A number of fellow InjuryBoard attorneys are participating in a series of blog posts that spans over six different blogs. The point of these coordinated articles is to raise awareness of the ins and outs of personal injury claims from automobile accidents. This is not designed to be a series of posts on how to get clients, rather it’s supposed to help educate the public on what you should and should not do if you are involved in an car accident, from the moment you have the crash until the jury returns their verdict or you reach a settlement.
These InjuryBoard injury attorneys are contributing to this car accident client questions series:
All of these fine attorneys have written posts so far in our series about the first steps following an automobile accident:
Wayne Parson started with the first post titled, I was in an automobile accident. What should I do? Ten Tips For Hawaii Drivers, and then Steve Lombardi posted a car accident article titled: What would a caveman bring to meet with the lawyer? Yesterday Rick Shapiro posted an article about what makes or breaks a case titled: Car Accident Injury Client: What Makes the Case Good or Bad? (The Collision & Medical Care).
I have to say that at this point in the rotation, I am mightily impressed with the caliber of knowledge and information being presented so far. I think Shaprio’s recommendations of taking photos at the scene, getting names of any witnesses, is a great place to start. Most of us these days have cameras on our cell phones, so it’s not a stretch to pull out the phone and start snapping a few pictures. The reason it’s important to get witness statements is because once you start investigating a claim, it is almost certain the driver of the other vehicle will deny fault and try to blame you or something else for the accident. I have a case right now where my client, who was driving a red pick-up truck, was hit from behind while he was stopped trying to make a left hand turn. The defendant driver claims he is not responsible because he was sneezing just before the crash (never mind that he didn’t say anything about this to the police officer at the scene), or that there was snow blowing that prevented him from seeing the red pick-up truck (never mind that he testified he saw oncoming traffic at the same distance as my client, and that traffic was not red colored or that if you could not see traffic in front of you it would be best not to continue driving without being able to see anything). This does not mean every single driver who hits another driver will deny responsibility, but it’s something that happens quite often and having people who are not parties to the accident as witnesses helps the credibility of your claim the other driver was at fault.
The one thing about police reports is that they are really great when they say the other driver is at fault, but they are tough to argue against when they say you are at fault. It interesting sometimes to read the reports, talk to the witnesses and the drivers involved, and then try to figure out how the report blames one driver versus the other. It can make no sense sometimes, but the problem is that police officers are given a lot of credibility by jurors, making their testimony very important in determining who is at fault. Most police officers don’t recall each and every accident, who could if you saw more than a few hundred each year? That’s why it would be a good idea to not only get witness names, but also to try to write down some details of what people said to you at the time of the accident. People’s memory can change over time, so it’s important to try to get the information from them as soon as possible. Understandably, you may not be in a position to ask many questions after an accident, but getting to an attorney sooner, rather than later, will allow the attorney to gather the evidence. As Steve noted, the longer you wait the more evidence disappears, and that’s not helpful.
When talking about medical care, the one thing no attorney wants to see in any medical record is a mention of his or her name or the fact that the client has hired an attorney. That simple fact alone will cause jurors to believe you are one of those plaintiffs who is only out for the money. When you think about the available options when you’ve been injured in a car accident, the only way to make things better is to ask for money compensation. You can’t undo the accident, and since we don’t live in biblical times, it’s not an eye for an eye anymore, leaving you with little option to help fix the life that’s been disrupted or shattered since the accident. When you’ve been in an accident, you should only discuss the case with your attorney, your close family (you don’t want to tell everyone because that’s when you get the cousin you’ve never heard of coming around, asking for money), and that’s it. If you start telling everyone about this, people can get the impression you just want the money. A way to avoid the stigma of being that type of plaintiff, even if it’s unfairly placed upon you, is to talk to your friends and family about what type of problems you are having, what your life has been like since the accident, or even just telling them you are trying your best to move on but there are somethings that just are not the same anymore since the accident.
The only other thing you should never do is exaggerate your symptoms to your doctor or your friends. Insurance companies love to hire people to follow you around to make sure you really are injured. If you’ve been injured in an accident, there is a good chance you will be followed by someone with a video camera spying on you. They will show very edited clips of you doing your daily chores outside, or perhaps following you while you go shopping, all in an attempt to show you are not really all that injured. The insurance company will argue that if you are healthy enough to go grocery shopping then you surely cannot be injured, or something close to that absurd, all in an attempt to keep more of the money they’ve received as premiums from going to you. You see, every dollar they spend investigating you can save them hundreds or thousands of dollars when it comes to settle the case. The best thing they can do is make you look bad in front of a jury, because jurors sure don’t want to reward someone who looks like they are faking it in any way. But that’s the funny thing about juries, they love to say you get nothing because you didn’t look injured in that heavily edited video taken by the man who is paid to stalk you by the insurance company, but then they also love to hold it against you for complaining too much about all the problems you’ve had and that you are unable to get your life back together since the accident. You can be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
This feels like it may be getting a bit off track, but I’m trying to help you all understand what you are up against when you’ve been injured in an accident that’s not even your fault. And what I’ve told you above is only the start of what trouble you will likely face if you decide to, gasp, bring a lawsuit against the other driver for the mere fact he or she broke your leg or injured your neck. As Rick pointed out in his blog, there has been a coordinated effort by the insurance industry to brainwash people to be unsympathetic towards innocent injured plaintiffs by telling jurors and everyone that it will hurt them personally if they give an award of damages, even though it’s not true. Why do you purchase insurance if you don’t think that people deserve to be compensated when you’ve been negligent, that’s the only point of insurance. When you are negligent and hurt someone else, you have insurance there to compensate the injured person because you cannot afford to do it with your own money. When you advocate for no award of compensation to an injured person, what you are saying is that the insurance company should keep the money you’ve paid them for years, money they took from you for the sole purpose of providing compensation if you negligently injure someone. I can tell you that if you get injured one day, the insurance company won’t tell you that you did a good job by not giving someone a jury award, and that since you’ve been a good boy or girl, here’s your money. That won’t happen, no way, no how. If you don’t think people should be compensated for their injuries, then you should not come crying to an attorney that life’s unfair because you’re not one of those people whose only out for the money. In the eyes of the insurance industry, anyone who is trying to get compensation for an injury that’s not their fault is one of those people, no exceptions.
As a final note on what can be helpful to your potential case, please remember to not only follow up with your doctors, but do what they ask you to do. When you are injured and off work, you may be required to do home exercises in addition to the therapy you do at a medical building. Make sure you do your home therapy and keep track of what you are doing at home, including how many days you did the exercises, how long, etc. This will help bolster your claim that you are complying with your doctors treatment, and it has the added bonus of helping to improve your physical condition. Also, try not to worry about what impact a speedy recovery or a long recovery will have on your potential claim. It’s understandable you want to make sure you are being helpful with the case, but I can tell you that I am much more concerned about my clients actually getting better than I am that they got well too soon. In many cases, my clients will see an improvement in their quality of life after treatment, but none of them will ever be the same again. Trying to figure out the best way to recover from the accident and how it affects your potential claim is not something you should be concerned about, it’s the reason you hired an attorney in the first place. If you knew how to handle a claim from start to finish, you wouldn’t need an attorney as you’d do it all yourself. Do your best to trust that your attorney has your best interests in mind and is doing everything he or she can to put together the best case possible, but don’t do it blindly. Make sure to ask questions if you don’t understand what is going on with your case or you are confused what to do next, that’s another reason why you’ve hired an attorney, to help the process make sense.
Disclaimer: this article is not specific legal advice but is a general legal guide. This is never a substitute for specific legal advice about what to do if you were in a car accident and received personal injuries. Seek out a qualified legal opinion if you have any questions about your own particular circumstances.