Large Plaintiffs Firms Say They're Becoming Choosier

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Philadelphia City Hall

Several plaintiffs attorneys from larger firms say they have established minimum financial thresholds in determining whether a case is worth pursuing and will often refer cases of potentially lesser financial value to smaller firms.

Conversely, those smaller firms that do not specialize in medical malpractice or other cases that are expensive to litigate are more frequently referring those cases upward.

The establishment of a monetary floor and the increased selectivity of large firms in taking on cases comes as a result of the rising costs associated with litigating medical malpractice cases.

Slade McLaughlin of Philadelphia-based McLaughlin & Lauricella said in an email to The Legal that his firm is handling more serious injury cases. "We refer out all limited tort auto cases, all criminal cases, all workers' comp cases, and all slip-and-falls without significant injuries," he said. "We are probably accepting ... one in 25 cases that are called into the office."

Serious injury cases have become very expensive to litigate, McLaughlin observed, with most cases going to trial having costs in excess of $100,000.

McLaughlin added that "many doctors now want $10,000 to $15,000 to testify at trial (not including travel and lodging expenses), and the cost of a litigation consultant to portray exhibits up on the screen can run $1,500 per trial day. With those kinds of costs at risk, we are looking very hard at both the liability and damages aspect of every case."

In determining the merits of a case, Matthew Casey of Ross Feller Casey said that the ability to prove liability outweighs the potential monetary value of a successful case.

"Any experienced catastrophic injury lawyer knows you need to have a real case, meaning you need to have real liability, real causation, and real damages," Casey said. "Having said that, those things are not always as easy to prove in some cases as they are in others."

If that is the situation, Casey said, the pressure that a lawyer can bring to bear on an insurance carrier is one of the key factors that determines whether a case is worthy of litigation.

Casey added, "What goes into that is a whole range of facts: is the plaintiff likeable, is the defendant not likeable to a jury, economic damages to award, considering whether the jury would be sympathetic" to the plaintiff's issue.

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