I’m sure you’ve read a splashy headline that says something like “Family suing for $100 million over accident.” It sounds great, but the reality is that it means nothing as the value of a case is determined based on things like pain and suffering, lost wages, comparative fault, etc. Talking tough about how much you are suing for usually does one thing – piss off someone who is reading the article. Saying you are suing for millions is just dumb, with one exception.
When suing the Federal Government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you have to file what is called a Form 95. Basically the law is that before you can sue the Feds you have to fill out this form and give them six months to admit or deny liability and agree or disagree with what you want. The catch is that you are limited to whatever amount you put on the form.
Case in point, the other day we were contacted by a man who wants to sue a VA hospital for improperly diagnosing a leg injury which led to an amputation of his lower leg. He’s not the “suing type” so he tried to handle this on his own and thought he would have a better chance to settle if he proposed what he thought was a reasonable dollar value for the loss of his leg.
The man asked the Government for $500,000. That is no small sum, but if they were negligent and it caused him to lose his leg, an economist would certainly say that the case is worth a lot more money than that. The Government doesn’t have to settle with him and if they don’t he will have to sue. The problem is that no Judge could award him more than $500,000 because of what he wrote on the Form 95.
Lawyers typically fill out these forms for clients and when they do they will ask for a number that greatly exceed what they think the case might be worth. It’s a silly procedural rule that requires a silly response, namely asking for many millions of dollars. In one case, a family that did it by themselves asked for only $20,000 because they misunderstood what they were supposed to be writing. Once that form is signed and submitted, that’s that.
So while hopefully you don’t have to sue the VA or any other Government office for negligence, if you do you need to ask for the moon.
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