• Joe McCoy

Three Legs of a stool

Updated: Oct 25

Do I have a case? That’s the question on many people’s minds when they reach out to me. And after they’ve told their story, that’s the question that many end up asking: Do I have a case?


To answer that question, I use an analogy: the three-legged stool. This evaluation process isn’t unique to me. Many personal injury lawyers do the same thing. It works.


What are the three legs of the stool?

1. Liability;

2. Damages; and

3. Collectability.


Have you ever tried to sit on a stool with one or two legs missing? How did that go for you? Well, the same thing happens with your case. We need all three legs of the stool for your case to stand up in court. Let’s look at each leg in a bit more detail:


1. Liability. This means somebody did something wrong. They needlessly endangered someone else’s safety. This could be a person that rear-ends you when you’re stopped in traffic, a company that puts a dangerous drug on the market; or a doctor that cuts the wrong cord. Sometimes liability is easy to establish; other times it’s extremely challenging.


2. Damages. This means that you experienced or are experiencing harms and losses. What are those harms and losses? Are you paralyzed? Or did you go to physical therapy for several months to regain your strength and get rid of the pain? Did you fracture your kneecap? Need surgery? Or did you hurt your head and are now having trouble with your memory?


3. Collectability. Is there a source of monetary recovery? Hundreds of years ago, our law was limited to an eye for an eye. If someone else broke your leg, justice required another broken leg in retribution. That’s changed now. And we’re also not talking about sending the wrongdoer to jail—that’s for the criminal justice side. We’re talking about America’s civil justice system. And money is the only compensation for a person harmed by someone else needlessly endangering safety. But is there money at the end of the case? An insurance policy or two, a wealthy individual or company, the government?


Sometimes it’s easy to evaluate the three legs of the stool. But other situations require extensive investigation, research, and creativity. For example, what rules apply to the doctor performing the operation? Are there special rules that apply to the semi-truck driver involved in the accident? And for collectability, every insurance policy contains a contract: what are the details of that contract? Is this an underinsured or uninsured case? What are the policy limits? Has the insurance company evaluated the situation in good faith? And by the way, what is the monetary value of pain for 5 months? What about for 2 years? Or forever? What’s the value of not being able to walk again, not being able to hold your child or grandchild again, or the loss of a loved one?


If you have questions about the three legs of your stool, give me a call. I want to hear your story and help build your case—one stool leg at a time.

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