There has been a lot of blogging about former President Reagan Supreme Court Nominee Robert Bork’s personal injury slip and fall lawsuit brought against the Yale Club, seeking “in excess of $1,000,000,” and punitive damages. The accident happened while Judge Bork was climbing to the dais for a speech. There were no steps or handrails for the 79-year-old Bork to hold on to during his climb, and he slipped and fell.
Eric Turkewitz’s wrote a great post on this. The link broke somehow and I can’t find it. But that is not what I want to talk about.
I agree with everything Eric writes except his criticism of the $1 million Judge Bork seeks. At least in Maryland, the ad damnum clause is inadmissible at trial. It makes sense to seek in your complaint more than you could ever receive because a jury might award more than you expect because juries are unpredictable. When a lawyer sues, he/she sometimes does not know the full scope of the client’s injuries. While the Maryland Rules allow the court to increase the ad damnum even after the verdict, it is entirely discretionary. Do you really want to leave such a thing in the hands of the trial judge who might think the verdict is excessive?
A part of the problem with the ad damnum clause is that the media reports the amount the attorney puts in the ad damnum clause in personal injury cases as if it is indicia of what the plaintiff genuinely believes he/she may recover. So the headline reads “Injury Victim Seeks $100 Million!” as if that number was a part of the lawyer and client’s deliberative process.
2013 Update: We don’t have to ask for a specific damage amount in most Maryland tort cases now as the result of a recent law.