Legal malpractice cases can be hard to win. One of the obstacles is proving “damages.” Damages is the legal term for the amount you were harmed. In other words, you don’t win a legal malpractice case by just showing that your lawyer made a mistake that made you lose your case; you have to put a price on it. You have to show the court what, exactly, you would have won or what the harm you suffered is worth.
The reason this is difficult is because damages in legal malpractice cases are often speculative. Your case did not go as planned, so you don’t know for sure what you would have gotten in the end. You have to convince the court that had your lawyer handled it correctly, you would have won. Then, you have to prove to the court the amount you would have recovered.
For example, let’s say you were hurt in a car accident and you were suing to recover the cost of your medical bills — $30,000. Your lawyer fails to file your lawsuit by the deadline, and the judge dismisses your case forever. In your malpractice lawsuit against your lawyer, you will have to convince the court that if the lawsuit was filed on time you would have won. Then you have to show how much you would have won. In this case, you were suing for a specific dollar amount based on specific bills. Your damages for the bills can be proved as $30,000.
It gets more complicated if your mishandled case involved something less quantifiable, such as payment for pain and suffering. Let’s say you were suing a doctor for medical malpractice after a botched surgery, and you were seeking $500,000 for pain and suffering. Even if you can prove that you would have won if your lawyer hadn’t messed up, it will be very hard to prove that you would have gotten the $500,000, or any amount for that matter. There are so many ways a case could turn out. Medical malpractice cases are extremely complex, and on top of that, they involve decisions by a judge and jury that are impossible to predict. (Sometimes, a lawyer will send a client a letter saying how much they believe their case is worth. This sometimes helps prove damages in a legal malpractice case against that lawyer.)
Even more difficult is the case where money isn’t involved at all. For example, let’s say you were suing for custody of your children and your lawyer forgot to call a key witness to testify. If you lose the custody case because of this error, you would want to sue your lawyer. But you would have a tough time. Even if you manage to prove that calling the witness would have allowed you to win, your case will likely end there. Proving the next part – damages – is nearly impossible.
Illinois legal malpractice attorneys usually work on a contingency basis which means that they only get paid if they are successful proving the case and the amount they receive is a percentage of the total recovery. If they don’t think that they can prove damages they won’t take the case.
We know this sounds discouraging, but don’t make a decision on your own. If you think you have a legal malpractice case in Illinois, please contact us. It’s important to get advice from an experienced legal malpractice attorney – one that will be upfront and honest about your chances of success. Every case is different, and we’re here to help. We will give you an honest evaluation of your possible case and if we think there is a lawyer for you, we will make a recommendation. Your calls and e-mails are completely confidential.