The first thing everyone wants to know when talking to an attorney about a possible lawsuit is how much their case is worth. Unfortunately, this is a question that can only be answered by the judge or jury that may ultimately hear your case. Although an attorney may be able to provide an opinion of the value of a case based on his or her experience with similar cases in the past, you should be leery of any lawyer who claims to be able to estimate such a value before having collected all the necessary information to ascertain your damages and weigh them against the strength of the claim that the defendant is liable for your damages. The lawyer typically does not have all this information at the time of your first meeting.
Ultimately, your case is only worth whatever damages you can prove have occurred because of the fault of the opposing party. In personal injury cases, this can be difficult to ascertain, but in most contract and commercial situations, including most employment claims, the measure of damages is related to how much money you may have lost as a result of the actions or omissions or the other side.
Because of excess media attention paid to extraordinary cases, many people have an inflated sense of what their case might be worth. In the vast majority of cases, your claims are only worth the reasonable value of the damages you have actually suffered. Punitive or exemplary damages are not designed to compensate you for your loss, but to punish or make an example of the other side. These sorts of damages are extraordinary and very rare.
In Arizona, punitive damages are only available when you are able to prove that the other side not only is liable, but acted with an "evil mind" in the course of causing your damages. This is a difficult standard to satisfy and punitive damages are only rarely awarded. They should be anticipated in only the most egregious and unusual cases. Because of the uncertainties associated with the trial of any claim, most cases settle before trial.
The value of a case, for settlement purposes, is informed by these uncertainties and can be effected by considerations such as the anticipated difficulty of collecting an award even if one prevails at trial, the costs associated with obtaining such a verdict, and the positive value of collecting now rather than in the future. An experienced Arizona attorney can help a client understand what types of damages are available and the range of recovery that might be expected if the matter proceeds to trial.
Understanding the limitations, and risks, of going forward with a case can frequently help a client avoid making a poor decision by undervaluing or overvaluing a case, which can both lead to an unnecessary financial and emotional toll.