The value of your case depends on a number of things.
The value of your case – either at settlement or trial – depends on a number of things, including: the strength of your case on the merits; the amount of damages you’ve suffered; whether the defendant has the capacity to pay a large amount of damages; and your tolerance for risk.
How much your case is worth depends in part on the strength of your case on the merits.
In employment and civil rights cases, defendants almost always bring a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is basically like a motion to dismiss your case – except that it comes after discovery instead of at the beginning of the case. The defendants basically argue to the Court that – even if all the documents and deposition testimony are taken in the light most favorable to you – no jury could find in your favor as a matter of law and therefore the judge should dismiss your case and not even give you a trial.
Unfortunately, many of these motions are granted – so defendants bring them in almost every case. At Madia Law, we’ve had a solid record on beating these motions, because we pride ourselves on doing solid discovery: on getting the admissions we need from defendants during discovery so that judges have no choice but to deny the defense motions for summary judgment.
One of the things we analyze is the likelihood of your case beating summary judgment. We’ll go over the evidence that we believe is likely to come in: your testimony, documents or other evidence, testimony of other witnesses, and what evidence we think the defense will offer. We’ll analyze that against relevant caselaw and tell you what we think the likelihood is that your case will survive summary judgment.
If your case is likely to survive summary judgment, then its settlement value goes up tremendously. We make sure the defendant knows that it will have to go all the way through discovery only to lose its motion for summary judgment and have to face a jury trial. Our experience has been that defendants don’t like to face juries, and they really don’t like to face juries against us. So a defendant may pay a premium very early in your case to settle it, in order to avoid having to litigate (and pay legal fees) all the way through summary judgment, only to lose at summary judgment and then have to pay you a larger amount in order to avoid trial.
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How much your case is worth depends in part on the damages you’ve suffered.
In an employment wrongful termination case, you’re entitled to: back pay damages, front pay damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, statutory interest, and your attorney fees and costs.
Back pay is the amount of pay you’ve lost from the time of your termination to present. So, if you were making $40,000 a year plus benefits before you were wrongfully terminated, and you’ve been out of work for a year, then you’ve got $40,000 in back pay damages.
Front pay damages is the amount of money you’re projected to lose going into the future. These are harder to win than back pay damages, because courts expect you to try to find work and mitigate your damages. Generally, you can only get 1-3 years’ worth of front pay damages, except in exceptional cases.
For both back and front pay damages, you need to show that you’ve attempted to mitigate damages by finding another job. So, keep records of your job search so that the defense can’t claim that you just sat on your hands after its unlawful termination of you.
Sometimes, things that are good for your life are not good for your lawsuit. You may find another job very shortly after your wrongful termination that actually pays you more money than your first job. In that case, your wage loss damages would be limited to the time between jobs, and you wouldn’t get any front pay because you’re making more money. So the value of your case would decrease, but obviously, it’s much better for your life.
Emotional distress damages are available and increase the value of your case. Being discriminated against by a company is awful, and companies have to pay for that.
Both federal and Minnesota anti-discrimination statutes also authorize punitive damages for unlawful discrimination. The threat of these damages also adds value to your case.
Finally, a hammer to add value to your case is the threat of attorney fees. The anti-discrimination statutes and civil rights acts are fee-shifting statutes, meaning that – if you go to trial and win, the defendant has to pay all of your attorney fees in addition the jury verdict for you. Attorneys will generally put hundreds of hours into your case to get it to trial, and hundreds more to try the case, resulting in fees to defendants of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Often, defendants would rather settle with you than risk having to pay your fees on top of everything else.
So, in valuing your case and trying to figure out how much your case is worth, one thing to think about is the amount of damages that you’ve suffered.
How much your case is worth depends in part on the ability of the defendant to pay a judgment.
Some individuals or small companies just don’t have the money to pay a judgment. This reduces the value of your case. The defendant has the advantage of challenging you to go ahead and get a verdict as trial, as it doesn’t have assets sufficient for you to satisfy a judgment. That gives a defendant some leverage in settlement negotiations.
Early on, we’ll discuss the defendant company and whether it makes sense to sue it. Generally, collectability is not a concern and is a non-issue for most mid-size to larger companies. Even with smaller companies, it may not be an issue, but it’s definitely a factor to consider as we discuss how much your case is worth.