Every day, the news details how a plaintiff has sued a defendant for ___ million dollars. Typically, whatever number goes in the blank sounds absurd when compared to the facts of the case as presented on the news. So what’s really going on here? Are the plaintiffs (or their lawyers) crazy and greedy?
The short answer is not necessarily.
Typically, at the end of the papers starting a lawsuit, a plaintiff includes a specific number sued for. The number that a lawsuit asks for in money damages (and that gets quoted in the news) is called the ad damnum. The literal translation of this Latin phrase means “to (or according to) the loss.”
The purpose of the ad damnum is to put the defendant on notice of the maximum amount the plaintiff believes he may recover at trial. Under Tennessee law, a plaintiff is not allowed to recover a dollar amount beyond the amount requested in the complaint. In other words, the ad damnum amount is a ceiling or cap on the amount of money that a jury can award to the plaintiff.
So what does all of this mean to us and our clients when we are filing a lawsuit? First, the ad damnum should reflect what we believe to be the best possible result at trial. If we shoot to low and get an award beyond the amount sued for, we have unnecessarily limited our client’s recovery. If we go too high, the defendant’s lawyer will point this out to the jury and will unquestionably paint the plaintiff, and us as his lawyers, as a greedy individual looking to “get rich quick” at the defendant’s expense.
Now, back to the news reports about multi-million dollar cases. Though it’s possible the lawyer has sued for an exorbitant amount only as a means of getting free press, in cases with particularly brutal facts, it may be possible that a jury award in the tens of millions of dollars will happen if everything goes in the plaintiff’s favor at trial. As a result, the lawyer is obligated to make the ceiling for the jury’s verdict appropriately high. In other words, the lawyer is not crazy or greedy. He’s doing his job to protect his client’s best interests.
At our firm, we put thought in to how much we sue for and remain aware that that number will be put before the jury and will potentially cap the jury’s award to our client. If you’ve been hurt as a result of someone else’s wrongful conduct, give us a call at 615-425-2500 so we can see what we think the best day in court might yield for you and your family.