I might be suing someone soon. What do I have to know?
December 27, 2011 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering suing a company. Have you ever sued someone? I can't get a hold of my lawyer, and I could use your advice/wisdom.

First, let me tell you that I come from a very non-litigious country. I never sued anyone, I never even talked to someone who has been involved in a lawsuit. I know nothing about it, except what I see in movies. And Judge Judy.

I have contacted a lawyer, but because of the holidays I haven't heard back yet. Now let me explain what happened.

I went to a (large, established, reputable) cosmetic center for a skin treatment. Somehow an alkaline substance got into my eye and caused a chemical burn in my cornea. The beautician told me the pain I was feeling was a stronger-than-normal reaction to the treatment, and that it would go away. She sent me home with eye drops.

I have a pretty high tolerance to pain, so I tolerated the pain -- supposedly it would go away. I went home and waited for it to pass, using the eye drops. Hours later I decided this was not normal. Long story short, I spent hours in the ER with an apparatus stuck to my eyeball dispensing litters upon liters of saline solution until my eye's ph level went back to almost normal. The amount of discomfort was indescribable. I was at risk for the worst type of corneal necrosis. I spent four hours thinking I might lose an eye.

Consequences? Apart from the scariest, most painful and uncomfortable experience I've ever had, I lost roughly two days of work, had pain and swelling for a couple of days, and spent a few hundred bucks in co-pays. No long-term medical problems, as far as I am aware.

As you can imagine, the few people who heard about it told me I should "put a price on it" and sue. I called a lawyer, but as I explained before, I haven't heard back from them yet. Here's the deal, though. The beautician called me to ask how I was feeling. I told her what happened. She gave the phone to the manager; I told him what happened. I said I wanted to know if we could "settle this" or if I'd have to involve a lawyer. It was kind of an honest question -- I really didn't know. She said she'd call me back. A few hours later the owner of the company leaves me a voice message saying he wants to talk.

I haven't called back yet. What do I tell him? Will he ask me if I want money? How much money do I want? There's the amount I spent in hospital+drugs, the workdays I missed, and the price of the treatment itself. If I accept just that, am I being a sucker? Do I ask for twice that much, 10 times that much?

If I don't call him back and wait until I talk to a lawyer, can he use that against me somehow? Can he say he wanted to settle it amicably and I didn't cooperate?

What else should I know? What should I not do?
posted by Opal to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm the US now - sorry i didn't make that clear.
posted by Opal at 12:32 PM on December 27, 2011

if you are sure the medical issue is completely resolved, will not require any additional treatment and vision is restored as it was before the incident I would determine all of the actual costs--co-pays, lost time, incidental expenses, the value of your own time (x hours at xxx dollars per hour) and a modest amount for pain and suffering ( e.g. $500>$1,000 per day) and settle without an attorney for that amount. if there is any indication that you need additional treatment or/or vision is not restored consult an attorney.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:34 PM on December 27, 2011

And I should have also said--if the company does not settle for the amount you feel is real and fair you can then consult an attorney. Do not agree to a mediation process suggested by the company if it in anyway precludes a lawsuit. IANAL
posted by rmhsinc at 12:37 PM on December 27, 2011

Assuming you have no expectation of future medical issues associated with this other than periodic checkups, I would ask for your out of pocket costs, your foregone wages and the cost of the treatment plus some amount less than $1,000 to cover any future costs. But I am like you, non-litigious and do not want to profit from someones mistake, I just want to be made whole. If you think there is somthing seriously wrong with the way they do the procedure, then I would consider suing to get them to change there methods and/or training of employees.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:39 PM on December 27, 2011

Do not do anything without consulting an attorney first. Do not call the owner back until you have done so.

Maybe this makes me litigious, but I find that there's a world of difference between the beautician making a mistake and telling you to go to doctor to have it checked out and the beautician making a mistake, underestimating the seriousness of her mistake, sending you on your merry way with eye drops, and you taking the initiative to get your ass to the ER and undergoing an uncomfortable but apparently eye-saving treatment. Any other person could have trusted the "expert," minimized their own discomfort as excessive given the advice given, and subsequently sustained irreparable damage to his or her vision.

Contact an attorney and be firm. Do not let them get away with paying you a couple hundred bucks for medical bills and lost salary. IANAL, but damn.
posted by lydhre at 12:50 PM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

you should ask the mods to delete this question and wait to talk to your lawyer before making any more internet posts about it.
posted by nadawi at 12:55 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

(But if your attorney says you should settle for a couple hundred bucks, by all means listen. Again, IANAL, I am just incredibly angry on your behalf.)
posted by lydhre at 12:55 PM on December 27, 2011

A downside to involving a lawyer is that lawyers are very busy, so they may not move to resolve this with the swiftness you would like (it could drag on for months). Nolo press has a book on settling your own personal injury case that is actually pretty decent.
posted by jayder at 12:55 PM on December 27, 2011

Wait until you've spoken with a lawyer.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, wait until you've had a follow-up examination with an ophthalmologist. Right now, you may expect that you will have no future problems with that eye. But you don't know. Give it at least a few weeks to heal, then get a good exam to confirm that everything is A-OK. The worst possible thing would be to settle too quickly, and then find out that you have long term problems to cope with. Any settlement you would agree to now would be final, so take time to really know what you're dealing with.

Be sure to get and keep copies of all your medical reports, and document your expenses.
posted by Corvid at 1:02 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

"How much money do I want? There's the amount I spent in hospital+drugs, the workdays I missed, and the price of the treatment itself. If I accept just that, am I being a sucker? "

There is no set remuneration that makes you a sucker or not a sucker. The biggest error in negotiation, IMHO, is going after whatever you think you can get instead of what you actually want. I mean, you often ask for more than you want to strategically position yourself for what you want, sure, but you need to fix your mind on what you want so you will be happy when you get that, not pissed that you didn't get more. So how much money do you want? Just your medical bills? Also compensation for missed work? As much as you can possibly get? What non-monetary things do you want? A letter of apology? An investigation by the appropriate state licensing board? To testify before your state legislature on the importance of regulating this treatment or putting more stringent licensing rules on beauticians?

You need to figure that out, ideally before you speak with the lawyer OR the owner, so you have some idea of what, exactly, it is that you want. A lawyer will help you figure out what you can realistically get.

P.S. -- the corporation is doubtless insured, and their discussions of settlement with you/your lawyer will be colored by the fact that their insurer has something to say about whether they settle or go forward, and the fact that their insurance rates will probably go up. This can get really complicated and sometimes the interest of the company and its insurer will diverge. You will see none of that, but it will affect how the company interacts with you and what their settlement offers are like. I think it's helpful to know that, since the incomprehensibility of the opposing party's "moves" can be infuriating sometimes. "Why can't they just offer me Obvious Settlement X like a decent human being would?" Well, they're probably not complete dicks, they're probably dealing with their own insurance liability issues.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:11 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

One important thing, which I mention only because it's a trap I *almost* fell into, is that if you do talk to them and they express sympathy and ask how you're doing? Don't say "I'm OK" or "Everything's fine" or any of those normal social pleasantries that we normally use when asked how we're doing. Because it's a good chance that they are recording that phone call and they might try to use that as evidence that you didn't have any major injuries. Don't get into what the extent of the damage to your eye is; just, if they say "Oh my god!! Are you OK now?" say something like "The situation is still evolving and I don't feel comfortable discussing my prognosis."

(In my case, I was calling the insurance company of the delivery van who ran over my husband on his bicycle. The adjuster said, literally, "Oh my god! Is he all right?" and said "He. . . well, he's been evaluated by an emergency physician, and that evaluation didn't find anything immediately life-threatening, but the exact extent of his injuries remains to be seen." The adjuster got kind of grumpy and said "So he's OK?" and I said "I don't know if he's OK," and she said "But is he badly hurt?" and I said "He was not admitted to the hospital, but I'm not a doctor and I can't say for certain how badly he's injured," and she said "Oh, OK, if that's how it's going to be" and was notably hostile to me for the rest of the call. When we did end up speaking to the lawyer, the first thing they asked was if I'd ever said he was OK to any representative of the other driver.)
posted by KathrynT at 1:17 PM on December 27, 2011 [10 favorites]

Many (maybe most? I have no idea) settlements happen between lawyers without anyone ever having to sue anyone. I'm sure some MeFi lawyers can better address that issue.

In any case, working with a lawyer to have them send a letter could get you much more attention right away from the company.

Most likely they'll involve a lawyer on their side pretty quickly (like as soon as they get a letter from you asking for a large payout), so it evens things up when you are represented as well.

(IANAL, etc.)
posted by bluedaisy at 1:29 PM on December 27, 2011

It sounds like you don't need to sue, and do need a lawyer. The fact that they are interested in settling is a good sign as it shows they recognize culpability. Now you get to find out whether it extends to what you determine to be reasonable compensation.

So, as everyone else has said. Talk to your lawyer first. Personally, I'd also want to make sure any settlement contingent on an additional doctor/optician visit, paid for by them to a practitioner of my choice, to re-confirm the initial diagnosis of no long term damage. My biggest fear would be signing away their responsibility only to learn that I had a new chronic condition to deal with. Not incidentally this is their biggest fear and goal as well. They would much rather make a potential long term liability go away with a simple payment now.
posted by meinvt at 1:45 PM on December 27, 2011

you made references to copayments: if you were insured and your insurance covered the cost of treatment it is very likely that your insurance company is already looking to recover their costs.
posted by lester at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2011

lester, - maybe, maybe not. I've been in one situation and seen another one second-hand where medical insurance just paid and asked no questions about 3rd party liability. In a case like this with limited costs (hopefully), I doubt it will cross their mind, BUT be prepared for them to reach out to you for reimbursement if you collect, as your policy doubtless grants them right of subrogation (compensation for their costs if you get reimbursed for medical expenses).

Here's a general outline of what makes sense in a case like this, or at least it did for my minor medical expenses after getting creamed by a drunk driver who was insured. IANAL, so step 1 is - talk to one:

1) talk to an attorney who will give you a consultation for a reasonable fee, NOT take a huge percent. This is unlikely to be a big case.

2) they'll probably advise you to wait 6 months. This is to ensure that you don't end up settling for something now and then find out you've got bigger medical issues. Injuries sometimes take a while to surface.

3) they'll probably write a demand letter for you. Customarily it's a few times what the actual expenses were - 5-10X, maybe, depending on the total expense.

4) their insurance company will offer you a settlement - probably 50% of what you asked for.


Actually going to court will be a 2-3 year ordeal, minimum. You are not apparently injured in a life-changing way, thank God, which means you should not expect to retire off this. Not saying you expect to, just pointing out the obvious. Expenses in a lawsuit are horrendous, a personal injury lawyer will take a huge chunk of what's left, and even if you were to get, say $100,000 you'd be lucky to end up with $10,000, and you'd have felt by the time it was over that you earned that money at minimum wage.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:35 PM on December 27, 2011

Opal: maybe I'm too late, and you have already sued or settled in some acetone-infused backroom deal, but something for you to consider ...

One decision factor in a Karma sense might be, were you ever in a situation to be potentially sued, and the individial decided to let the matter go, and not sue you out of goodwill?

(This applies only on seeking above and beyond the $ amount to make you whole).
posted by Kruger5 at 7:22 AM on December 28, 2011

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