We get a lot of questions about how we evaluate cases. People whom we tell we cannot accept their case often want to know why. In this episode, we attempt to clarify how we evaluate cases.
Justin Hill: Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases, a podcast discussing real-world cases handled by Justin Hill and the Hill Law Firm. For confidentiality reasons, names and amounts of any settlements have been removed. However, the facts are real, and these are the cases we handle on a day-to-day basis.
Just recently, we got a call from a man whose wife died in a very tragic incident in the hospital. He wanted us to take his case and help him out. He had called many lawyers before, he had gone on for years trying to find a lawyer that would help him. There weren’t any that would help him. He called the state of Texas and filed a grievance or complaint against the doctors and hospitals involved. That investigation cleared the hospital and doctors.
He then appealed that decision, and he lost. He was a very passionate man who had lost his wife, he was angry, he was upset, he was grieving. By the time he called us, the time to do anything, in terms of filing a lawsuit, had passed because the statute of limitations puts a limitation on how long you have to file a lawsuit. He didn’t understand why we couldn’t help him, and I don’t know if it was because he was just so upset or if he just didn’t understand it.
It made me think I want to do a little bit of talking about how we evaluate a case when it comes into our office, because sometimes we can’t help people with their cases, and that can be for a variety of reasons. Generally, when we get a call on a new case, we get all the facts and all the information that we can get. One thing I always like to ask the person on the other line, who’s trying to hire us, is, “Who’s at fault? Who do you think is at fault for this incident, for your injuries, for your loss of a loved one?”
That’s the first step I have to figure out. Did somebody do something wrong? Did somebody else’s acts or inaction cause the incident that either left somebody injured or led to the wrongful death of somebody? I have to tell people when they call us sometimes that the law cannot right all wrongs. The law sets out when a person has legal redress to take them to court to seek compensation or justice through the form of compensation for the wrong that was committed.
We have to ask, “Who did something wrong? Was it an entity? Was it a corporation? Was it a person that their actions cause some harm?” The next thing we have to know is, what is the harm? Did you have an injury? Did somebody pass away? Are you just angry that somebody wronged you, but there was no injury? We have to analyze whether the wrong caused the injury. In the law, we have to prove that the wrong that we’re talking about, the bad act, led to somebody’s injury.
It’s not enough that there was a wrong and then there was an injury. We have to show that they’re connected. The law calls it “causation,” we have to show that the wrong was the proximate cause of the injury. It’s not enough for conjecture, and it’s not enough that you know it really deep in your gut. You see this a lot in instances in which people are exposed to chemicals, or a landfill, or drugs. Everybody’s seen the commercial on TV where it asks, “Have you taken this drug and suffered these injuries?”
By the time those things are on TV, there’s been a long history of studying and research and studies that typically leads to some understanding that these drugs cause these injuries. It’s not enough that somebody believes that the drug they took caused this bad side effect. There has to be science, there has to be some proof of causation, proof enough that a judge will say, “That’s valid causation.” One of the other things we have to consider is, does the law allow for this kind of lawsuit?
Sometimes we have a wrong, and we have an injury that was caused by the wrong, but the law doesn’t allow for any cause of action for a lawsuit. I was talking to a guy on the phone today who had a son very seriously injured in a boating accident. He wanted to sue the manufacturer of the boat. Now, there was something on the boat that injured his kid, but whether that was a defect in the product or not, would be a really tough call. Every boat on every leg has this same thing with it, and his son just, unfortunately, got injured by it.
We also see this in situations like hit and runs. If you can’t find the person, the bad actor, it’s very hard to have a case against them. It’s not enough to just say somebody did something wrong, we have to know who they are. In the medical malpractice arena, we also have to have this discussion with clients on whether or not the law allows for recovery. The medical malpractice laws have been changed in Texas so much that they limit recovery to the extent that they have made many cases, so expensive that the costs of working the case would be more than the likely recovery in the case.
Then, there are other incidences in Texas law where the state of Texas has just said certain defendants are immune. For example, suing the state of Texas and suing a local government is very limited to when you can do that. In many instances, you can’t do that at all. If you have all of that there, then you have to look at damages. I’ve had calls where people want to sue because they felt grossed out by what they ate. I have had calls where people have wanted to sue because they had a cut on their hand that they never required stitches and was just a very superficial cut.
The costs of filing a lawsuit and working a lawsuit are not cheap. The cost of filing lawsuits, couple hundred dollars, services $100. Taking depositions can be $500 to $1,000 per deposition, and those things all rack up. At the end of the day, the potential outcome of the case has to justify spending all of those costs. That’s the next thing we look at. What are your injuries? What are your damages? Those can range all over the board. Sometimes we don’t even know what they mean and we have to consult medical experts on what they mean.
That’s the next thing we have to evaluate, what are the damages? Other things we just consider when we’re looking at a case is, what’s the venue. If somebody calls me about a car wreck in Maine, I’m probably not going to be able to help them. One, I’m not licensed there, and two, it wouldn’t make sense for me to work a case in Maine. There are other places in Texas where it takes years to get to trial, or due to Texas’ size, it’s very hard to get to the Panhandle from San Antonio.
Those cases all have to be weighed on what type of case they are, whether it justifies the costs and time of travel. Otherwise, you can refer these potential clients to somebody in their neck of the woods. Another thing we always consider is the age of the case, as I stated earlier. After so much time, the law does not allow the filing of a case. There is a statute of limitations on basically every case in the state of Texas, and every possible case in the state of Texas, and then if the case is not filed within that window, the window closes. It’s very hard in Texas to reopen that window.
I like to know how old is the case. If the statute of limitations ends next week, it’s a very dangerous case for us to get involved in, and oftentimes, I won’t want to. The other thing is generally the ability of the law firm. We get calls on cases sometimes that we just don’t handle. I get called on divorce cases and people that have been arrested for crimes. Those are cases in which they need a lawyer, but that’s not the type of work we handle.
We always have to evaluate whether or not it’s the type of case we handle. At the end of the day, everybody that calls our law firm can rest assured that an attorney is evaluating their case to decide if it is something we can do. When we tell people we can’t represent them, we try to do our best to tell them when their statute of limitations will run based on what we understand at the time, and we try to give them some sort of recommendation or referral for a lawyer that we think could help them, or a service that we think could help them. Whenever a potential client calls our firm, they can rest assured that they have been given a fair look and a fair shake and that an attorney has evaluated their case.