The first question many may ask as they contemplate filing a wrongful termination lawsuit is what the average wrongful termination settlement might be. The answer, as always, is that the amount of the settlement, or the value of a wrongful termination case, depends on a number of factors as well as the facts and circumstances of a particular case.
"Damages" that Affect Wrongful Termination Settlements
Lost earnings and benefits: Wrongful termination cases typically compensate plaintiffs for lost back pay, which is essentially based on the earnings they would have received had they remained with the employer. Lost earnings typically also include bonuses and "earnings growth," which takes into account regular pay increases, cost-of-living adjustments, promotions, etc.
It is important to remember plaintiffs are expected to "mitigate their losses." This means, if you have been terminated, you are expected to find a similar job with similar pay as soon as possible. If an employee deliberately fails to mitigate losses in this manner, and if an employer is able to prove that, calculated mitigation sums may be subtracted from the compensation for lost earnings.
Benefits are also an important component of compensation packages. So, it is important that lost benefits be included in economic damages calculations in wrongful termination lawsuits. Benefits include healthcare coverage, dental and vision coverage, pension plans, retirement savings, stock options, and other employer-provided reimbursements.
Medical expenses: A job loss can have significant effects not just on the emotional health of an employee, but also on his or her physical health. Emotional stresses also manifest as physical ailments. Wrongful termination lawsuits can also seek compensation for medical expenses and any type of psychological counseling the plaintiff needed as a result of emotional distress. In addition, plaintiffs can seek compensation for non-economic damages such as "pain and suffering." Amounts awarded for pain and suffering are dependent on jurors.
Cost of job searches: Job seekers often incur significant costs in their efforts to find employment after a wrongful termination. A recent study showed that plaintiffs who filed for this type of damages received a much larger award than those who did not claim compensation for job search costs. Examples of costs that might be incurred during job searches include membership in professional organizations (networking), attending job fairs, travel expenses, wardrobe expenses, etc.
Attorney fees: In some wrongful termination cases, the fees paid to attorneys may also be recoverable in addition to any court costs that were incurred.
Punitive damages: This is the amount the court can order the employer to pay for actions that are particularly outrageous or egregious. While other types of damages are meant to compensate or reimburse employees for their losses, punitive damages are intended to punish the employer and deter similar behavior by others in the future. These types of damages may not be available for all wrongful termination claims. The amount of such damages is typically entirely up to the jury.
Other Factors Affecting Settlement and Verdict Amounts
When you file a wrongful termination lawsuit, the burden of proof is typically on you, the plaintiff. What this means is, if you claim that you have been wrongfully terminated, you must prove why your termination was illegal or wrongful. For example, if you were sexually harassed or forced to quit because of discrimination or a hostile work environment, you can show evidence of discrimination and/or harassment to prove that you were wrongfully terminated.
The amount of damages in wrongful termination lawsuits often depends on the type of claims. For example, in a whistleblower lawsuit, where employees expose their employer for defrauding the government, plaintiffs may be able to receive a percentage of recovered money, which could easily add up to millions of dollars.
The experience and caliber of your employment lawyer can also make a big difference when it comes to the amount of compensation you can get in your wrongful termination lawsuit. Some of the factors that could have an impact on the settlement amount include your lawyer's knowledge, experience, track record handling similar cases and above all, his or her ability to negotiate a larger settlement. There is no question that strong negotiators will garner a higher settlement.
It is also a fact that most employment lawsuits, including wrongful termination cases, end up in an out-of-court settlement rather than go to trial. Since litigation can be an expensive and lengthy process for all concerned, negotiating a settlement might be an ideal option in most cases. However, if the employer is not willing to come to the table or offer a fair settlement, going to trial may be the only option. So, you need a lawyer who is both a skilled negotiator and an excellent trial attorney.
Pitfalls to Avoid
It would be in your best interest to not accept the first settlement offer. Never rush into a settlement before all details of the case become apparent and you understand the full scope of the case. Once you accept the settlement offer, your case will be considered closed and you cannot seek any further compensation. A recent survey by Nolo.com showed that those who negotiated received twice the settlement amount compared to those who did not. Your employment lawyer will leverage the evidence to help you secure the best possible settlement.
Studies and research also show that filing a wrongful termination lawsuit tends to increase the final settlement amount and increase the chances of receiving a settlement. Also, when you file a formal lawsuit, it triggers the discovery process where evidence is gathered. When valuable evidence is uncovered during this process, you are placed in a stronger position at the negotiating table.
Contacting an Experienced Employment Attorney
If you or a loved one has been mistreated, harassed, discriminated against or wrongfully terminated from your job, the experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination attorneys at Kingsley & Kingsley can help you better understand your legal rights and options. We offer a no-win-no-fee guarantee, which means you don't pay us fees unless we recover compensation for you. Call us at 888-500-8469 to schedule your free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.