Lately it seems the headlines have been full of stories about civil jury verdicts and whether they’re too high or too low, completely fair or totally unjust. How do jurors reach their conclusions, and how can a trial lawyer properly advise his or her client about what to expect? In Michigan, jurors are instructed by the judge that an amount cannot be proved in a precise dollar amount and that the law leaves such amount to their sound judgment. For lawyers, there is no book, test, or scale to use. The truth is that there is no substitute for experience (and a little humility).
According to a new study published by the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, experienced trial lawyers were able to more accurately determine the value of a case when they set aside their personal opinions and considered those of their colleagues.
The findings of the study seem to suggest that a big ego can impair a lawyer’s ability to adequately assess a case, but also that experience is highly beneficial. In Michigan, a process known as case evaluation, where three independent lawyers review a claim and submit an award both parties can accept or reject, can help an attorney ascertain the value of a case. Over the years, I have had cases with the following outcomes:
- Case Evaluation $125,000 ; Jury Verdict in excess of $1 million
- Case Evaluation $400,000 ; Jury Verdict of no cause of action ($0)
- Case Evaluation $1.8 million ; Settlement in excess of $6 million
As you can see, it can be extremely hard to predict the value of a case, even with input from neutral attorneys. But the most important thing to remember is that the client has the ultimate say in whether to accept or reject any offer of settlement. Most lawyers have dozens or even hundreds of cases, but the overwhelming majority of clients have only one claim. A good trial lawyer will put his or her ego aside and advise the client accordingly.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.