Accident victims generally understand the concept of negligence. Someone or something has caused them harm. They are at fault; they are in the wrong. Very few accident victims, however, understand the concept of damages.
Damages can best be understood as the loss, or injury, suffered from someone’s act of negligence. Usually damages are the monetary recovery from the negligent (at fault) party or, more accurately, his or her insurance company. “Compensatory” damages, as they are called, can include pain and suffering, medical bills, lost income, emotional distress and property loss.
Lawyers accept personal injury cases in an attempt to collect damages for the accident victim. Lawyers do not accept cases because someone is negligent and needs to be punished. While most lawyers like to see justice done, they cannot pay their bills or mortgages embarking on a justice crusade. As a lawyer’s fee is based on the monetary damages recovered for the client, lawyers have to be very selective in the cases they undertake.
A good way to understand this is through a simple formula: negligence + damages = a case. Negligence + no damages = no case. From the lawyers perspective, the formula is this: no damages = no fee = no case.
As a personal injury lawyer for many years, I often hear statements like these:
“That car almost ran me over. I could have been killed”
“I fell down a cracked step. I could have broken my leg!
“The ceiling in my bathroom fell down on me. I almost had to go to the hospital.”
The moral of the story here is a basic one; “almost” or “could have” are never the basis for a lawsuit. While it is natural for an accident victim to want retribution, that is not the job of the personal injury lawyer. That is not how they make money.
If the damages in a potential claim are small, or non-existent, lawyers just can’t afford, literally, to take the case. In those instances where the accident victim is denied legal representation, there are two alternatives; (1) if the wrongdoer is insured, a claim letter to their insurance company is a good idea. Many times the insurance company, faced with a small claim, will offer “nuisance value” to the injured party. The adjustor just wants to close out the file; (2) if the at fault party is uninsured, an accident victim can always resort to self-help by utilizing their local Small Claims Court. While a judgment may be attainable, collecting on the judgment can be a whole different matter!
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net