Tuesday, October 31, 2006

You're suing for how much????!!!!

People often get excited about the amount asked for in a lawsuit. In our recent suit against the Rensselaer District Attorney we asked for $52,000,000 (52 million dollars). This reminds me of when Dr. Evil threatened to destroy the world unless world leaders gave him ONE MILLION DOLLARS (which he quickly corrected after being prompted).

Some people have told me that $52 million is too high. This misses the legal meaning of the number.

It's known as an ad damnum clause (and no, that does not mean that all lawyers are damned). The amount stated in an ad damnum clause has almost no meaning in a lawsuit. The jury is not told how much is stated there.

It does have one important effect. It serves as a cap. If a jury awards more than the amount you put in your ad damnum clause, you are limited to your ad damnum clause instead of getting what the jury awarded. And you also get hit with a malpractice suit from your client because you didn't ask for enough money. Unless you make a motion to amend your ad damnum clause immediately, which will usually be granted, so even then it doesn't matter so much.

What this means is that the amount one sues for is not what you expect to get. The number is chosen to be so high that it's extremely unlikely a jury will go higher.

In most cases I don't even state a number. It's not required. Well, not unless the other side demands that you put a number down, in which case I'd put $10 billion just to show them. :-)

However, it is required in federal cases, particularly for "diversity jurisdiction" where the amount in controversy has to exceed $75,000 (last time I checked).

So next time you hear that there's a lawsuit for 97 gajillion dollars, please recognize that it could be 2 gajillion or 134 ungabungajillion and it really just doesn't matter a whole lot. The jury decides what the case is worth, not the lawyers.
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