Why do Lawyers Sue for So Much Money?

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Virginia Trial Lawyers Association seminar participants David Haynes, Doug Landau & Jonathon Halpern (seated) know the importance of correctly setting the amount sued for in a Virginia personal injury case.
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association seminar participants David Haynes, Doug Landau & Jonathon Halpern (seated) know the importance of correctly setting the amount sued for in a Virginia personal injury case.

Some lawyers sue for millions of dollars — even in small claims — just to get free publicity or make it sound like they have big cases. Under Virginia law, it may actually be better to put a slightly larger number on the lawsuit papers at the beginning of the case.

Herndon Virginia injury lawyer Doug Landau is admitted to the bar in a number of states. He notes that in Florida and other places, you don’t put the amount you are seeking in the lawsuit papers. You simply state that you are suing for an amount in excess of the minimum required for the jurisdiction of the particular court. In federal court, you very often state that you are suing for in excess of $75,000, because that is the amount required for certain federal cases.

However, Virginia requires the lawyer to put a specific amount sued for, even though early in an injury case all of the victim’s treatments and expenses may not yet be known. More importantly, notes Landau, you may not recover anything more than the amount sued for. So, that is an incentive to put a higher number on the lawsuit papers right at the beginning. Furthermore, the filing fees (the amount charged by the clerk’s office to start a case) increase as the amount sued for increases. So the limitation on recovery rule in Virginia drives up litigation expenses.

While lawyer Landau and his permanent injury trial team thinks long and hard about the amount to request in a lawsuit, and avoids putting big or round numbers on the paperwork, he knows firsthand how Virginia’s law can restrict a jury’s verdict.

Early in Landau’s career, the law firm he was with put a case — Powell vs. Sears Roebuck — before a Northern Virginia jury for a victim burned by a riding lawnmower. The amount sought was $100,000.

Prior to the verdict, the plaintiff’s counsel sought to increase the amount sued for. The court would not allow the lawyers to do so, as the case had already been submitted to the jury. The jury returned with a verdict of $150,000, but the court ruled the plaintiff was limited to the amount sought in the lawsuit papers ($100,000), and judgment was entered for the plaintiff in that amount.

That appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of Virginia which affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision limiting the injured plaintiff’s recovery. This case well illustrates why lawyers will sometimes put a slightly larger number on their lawsuit papers.

Landau points out that you can always reduce the amount sued for, and you can also ask the court to increase the amount prior to the case being submitted to the jury for their verdict.

If you or someone you know has been permanently harmed to the unsafe conduct of another, and there are questions about what laws apply, email or call us at once (703-796-9555).