Why Lawyers Sometimes Decline Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Cases

When I tell them, they don’t like what they hear. I try my best to explain, and usually they do understand, but they are never happy about it. Sometimes (thankfully not often) they even become angry.

What am I talking about? Turning a case down. You see I, like all other Central New York personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers, must sometimes tell potential clients that I am declining to take their personal injury or medical malpractice case. Many factors come into play in deciding whether to accept a personal injury or medical malpractice case. In the end, we lawyers need to make a business decision, based on a cost-benefit analysis.

What goes into that analysis? Since we are paid on a contingency fee basis (generally 1/3 of whatever we recover for the client) we need some reasonable assurance that: (1) we can win the case; (2) the injury is significant enough to warrant a jury verdict high enough so that 1/3 of it will “pay” for our time litigating it; and (3) the at-fault party has either enough insurance coverage or a “deep pocket” so we can collect on a judgment.

But the analysis is really more complicated than that. For example, if the injury is extremely horrific (examples: quadriplegia, amputations, severe brain damage), and there is plenty of insurance, or a deep pocket, then we might very well accept even a tough case where we only have a small chance of winning at trial. The potential payoff, even if unlikely, makes it worth the risk. Conversely, if the injury is minor, we usually want to see a very strong case, one we know we can win, before we accept the case. A small injury where we have only 10% chance of winning makes no business sense.

There is a saying in our business that goes like this: “You make money on the cases you turn down”. What that means is that sometimes the decision NOT to take a case actually saves you money and makes your bottom line positive so you can stay in business. To survive, we have to make sure we don’t get overburdened with a lot cases that have a poor potential for success and take a lot of our resources.

We wish we could help everyone. We can’t. Some cases were just not meant to be. It is a good thing, really, too. Imagine if every injury were a case. Then our court system would be overwhelmed. There are many accidents and injuries, but only some of them have the necessary ingredients to make a good personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit. Call or email us to find out if your case makes the grade.

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