PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS AND CONTINGENCY FEES
Most personal injury cases are handled with a contingency fee. This means that the personal injury lawyer is laying out the money to prosecute the case, only getting paid when there is a settlement or a verdict. For example, if you are involved in a car accident where the other car went through the light, but the other driver is lying and saying you went through the light. If you are seriously injured, an attorney is likely to be willing to take your case and fight to prove that the accident was the other driver’s fault, but if you have minor injuries and little medical treatment, it wouldn’t be worth it. On the other hand, if you are hit in the rear by a drunk driver and your injuries don’t seem serious at first, a lawyer might take this case and follow your treatment to see how quickly you heal as it is likely you will be able to collect something with full liability. That said, it’s always worth it to get a free consultation from a personal injury lawyer to see if they will take the case. At Wittenstein & Wittenstein we will always take the time to speak with you, and if we can’t take your case, you will completely understand exactly why.
Some types of personal injury cases require a very large investment in time and money, so these cases need to be a “slam dunk” on both liability and damages before an attorney will be willing to make an investment. The most frustrating scenario for clients is usually with medical malpractice cases, especially when there is ample evidence that the doctors did something wrong. For example, the doctors did not use the proper procedures at the hospital for a 100-year-old woman, and the woman sadly passed away as a result. It would still be necessary to hire medical experts (doctors) to prepare testimony, which can cost $10,000-$20,000 at a minimum. The life expectancy of a person that is 100 hundred years old is zero, and there are obviously no lost earnings, etc. The problem is that it would cost more to prosecute the case than what can be collected in damages. Another example of a situation where there are not enough damages to prosecute a medical malpractice case is a young healthy person has a procedure that the doctors does wrong, but a second procedure can fix the problem, and the person recovers completely. Here, even if it easy to prove that the doctor’s fault, there is not enough money to collect to make back the investment. If a medical error is egregious and it is not practical to bring a malpractice case, there are sometimes other ways of getting justice. A complaint can be filed with the Department of Health or the Human Rights Commission. These non-profit governmental organizations have funding to prosecute in the public interest and can prosecute health care providers, taking away licenses and issuing fines.
Another type of case that is very expensive to prosecute is defamation. Let’s say a small daycare provider to harassed by somebody calling them a “child molester” which is clearly injurious to their reputation. Defamation cases are usually not taken on a contingency fee, so it would cost the claimant $300-$400 an hour to pay an attorney to represent them. It would take years to prosecute this case and meanwhile there is little that could be done to protect the reputation of the daycare. It would be necessary to prove “damages” in the form of lost earning to the daycare, and a small daycare might not be able to survive this loss long enough for the case to be resolved. A more effective way to handle this might be to file a criminal complaint for harassment. If the perpetrator is arrested and convicted of harassment, parents can be advised that the allegations were baseless and in fact, the person making them was arrested for harassment. This would be a more practical way to put a stop to the defamation and protect the business.
Housing discrimination is another area where public interest organizations can be more effective than a private lawsuit. New York City’s anti-discrimination laws are very strong, actions can be brought under Federal Law, New York State Law and New York Law. For example, if you are discriminated against because of race and not shown an apartment by a real estate agent, but you find another apartment the next day. Even if you can prove the discrimination, there are no damages because you like the apartment that you rented, it’s just as nice as the one you were not shown. No attorney would take this case on contingency as there is little to no money to collect and nobody’s going to lay out $300-$400 an hour which they will not get back just to make a point. The solution here is to file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, where the lawyers are paid with tax dollars and donations to prosecute discrimination even if there is no money to collect. There is great protection against many types of discrimination including “families with children,” and transgender persons.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER WILL NOT TAKE YOUR CASE
There are many more examples of situations where the cost of the case outweighs what is likely to be collected, but it’s not necessary for you to make this determination yourself. If it’s always worth it to have a free consultation with a personal injury attorney any time you suspect you might have a case. The personal injury attorney might be able to suggest another remedy, such as a public interest organization or the police. At Wittenstein & Wittenstein we will go out of our way to help you even if don’t have a case that we can handle for you, so don’t be shy about contacting us. Call 718-261-8114 for a free consultation any time you think you might have a case.