All personal injury lawyers will provide a free consultation as part of the process of signing up new clients. Most potential clients want to know just how much their personal injury claim is worth and will, in most cases, ask the question before they sign a retainer agreement. The question presents ethical considerations for lawyers. Obviously, some cases are fairly easy to place a dollar value on.
For example, a non-displaced fractured arm that does not require surgery (open reduction with internal fixation - ORIF) and requires the injury victim to wear a cast for 4 weeks is a pretty simple case to evaluate. On the other hand, many spine injury victims will come to the attorney's office prior to the time that a firm diagnosis has been given to them, with many not having obtained an MRI of their spine yet. There is a broad range of potential value for spine injury claims, dependent, among other things, upon whether surgery will be required or if there is permanent disability from work.
I do not believe there is an ethical problem for a lawyer to provide a potential client with an approximate value of a non-displaced arm fracture with no long-term disability. However, when you face a potentially serious injury claim with a broad range of possible settlement/jury verdict value, lawyers can easily find themselves tempted to quote a large claim value in order to have their law firm retained by the injury victim.
There are lots of reasons why a potentially large claim may end up worth a fraction of what was quoted during the initial consultation. Some of the potential reasons include:
- the evidence developed during pre-trial discovery procedures makes it difficult to prove negligence;
- the treating doctor expresses opinions in a narrative report that undermine the value of the case;
- the defendant successfully moves for the court to preclude critical evidence from fact or expert witnesses;
- the client ends up being able to avoid surgery
These are just to name a few things that can negatively impact the value of a case.
If the lawyer has not been keeping the client up-to-date on their case as it progresses towards a trial or settlement, the lawyer is in a position to spring a multitude of reasons for a dramatic discrepancy in case value at the free consultation vs. a discussion near the time of trial.
However, lawyers must live up to a high ethical standard and are obligated to keep their clients informed throughout the litigation process. Thus, offering potential clients large numbers when asked what a claim is worth during the free consultation runs a foul of the obligation lawyers have to their clients and potential clients.
An ethical, experienced lawyer will decline the opportunity to place a value on a claim up front when there are many variables that can cause the claim to have a wide range of potential value. The only way for the lawyer to properly answer the question of "what is my claim worth" is to explain the factors that impact the process of evaluating an injury claim and to provide the potential client with an explanation of the litigation process and time when evaluation is more reasonably made. The free consultation is a time for the lawyer to shine by educating a potential client about the strengths and weaknesses of their claim. The lawyer has the opportunity to discuss the injury in detail with the potential client who probably has not received much in the way of an explanation from a treating doctor.
By making use of the free consultation to demonstrate mastery of the various elements of the case, the lawyer can adequately sell themselves to the potential client without having to engage in unethical guessing at a claim's worth.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a serious injury or fatality due to an ACCIDENT, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an experienced serious personal injury trial lawyer at The Maurer Law Firm, PLLC to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION to discuss your rights by filling out our free website "Tell Us About Your Case" review form, or phone us directly at 845- 896-5295.
Ira Maurer has been repeatedly recognized by Super Lawyers as an outstanding lawyer who has attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. Ira Maurer is also a Lifetime Member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum.