Directed by Thomas Balmes

69 minutes / Color
Release: 2008

In the United States, when someone dies as a result of the negligence or liability of another person-medical malpractice, a highway accident, murder-a wrongful death lawsuit, seeking monetary damages for the loss of financial or emotional support, may be filed by surviving family members. Over $100 billion in such personal injury compensation, or "damages," is paid each year.

DAMAGES goes inside the offices of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, one of the biggest American law firms specializing in such lawsuits. The film observes the lawyers as they meet with the families of victims, examine documents, gauge the strengths and weaknesses of each case, try to put a value on a life ended prematurely, and decide on a legal strategy.

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The film follows several different cases and the procedures involved in preparing to file suit, including visiting a crime scene, filming an interview with a client for showing in court, trying the case before a mock jury, and discussing with clients offers made by insurance companies and their options to either settle out of court or go to trial.

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In a private session, when the firm's lawyers and other staff members discuss a specific suit, they crunch numbers to arrive at an estimate of the maximum payout possible from the defendant's insurance company. While wrongful death attorneys are obviously sympathetic to their clients' personal tragedies, in the end DAMAGES reveals that seeking the highest possible compensation is also clearly a business.

"Fascinating… The lawyers' interviews with the clients are compelling as is the coverage of their strategizing sessions… Cinematography, editing, sound and direction are all outstanding. The video will be of general interest to a wide audience and is recommended viewing. It's highly recommended for law school libraries and libraries with strong criminal justice collections." -Educational Media Reviews Online

"What's an arm and leg really worth?... Filmmaker Thomas Balmes was given unprecedented access to the law firm, allowing him to capture eye-opening discussions on the dollar value of life and limb."—Digital Home Canada

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Select Accolades

  • 2008 One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival