I get calls and emails all the time from people seeking a New York personal injury lawyer. One of the first questions I ask them is, “have you talked to any other lawyers”? Often the answer is yes. That’s a bad sign. I am usually going to turn that case down. If other New York personal injury lawyers have rejected the case, chances are there were good reasons.
So my next question is: “Why did those other lawyers turn your case down”? Common answer: “They said I have a good case but they are too busy to take it”. Yes, many lawyers will claim they are “too busy” to take a case to avoid having to explain to a caller what is wrong with their case. “Too busy” is just two words. It takes two seconds. Explaining why the case is no good involves a dialogue and some explaining. Most lawyers don’t have the patience for this so they opt for the “too-busy” excuse.
At my law firm, we are different. When we turn a case down, it is never because we are “too busy”. No New York personal injury lawyer in his right mind would turn down a case for that reason. In our view, it is dishonest to turn a case down for that reason. If it is a good case, any New York personal injury lawyer worth his salt will take it. A lawyer is never “too busy” to take a good case, only a bad case.
So what are the most common real reasons New York personal injury lawyers really turn down cases? Here they are:
- Proving the defendant is liable is difficult.
Many callers think they have a great case. But since they are not trained lawyers, they do not see the problems with proving that the person or company they want to sue is at fault. For example, let’s say you slip and fall on your way into a convenience store. The floor was wet. You figure the store must be liable for that. Maybe, but it depends. What was the weather like? If it was raining all day, and you slipped and fell just as you entered the store and stepped off the mat, liability will be tough to prove. Customers would have been dragging moisture in, and it is very difficult for the store to prevent it. The law says stores have to keep their entrances only as safe as reasonably possible. This does not include posting an employee at the entrance 24/7 to make sure no one drags in water. The risk of losing a case like this is significant. If the case involves a big injury – fractured hip for example – a lawyer might take a chance on the case because a win would be a big one. But if the injury is relatively small, and the risk of losing is too big, most lawyers will turn the case down.
- The injury is not serious enough.
A lawyer’s contingency fee is 1/3. 1/3 of nothing is nothing. 1/3 of a small verdict is almost nothing. To survive, a law firm has to take cases that are likely to bring in enough of a fee to pay the bills. Let’s use a convenience store as an example again. Let’s say the store employee dropped and broke a bottle of shampoo at the entrance and did not bother to mop it up. You walk in and slip on it. This is a slam dunk case on liability. No question the store is at fault. Even so, most lawyers will reject this case if your only injury is a bruised butt. The most you could get for that case in settlement might be $600, and a third of $600 is just a little more than $200, which is not worth the trouble or the expense and does not even pay the lawyer’s overhead, secretary’s time, etc.
- Expenses on your case are too high when measured against the chances of winning and the potential money award.
Sometimes a case has a chance of being a winner. Let’s assume it is about a 1/3 chance of winning. Let’s say that statistically 2/3 of juries would reject your case, finding the defendant was not at fault. Assume further that the case will be very, very expensive to put on. The most common type of case that matches this description is medical malpractice. To bring a New York medical malpractice case all the way to trial, your lawyer generally needs to spend close to six figures in expenses. That’s because he has to pay experts, medical doctors, to review the case and to testify about the defendant doctor’s mistakes, and the harm those mistakes caused. These experts charge a TON of money! Because they are so expensive, most New York medical malpractice lawyers require that a medical malpractice case have damages worth at least a half a million dollars, and that the chances of proving liability be estimated to be at least 30%. If your claim is worth less than $500,000 and your chances of proving that the doctor is liable are less than 30%, you will have a hard time finding a lawyer to take the risk on.
- The claim is too old
A negligence action in New York has a statute of limitations of three years. Different statutes of limitations apply for medical malpractice claims, claims brought on behalf of children, wrongful death claims, and more. But no matter what the statute of limitations is, no lawyer in his right mind will take your case if the statute of limitations has expired. The case will be dismissed at the courthouse doors.
- You can’t get water from a rock.
Let’s say you have a great claim (easy to prove the defendant was at fault), and you have a serious injury, BUT the defendant has no money and no insurance will cover him. The most common cases we see like this are assaults. Example: You walk out of a bar and in the parking lot some dude accuses you of “hitting on his babe”. He beats the crap out of you. Is he legally liable? Absolutely. You will win a judgment against him if you go to court. Are your injuries big? Sure. You have fractured bones all over your face and are blind in one eye. You will get a HUGE verdict. Will I take this case? Probably not. Any punk who would do this to you has nothing to lose. After I research the guy, I’ll probably find out that, if he has a job at all, it is washing dishes. He probably rents a small apartment and drives a rusted out 20-year old Chevy pickup truck. He’ll have no assets to go after. And insurance does not cover assaults or other intentional acts. So if I go to bat for you, sure, I’ll get a “verdict” in your favor and later a “judgment” for millions of dollars. But how do I collect on the judgment? Can’t get water from a rock. So any New York personal injury lawyer in his right mind is going to turn down your case. Your only “justice” will be whatever the criminal justice system can deliver to you. That will consist of you seeing the punk (with only one eye) behind bars. Period.
- Conflict of interest
A lawyer cannot legally bring a claim against one of his firm’s existing clients. That’s a true conflict of interest, so if the person you want to sue is the client of the law firm you want to hire, they will turn it down. There are other cases many personal injury law firms will turn down due to so-called “conflicts of interest” where they legally can take the case, but prefer not to. For example, if you want to sue my best friend, legally I can represent you, but I would never do that to my friend because, well, what kind of a friend would do that? The most common type of case we reject because of a “conflict” is where you want to sue a doctor who provides medical treatment to many of our clients. Technically, we can take that case. But we won’t. We need to keep a good relationship with that doctor because he testifies on behalf of our other injured clients. If we sue that doctor, he might get upset with us and be less accommodating in our other clients’ cases.
- Lack of Credibility
This doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while we get a caller whose story just does not make sense. We don’t believe him. We have to believe our clients to effectively represent them. So if you want to sue your neighbor because he is in cahoots with aliens who are hovering UFO’s above your house, we will likely reject your case.
Call or email me about your case
Ok, so now you know all the reasons New York personal injury lawyers like me reject cases. But you can’t know for sure whether you really have a case worth pursuing until you run it past a lawyer. If a lawyer can’t take your case for any of the above reasons, he might just tell you he is “too busy” so he doesn’t have to bother explaining why he is really rejecting your case. Not us. We will give it to you straight. Then we will tell you to check with other lawyers because they might disagree with us or have different criteria for accepting cases. But you know what? We might just take your case. Only way to know is to call us or email me and find out! Do it now!