I recently saw a video by a personal injury lawyer which answered this question by providing advice how to determine the amount you should sue for when injured in a car accident. The advice in the video was flat out wrong.
Since 11/27/2003, you or your lawyer (you should always have a lawyer and should never represent yourself) are no longer allowed to allege an ad damnum clause specifying the dollar amount of damages in a complaint for personal injuries. The ad damnum clause is the paragraph in a personal injury complaint which used to state the amount of money you are suing for.
When it was allowed, I never sued for less than $10 million. Now, this means that at the outset of your lawsuit, you cannot sue for a certain amount of money. You can only sue for an undisclosed amount of money “which exceeds the jurisdictional limits of all courts lower than the Supreme Court”. The limit of what the NYC Civil Court can award is only$25,000 which is why a lawsuit for injuries from a car accident should be brought in Bronx Supreme Court. Your attorney will ask for a certain amount of money when a jury begins to decide your case.
NYCPLR § 3017. Demand for relief (c) states: Personal injury or wrongful death actions. In an action to recover damages for personal injuries or wrongful death, the complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim, interpleader complaint, and third-party complaint shall contain a prayer for general relief but shall not state the amount of damages to which the pleader deems himself entitled. If the action is brought in the supreme court, the pleading shall also state whether or not the amount of damages sought exceeds the jurisdictional limits of all lower courts which would otherwise have jurisdiction.
Note that the ad damnum clause is still used. It’s just not allowed to state the amount of money an attorney is looking for. However, a lawyer must still allege the ad damnum clause and state that “the amount of damages sought exceeds the jurisdictional limits of all lower courts which would otherwise have jurisdiction”.
The reason that the law was enacted was because the large amounts demanded in the complaint by attorneys was making headlines in the news because it was sensational, example: “Woman Sue For $100 Million in Car Accident”. These headlines were causing a false sense that lawsuits were going to bankrupt insurance companies. The headlines were fueling arguments for tort reform which was not needed.
Furthermore, the amount of money demanded in the complaint had no relationship to the amount of money awarded by a jury. Someone could sue for $100 million for a broken rib and be awarded only $25,000 by a jury.
Finally, it is simply not necessary to state the amount of damages sought in the beginning of a lawsuit because a lawyer can still ask a jury to award any amount of money the lawyer feels like asking for. Of course, the jury may award any amount of money it feels is warranted.