When giving a consult to potential clients for an employment case, one of the first questions that almost always comes up is "How much is my case worth?" The potential client is trying to determine what they could receive in a settlement or what they could receive if they are success at trial. The answer is not a number that is pulled out of thin air. In employment cases, you can reasonably determine what the value of your case is with a little bit of math, knowledge of the remedies available and what results have been achieved in similar cases in Mississippi.
Lawyers are often hesitant to put a value on any case unless they have every piece of information available because the absence of one piece of critical information; specifically, the other side of the story and their evidence to support it, can change the entire formula. While a employment lawyer may have access to a lot of information from the potential client, there is almost always information the other side or another witness provides during the case that can change the valuation. That "slam dunk" case is extremely rare, and even if it exists, an employer will not likely admit to it and will require you to prove your case anyways. This article is intended just to give insight into the valuation process but is not legal advice as each case is different and there are many variables that can change the valuation of any case.
So How Much is My Case Worth?
You may be surprised to find out that your case is likely not worth the millions you assumed it is. In Mississippi, "At-Will" employment is the default form of employment which means you and your employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, and for any reason - with a few exceptions.
What Your Lawyer is Looking For.
We are looking first and foremost for your actual economic losses, including past and future wages. No penalties, no punitive damage, no guessing. What are you actually losing due to this circumstance? For example, if your case deals with a loss of employment we are going to look into what you were earning when you are employment ended, how long you were unemployed, and what you have earned from other employment as well unemployment benefits you have received. Next what is the strength of the evidence you have? What is the likelihood of getting the evidence? Is it your word versus theirs? Is it written in text and email? Is there clear wrongdoing on behalf of the employer? Lawyers will ask you what evidence and witnesses does the employer have, and what do we have? Finally, what is the estimated cost of this lawsuit, which would include filing fees, service fees, deposition transcripts, copy costs, etc.?
If your lawyer determines that these questions have been answered satisfactorily, it is possible they can develop a reasonable valuation of the case.
What About My Emotional Pain and Suffering Damages?
In most employment cases a potential client has suffered some emotional pain and suffering regarding their employment situation. However, suffering those types of damages does not mean you can be awarded those damages even if you win at trial. This is because not all employment claims allow damages for emotional pain and suffering, which is usually referred to as compensatory damages by employment lawyers. For example, in Mississippi claims for age discrimination, military discrimination and violation of the Family Medical Leave Act do not include the possibility of being awarded damages for emotional pain and suffering. Employment claims in Mississippi also have caps on the amount of damages that can be awarded for emotional pain and suffering. In a discrimination claim under Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 if an employer only has 15-50 employees the cap on emotional pain and suffering damages is $50,000 no matter how severe or long lasting the emotional pain and suffering damages the plaintiff has endured.
Employment lawyers generally cannot determine what amount of emotional pain and suffering damages you can be awarded at trial other than what the law limits them to because it is impossible to guess what a jury will do on this issue. Our firm has seen a variety of results over the years in the trials we have won. For example, we have seen a client who won a retaliation claim involving not receiving a promotion be awarded $350,000 for emotional pain and suffering damages. In contrast, in another case a client won a retaliation claim involving being terminated for refusing a supervisor's sexual advances be awarded nothing for emotional pain and suffering damages. Juries are very unpredictable, and trying to include a significant amount for emotional pain and suffering damages in initial valuations of a case is very difficult.
The Value of Settlement
Money today is worth more than money tomorrow (or two and half years from now). The old saying of "A bird in the hand is worth more than two or three in the bush" is illustrative in this context. The goal of most employment lawyers is to get you a settlement as quickly as possible to help you recover in your time of need. Some cases just have to be taken to trial, but nationally the average percentage of employment cases that go to trial is less than 2%. To take your case to the courts and all the way to trial can be a very lengthy process without much additional award. Settlement and even verdicts cannot be guessed at the beginning of the case and always require a detailed analysis of all available evidence and arguments from both sides. The hidden factor, the value of being done with a matter sooner rather than later, is impossible to calculate in the beginning stages because you cannot guess how the employer views your claim.
This article is intended to give a very basic overview of how to value a case. It is imperative that you speak to an experienced employment attorney at Watson & Norris, PLLC, a Mississippi based law firm to determine the real value of your case and your best steps moving forward.