A “Go to law for a sheep and lose your cow” is a German proverb that is often touted around courtrooms. Most of the time individuals focus only on the fact that they were wronged and do not consider what it means to “win.” After all, in a civil lawsuit whether you win or lose is determined by how much money, time, and effort you put into a case and how much money you get out of it.
Filing a civil lawsuit can be time consuming and expensive. The reason to pursue such a lawsuit should be to receive financial compensation for a harm that you suffered. Some people think of it as a punitive enterprise, but bringing a civil lawsuit for retribution as opposed to compensation can be very expensive for the client. So how should you decide whether or not to file a lawsuit? It is helpful to disconnect your emotional attachment to punishing the guilty party and to think of the case as a business investment.
Weigh all the costs of pursuing a case; these usually include the following: the money you are likely to spend before trial, the money you are likely to spend during trial, your time and inconvenience, and the emotional discomfort from dealing with a person or entity who has already caused you enough aggravation that you are willing to bring a lawsuit against them.
If you think that you are likely to recover enough money from the defendant to make up for all these costs, and you can afford to take the risk, then you should move forward with your case.
Q Who will cover the costs of pursuing a case?
A We have all heard those advertisements for contingency fee attorney services that state “You don’t pay unless we win your case.” Many people think that they will not need to spend any money on the case, because the attorney does not get paid unless he wins the case.
If the case has a lot of witnesses that need to be deposed, or if the case requires the attorney to travel, someone will need to cover the expenses. Some attorneys might be willing to cover all case related-expenses and some may be willing to split the expenses with the client. Most attorneys leave the client responsible for any expenses associated with the case. This is one of those instances when it is helpful to think of a civil lawsuit as an investment. The client and the attorney should be cognizant of the estimated value of the case, so that the attorney does not spend $75,000 pursuing a $65,000 case.
A good attorney will counsel the client about the estimated costs of pursuing a case and work with the client to develop a case plan that does not expose the client to too much financial liability if the case does not result in a recovery. Before signing a fee agreement, you should closely check the language and consider your financial situation to see if you can afford to pursue such a case.
Gleb Finkelman is an attorney engaged in all aspects of personal injury and business litigation at the Abronson Law Offices in Los Gatos.