When is it good to lose $3000?
I was just reviewing my “Closed Files” list. Nearly all the cases ended with some type of settlement. A few of the cases were taken on and after “working the file” were closed after it was determined a favorable result could not be obtained for our client(s).
One particular file from last month still irks me a little: Our firm spent several thousand dollars just to find out if it was in fact a viable medical malpractice case. I like to say to my clients with a tough medical malpractice case: “well, after I do my homework, I’ll know if you have a winnable case.” Other lawyers call this due diligence. Remember that just because something went medically wrong, a doctor was not necessarily at fault. Even if the doctor was at fault though, the plaintiff must prove that the standard of care was breached.
On this particular case we spent a little over $400 obtaining the medical records (hospitals rightfully charge for copies). We also paid a doctor about $2500 to review the records and give us her opinion of the case. Like this client’s case, most of our cases are on a contingency fee basis. We only get paid if we get a favorable settlement or verdict (and can collect) in a case. The court costs, expert expenses, etc. are deducted out of the settlement/verdict.
In this case: we couldn’t obtain a favorable result so our attorney’s fee (how much our firm was paid) was technically -$3000. The moral of the story: it’s better to learn upfront about a case, and spend $3000 on a good doctor/expert, than to spend ten times that (and a few years of work) on a case that only gets the clients hopes up, and walk away with no recovery.