This only applies to accident and wrongful death cases. It does not apply to medical malpractice cases in New York.
Specifically, if your injuries arise as a result of improper medical care and you go forward with a valid lawsuit, you are not permitted to put down in your lawsuit papers how much money you believe you are actually entitled to.
Instead, the amount you are entitled to will be left up to a jury to decide if your case goes to jury verdict.
Isn't the same thing true of an accident case were wrongful death case in New York?
The answer is yes.
Let me explain how attorneys come up with a number that is noted in the lawsuit papers. By the way, you only hear about those cases where the amount being sought is astronomical and in the multi-million dollar range or hundreds of million dollar range.
Let's say you were walking down the street and tripped and fell over broken sidewalk. As a result of that you suffered a fractured femur (the largest bone in your body) that required emergency surgery. You needed an orthopedic surgeon to connect your bones back together using hardware that included titanium rods, steel plates, pins and screws.
You remained in the hospital for three weeks recuperating and then had to go to inpatient rehabilitation for two weeks.
You remained out of work for two months. For an entire month while you were home you required the use of a home health aide who basically assisted you with all of your daily activities while at home.
Because to them, their injuries have upset their entire world.
Their injuries have caused massive frustration.
Their injuries have caused their life to be forever disrupted. That has significant value.
Are those realistic values?
Sometimes they may know a friend or neighbor who was in an accident and got hurt and they've received a significant settlement. Other than that, they are unlikely to have true understanding of what the real value of their injuries are worth.
An injured victim's belief of how much their injuries are worth is not the guideline which an attorney uses to come up with a number when they sue seeking money as a result of someone else's negligence.
The amount an attorney asks for the loss of papers is legally known as an “ad damnum” clause.
If your injuries are worth $1 million, and your attorney only indicates in a lawsuit papers that he believes you are entitled to $1,000,000, what will happen if your case goes to verdict and a jury now comes back with a decision that says you are now entitled to receive $2 million as full and fair compensation for your injuries?
If the jury decides to give you more money than what your injuries are worth or even what your attorney has requested, the Court looks to your original documents, known as the complaint, to see how much money you actually requested in your lawsuit.
If you indicated that your injuries were only worth $1,000,000, then that is the maximum amount that you can recover in your lawsuit even though the jury has now determined that your injuries are worth significantly more.
The reason why we hear so much about people suing for so much money is because lawyers are very concerned about what would happen if their client's case goes to trial and the jury decides to give the injured victim significantly more money than what they had originally indicated.
In this scenario, there is never a downside to writing in a number that is outrageously high and artificially inflated.
The reason is that the courts know and the defense attorneys know that this number is artificial. They know it is literally made up out of thin air. They also know that the numbers that are reflected in the complaint often have no real relationship to what the injured victims' injuries really are worth.
You would expect by now that the news organizations who follow these types of legal cases would also understand how this works.
The reality is that these news organizations love to see an outrageous demand for money in lawsuits. They love to publicize the fact that somebody is suing for $200 million. They love to print that someone is suing for $75 million.
That number is so incomprehensible to most people. Publicizing that demand for money simply sensationalizes a number that has very little meaning. Nevertheless, the news stations and the reporters love to talk about it, especially in a highly publicized case.
When there is a high profile case such as a police brutality case involving an improper chokehold by the New York City Police Department and now the family holds a press conference claiming that they are bringing a lawsuit seeking $75 million for the injuries and death of the injured victim, that makes the newspapers. That demand for millions of dollars will be highlighted over and over again.
Where did the attorneys come up with a $75 million value?
The answer is “thin air.” They made it up. That's exactly how they did it.
As the attorneys were preparing a document known as a “Notice of claim” to put the City of New York on notice of a pending lawsuit, there is a section at the very bottom of that form that asks how much money you believe you are entitled to. Instead of putting down the true value of what the injuries might really be worth, the attorney will put down a significantly large number that truly has no correlation with the actual damages that they may ultimately receive.
You should also know, going back to the example I mentioned above where an attorney indicates the injuries are only worth $1,000,000 and a jury decides to give an injured victim $2 million, there is a procedure at the end of the trial were an attorney can ask the court for special permission to allow the verdict to stand even though he put a low number in the original lawsuit papers.
At the beginning of the case the attorney put down that his client's injuries were worth $1,000,000. Two years later, after a jury trial, the jury determined that your injuries were really worth $2 million. Now the attorney asked the judge for permission to allow that two million dollar verdict to stand and asks him to change the original $1,000,000 demand to $2 million.
Do you think the defense will voluntarily and willingly go along with that?
Of course not.
Now, if the judge agrees that the injured victim can receive a $2 million then the defense will be on the hook for significantly more money all because the court decided that the first document could be changed retroactively.
You can be sure that the defense will vigorously oppose this request. They will argue that it is inherently unfair to allow the injured victim to change his mind two years later and only after a jury has come back with a decision.
The defense will also argue that the plaintiff's attorney knew exactly what his clients' injuries were worth and all of his injuries were readily apparent that the very beginning of the case.
Now you know...
The next time you open up a newspaper and see that someone was involved in an accident or wrongful death case here in New York and they're now suing for hundreds of millions of dollars, you now know where they came up with a value for their injuries. You now know that there is no direct correlation between what they are demanding they are entitled to and what a jury may ultimately decide to give to the injured victim or the surviving family if they are successful.