into a formula.
We are your advocate, your champion, and your storyteller. We are Wyoming personal injury trial attorneys.
What’s your case worth? That’s a great question. When we give you an answer, it will be a range of numbers. At the start of the case, there should be a wide range between the numbers. Over time, that range should narrow. But as facts change, the numbers change. As your life changes, the numbers change.
What’s your case worth?