Personal injury lawyers hear it all the time.
"What do you mean my case is worth only $X? My injury is real. I got hurt. I saw an ad on TV that said that some other law firm got a client $500,000 and they didn’t even look hurt!" How come you say I should only get $X?
The valuation of a personal injury case is complicated and is case-specific. The value of a case depends on the nature of the case, the identity of the wrongdoer, the type of case (auto, medical malpractice, etc.) the type of injury, the amount of medical bills, the amount of lost wages, the place where the case is pending, the personality of the plaintiff (injured person), whether the injuries are temporary or permanent, the type of medical provider (medical doctor vs. chiropractor), the presence or absence of aggravating factors on liability, the opposing lawyer, the judge, the costs of proceeding through trial, the deposition testimony in the case, the strength of testimony of the treating health care provider, the lawyer for the injured person, the amount of liability insurance and other assets, and many more. There is no formula. There is no rule of thumb. There are only the facts, the law, and the considered knowledge, judgment, dedication, and wherewithal of the lawyer who represents the injured person.
So are the ads on television from some lawyers that show a person who seems just fine getting lots of money false? Not technically. First of all, some of these ads portray actors, not the real person who was injured. So, you can’t tell much from what you see. The ads aren’t false because the fact that they use ads is obvious.
Second, the ads don’t show all of the injuries the person had or reveal the amount of medical bills, lost income, etc. Some people incur hundreds of thousands of medical bills and they end up with no or very few long-term consequences – yet their case is settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars because the medical bills are included as part of the case. So, any reasonable person who watched these ads and gave a nanosecond of thought to them would not put much credence in the dollar value of the settlement.
And, finally, you need to remember the old lawyer joke: How you do get a $1,000,000 verdict or settlement? Mess up a $4,000,000 case.
Now, I am not saying the lawyers who advertise in the cases I described generally above messed anything up. I don’t know enough about the facts to give an opinion on that question. What I mean by telling that joke is that you can’t tell anything about the adequacy of a verdict or settlement by only knowing the amount of the verdict or settlement. A $1,000,000 verdict may be a loss for the injured person. A $5,000,000 verdict may be a win for the defendant. (How? They may have offered $6,000,000 before trial and the injured person may have turned it down. Any reasonable lawyer would consider that a loss.) The bottom line: a number, without a lot of information that puts that number into context, tells you absolutely nothing about the adequacy of the amount or the qualifications and ability of the lawyer who is advertising the figure.
Nor am I telling you that the lawyers who have that type of ad are necessarily misleading you. They are stating a fact – "I helped a client get $X in a case." That is almost certainly true. My point is that the information is absolutely meaningless in determining whether the result is a good result or a bad result or whether the lawyer is a great lawyer, good lawyer, average lawyer, or bad lawyer.
Nor am I saying that lawyers should not share results in their cases. Heck, our firm does it. But there are lots of other things you should look at in determining who to hire as your lawyer.
So, you may say, how do I hire a lawyer to guide me through this process? You tell me I cannot depend on ads – that they may tell only part of the story. I don’t know know any lawyers. So who should I pick? Who can I trust? What do I look for in a lawyer?
My answer: pick a lawyer who other lawyers recognize as being extremely competent. Lawyers know who can effectively handle a personal injury case or wrongful death case. Lawyers know the difference between a large settlement or verdict and an appropriate settlement or verdict under the facts. Lawyers know who is respected by the judges and who is not.
That is exactly why our Legal Guide titled "Understanding How to Hire a Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Lawyer in Tennessee" places so much emphasis on the ratings assigned to lawyer by their peers and invitation-only attorney organizations like the American College of Trial Lawyers. Lawyers simply don’t give high marks to other lawyers based on personality or friendship. Peer-to-peer ratings and elected membership in high-quality organizations means a lot to lawyers who are looking to refer work and should mean a lot to consumers.
You may ask "why should I trust the opinion of lawyers to determine which lawyer I should hire in my case? My response: who knows the qualifications of lawyers better than other lawyers? if you were looking for a good plumber would you place more weight on the opinion of another plumber or the opinion of a florist? If you were looking for a good home-builder would you put more weight on the opinion of another home-builder or the opinion of a mechanic? If you were looking for a good barber would you put more weight on the opinion of a meat-cutter or the opinion of another barber? I am not saying that opinions of friends and neighbors and co-workers should be ignored. I am saying that you should also look to the opinions of others in determining who to hire as you lawyer.
All of which brings us back to our original point: how do I really know what my case is worth? The answer to that question is to do your due diligence before you hire a lawyer, pick the best lawyer you can, and then trust his or her opinion. Your lawyer is duty-bound to use his or her best judgment to evaluate your case, and because his or her hard-earned reputation depends in part on every verdict or settlement, you can rest easy knowing that he or she will make appropriate recommendations to you.