Lawsuits frequently present a difficult financial problem: if someone has hurt you financially, is it worth hiring an attorney to sue them? The purpose of this article is to share the basics of the decision-making process with you.
The four (4) primary steps in determining whether to sue are:
- Determine the value of your case;
- Determine whether you can recover money from the defendant;
- Determine the strength of your case; and
- Determine your budget.
Determine the value of your case
Sometimes claims are simple and calculating the amount of damage is obvious. However, people frequently do not realize the value of their claim because they may not know what damages are recoverable. Determining the potential value of your claim is critical in deciding whether to hire an attorney. Consulting an attorney on the value of your claim is important because the attorney may recognize ways to increase the value of your claim.
Often, the easiest way to increase the value of your claim is to recover attorney’s fees. There are two basic ways to be able to recover attorney’s fees. (a) There is a contract between you and the person who owes you money, and that contract contains an attorney’s fees provision. Or (b) there is a statutory cause of action that provides for recovery of attorney’s fees to a prevailing party.
If a contract exists, read it and determine whether the contract contains an attorney’s fees provision. There are some exceptions, and you should always ask an attorney to review the contract in question, if possible. Determining whether you have a statutory cause of action that provides for the recovery of attorney’s fees can only be done by a licensed Florida attorney. It isn’t the sort of question that Google can answer, at least not as of the writing of this article.
If recovery of fees is impossible, and the amount of the claim is low, the proper business decision is to walk away. However, sometimes a person may simply be interested in making a point. That person isn’t going to let anyone take from them, and they are willing to spend money on an attorney just to get a little justice or to cultivate a reputation. While we don’t suggest this line of thinking, we do understand it. We occasionally take cases that do not make mathematical sense when a client has other motivations and has made an informed decision about the costs, risks, and rewards.
Determine whether the company or person can afford to pay you if you win.
The next thing to consider is whether the person or company that owes you money has any money for you to recover if you prevail and obtain a judgment. Many people do not realize that the result of winning a lawsuit is a judgment. A judgment is a piece of paper that says a person or company owes someone money. You can’t eat judgments, and more often than attorneys want to admit, judgments are nearly worthless in and of themselves.
Once you get a judgment, the real work begins; collecting on your judgment. If the person owing you money doesn’t have any money or assets that can be sold for money, you just have an expensive piece of paper.
With that in mind, you need to think about what assets and money the person or company may have. If you do not have a strong reason to believe they have significant assets that could be used to satisfy the judgment, it may not be wise to pay an attorney to obtain a judgment.
Determine the strength of your case.
Congratulations! You are still reading, which means you have a case worth a truckload of cash, and the person that you want to sue is the richest guy in town. Now you need to determine how strong your case is. This requires the analysis of an experienced attorney. Only experience can determine how strong your case may be. Remember, if there is an attorney’s fee provision, it will cut both ways; meaning that if you lose, you will have to pay their attorney’s fees. You do not want to have that happen. So, before you make the decision to sue, you should have a good feel for whether you can prevail. Remember, no attorney can guarantee results. Litigation is inherently uncertain, and sometimes things don’t work out as expected. We want to help you make the best risk assessment possible.
Determine your budget.
Now that we know the value of your case, the ability of your opponent to pay a judgment, and the strength of your case, we can determine how much you should spend.
Most people are familiar with contingency agreements because of personal injury commercials: “Pay us nothing if we don’t recover for you!” Typically, for claims that aren’t personal injury claims, contingency agreements are not an option. That means you will have to finance the litigation out of pocket until there is a recovery. We can help you determine how much you should expect to spend and make a wise business decision. We also discuss options to help you afford the litigation within your budget.
It may sound like we are trying to talk you out of filing a lawsuit. And to some extent that is true. They are not right for everyone. We want our clients to make informed decisions. That way, we know that we are helping our clients and not just taking their money and making them worse off than they were before.
Litigation has its place. And the right cases can get positive results quickly and for a relatively small cost. If you are considering perusing a claim, give us a call. We would love to discuss it with you.