It’s the question everyone asks. And the answer is in the story of the case.
What happened (injury – past damages), why did it happen, what was the cause (liability and causation), and what does the future look like (future damages)?
I just read an email on the list-serve for the San Francisco Trial Lawyers group from a colleague – a lawyer who has been doing this longer that I have, and I’m going on 34 years – asking the question. He provided a description of his client’s injury, her suffering, and complications leading to problems getting around and apparently disabling her from work as an office manager for her husband’s medical practice. He gave details of how much money she would have made had she been a paid employee, and the amount of medical bills Medicare paid for her treatment.
So now I have to ask the question, “what is the story of the case?”
Every case presents a set of facts – what happened; how bad is the injury; how long will the effects of the injury last; and how much are the expenses (past and future medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.
In the case of the office manager for her husband’s medical practice, we need to know her story, the story of the person or entity that caused her injury, the story of the way she was hurt – the fiery crash, or the dangerous condition, the story of her husband’s medical practice, the story of the medical providers and the care they have and will provide, and the many other stories that relate to the basic structure of a personal injury claim – injury, liability, causation, and damages.
The facts are important – how old she is (presumably old enough to have Medicare), how much longer could and would she have worked (i.e., her earning capacity), how bad was her suffering, how long did it last, how much did it interfere with her life – both work and pleasure – and if it is continuing, what is her prognosis – how much longer is her life going to be affected, and in what way. Yes, important, but without finding the whole story, the facts are not enough to answer the question, “how much is this case worth.” Without knowing the story, the answer will always be incomplete and probably wrong.
Finding the story of a case is a lot of work. It involves personal exploration because we need to find our own story first. Part Two will be about finding the story – my story, and the story of the case.