The Client’s View of Value vs. The Lawyer’s View: Ne’er the twain shall meet?

NeuwirthLawCase Matters, For Lawyers

Clients with strong cases know that they will get paid full value eventually.  However, the majority of cases are ones that require some negotiation.  Most cases have value or I would not take them, but we do take the plaintiff as we find them.  So, a lot of clients who claim back pain from a car accident have prior back pain due to being over 50.  In other cases, the car damage was not severe or there is something else for the defense lawyer to hang their hat on to defend the case.  These cases require negotiation and can settle because both sides have strengths and weaknesses.

So, the epic battle, push/pull, negotiation, or normalizing expectations begins.  I recently had a client say “you’re the expert on value” out of the blue.  It was so unexpected and unusual it was refreshing.  Many clients have no idea of value and overestimate what their case is worth.  Like jurors or like people in any area, if you are not a specialist at valuation of a personal injury case, you will have no basis to make a judgment.  That’s just the way it is.  I don’t know how to tile a bath and I expect that there are good tile guys and bad ones.  But all the tile people would agree that a level surface, grout, a tile cutting tool, etc. are needed.  Those are just the basics.  In my world, the severity of your injury, extent of disability if any, lost earnings, and expenses are generally areas that make up valuation.  But many people’s injuries are mostly pain and suffering from an injury that is of debatable origin.  Is your disc bulge from the accident or old age? Are your headaches from the concussion or just a migraine flare which you had before?  Is your case on liability so strong that we are only discussing damages or is your liability case weak?

I can pull up from memory or on paper prior settlements in similar cases from my practice.  I can also search the google for PA verdicts and talk to my colleagues about what they think the value is of a particular case.  Generally, I am usually in the ballpark and the client needs to be brought around to a more realistic view of how “the system” views their case.  The “system” or experienced practitioners like me can tell you what the case can settle for.  What a jury will do is often a crapshoot.  Like my average client, a juror has no basis on which to make a valuation judgment and really does not get the benefit of a lawyer sitting down and explaining how to come to a valuation.  That is why most cases settle.  But many more personal injury cases go to trial than any other type of case in our system.  Plainly, something is going on.  Usually, the insurers don’t want to pay what the plaintiff’s lawyer feels is reasonable.