You were recently in an accident – that’s too bad and I’m sorry to hear that. Then you hired a very good lawyer (hopefully our firm) to fight for YOUR rights – congratulations!
Now you are a plaintiff in a lawsuit – it’s time to “help your lawyer help you.”
What do I mean by “help your lawyer help you?” Let me explain. When you have an accident and your lawyer starts a lawsuit, the insurance company that is representing the defendant puts a bullseye on your back. They hire a lawyer to fight for THEIR rights, not YOURS. The lawyer for the insurance company has a duty to defend their client to the best of their abilities.
As they review the file, they will try to find every weakness, in either your case, your life, or your character . . . and defense lawyers have great resources. Once they know your social security number and date of birth, they will go to town, researching your health, accident and criminal history. They will then demand authorizations from your lawyer, which we have to provide, for all your records relating to what their investigation turned up. Soon they will have an intimate accounting of your entire life.
As a result, you as the plaintiff must prepare, as the Marines say, to: “Be the Best that You Can Be.” To do that, follow the guidelines below, and read the explanations:
An insurance company pays you on your bodily injuries and those injuries effect on your life. They are suspicious of all plaintiffs, and you need to paint the most accurate picture of what is ailing you in order to get the most money.
- Get medical treatment as soon as possible: I have clients that don’t see a doctor for five weeks following an accident, because they claim they were busy at work. An insurance defense attorney will say “how badly hurt could you have been hurt if you waited that long for treatment?”
- Tell your doctor how you were hurt: If you hurt yourself falling and then tell your doctor “my back started hurting recently,” without mentioning the fall, a lawyer will question whether the injury is from this accident.
- Tell your doctor specifically what is ailing you: If you see your doctor after an accident and complain only of back pain, and then six weeks into treatment tell him your knee really hurts, nobody will believe the knee injury is from this accident. So, give the doctors details of your injuries, your pain level and how the pain affects you, even if at first it is mild.
- Follow the doctor’s orders: If they tell you to do six weeks of therapy and you quit after 1 week, the doctor will write “patient failed to follow medical advice.” The insurance company will argue you would have healed if you listened to your doctor, and it’s your fault you didn’t heal.”
- Have your doctor give written, not verbal, orders “not to work”: Isn’t it better to argue that you missed 12 weeks of work per doctor’s orders, than to say “I didn’t feel like I was healthy enough to work?” In addition, if you are seeking lost wages, the notes greatly help.
- Don’t miss appointments: It demonstrates you don’t take your case seriously.
- Treat your doctor with respect: Your doctor, if they like you and sympathize with you, will likely write a better report and will typically be more willing to testify at your trial, about whatever disabilities you suffer from – this can make or break your case. So be nice, thank them and tell them they are appreciated.
Keep an accident journal
Lawsuits can take a long time and by the time you give testimony, your memory has largely faded. Saying “I can’t remember because it was such a long time ago” is useless. It’s your case, and by keeping a journal, you will refresh your memory before giving testimony and be a great witness. Here is what to put in your journal:
- Details about the accident: What was the weather like, was the traffic signal in your favor, how many lanes were on your road, how fast were you driving, did you try to avoid the accident? Did the driver give you an admission, such as “sorry, I was checking my texts?” If you fell at a restaurant, did the manager say, “you aren’t the first one to fall, these floors get so slippery?”
- Injury updates: Write down if the pain increases at night. Describe the pain, did the injuries prevent you from attending or having fun at your sister’s wedding, did you need family members to help you shower, grocery shop, etc.?
- Missed work: How much time did you miss from work? Did they put you on light duty? Did you lose overtime?
- Keep medical appointments, bills and receipts: It’s nice to be able to quickly say, “I saw Dr. Smith 72 times.” Also, part of your lawsuit involves reimbursement of expenses, so know what they are and be able to provide proof. You don’t want to forget that you spent $1,000 putting bars near your toilets and showers to give you more balance.
Preserve evidence and take photos
The more proof you have of an accident or injury, the more satisfied an insurance company or jury will be with your explanations and the more they will reward you
- Injury photos: By the time your trial comes about, your swelling has gone down, your cuts have turned to light scars and your cast has come off. Take photos every few days of your injuries from the accident until you are done healing. Jurors love photos of you with tubes coming out of all parts of your body, and that is when they pay big money. We live in a digital world, so if you take too many photos, you can always erase.
- Accident photos: Have a relative take them as soon as possible. Two years from now, an intersection will have a new building on the corner, scaffolds up, snow on the ground, and you won’t be able to properly describe how the accident happened.
- Keep evidence or at least photograph them: If you slip and fall, people will want to see your shoes. If your pants are covered with blood, they want to see the pants or pictures. It corroborates your story. If your bike was bent in half or your car was totaled, keep the bike or take pictures before the bike is tossed or the car repaired. This all bolsters your story and gets you money.
Make a good impression
No two people are the same. But, remember that your case will be before a jury, and that jury will have moms, elderly people, police officers, nuns and many other types of folk. Like it or not, they will judge you, so it’s your job to make them like you. The other team’s insurance carrier and lawyer will also be deciding during litigation if you will be liked, or disliked, by a jury, and the more you are liked, the more they will pay. Below are some suggestions:
- Your appearance matters: This is a big one. You don’t have to wear a suit to court but clean yourself up. Don’t wear a tank top or a shirt that says “I hate Democrats” – someone will be offended. I like to tell people “dress like you would for church.” Also, if you have body piercings or tattoos, cool, but not everybody identifies with that look. So, wear a long sleeve shirt to cover some up or remove a nose ring or don’t dye your hair blue the week you give testimony.
- Keep your cool: When a lawyer takes your testimony, how you answer is probably more important than what you say. If you easily lose your temper or have an obnoxious tone, they will write your case up as low risk to them and take their chances with a jury.
- Don’t curse or offend: This is also a big one – if you make a racial insult while describing the Hispanic police officer that arrested you, you will alienate every Hispanic juror, lawyer or insurance adjuster. You will lose the audience again dropping “F Bombs” or having foul language. Know your audience.
Exaggeration, surveillance and social media
Human beings are used to engaging in colloquial conversation and not being challenged. However, in a lawsuit, everything is questioned, and if you choose the wrong word or phrase, you destroy your credibility. For example:
- Exaggeration example – “Since the accident, I can’t walk”: Now, what you meant to say is “I have trouble walking” or “it hurts to walk.” Instead, you now set the defense lawyer up to destroy your testimony. He will do the following: “How did you get to Court today?” You answer, “I took the bus.” He says, “how did you get to the bus?” and you say, “I walked.” He says, “how far is your home from the bus?” and you say, “5 blocks,” and he closes the door with “so you can walk” and just like that, your credibility is erased.
- Surveillance: At some point before a trial, the defense will hire an investigator to tail you. Their goal is to catch you doing something you said you couldn’t do at your deposition. Let’s again take the example of “I can’t walk.” The investigator follows you for 20 blocks and gets you on film walking to the grocer and carrying grocery bags home. That’s not good for you. Or they catch you working on your roof or lifting weights at the gym. Be honest and be smart in your testimony.
- Social Media: You say at your deposition that you can’t travel anymore because your back is too stiff. Yet, there you are on Facebook, standing in Cancun, Mexico, smiling, tan, wearing a bathing suit and holding a rum punch. Is a jury going to reward you or give you no money as “tough love?” You know the answer.
Keep your lawyer in the loop
Clients don’t need to stay in touch with their lawyer every week, but we are not mind readers. You need to tell us about important changes in your life, so our file is accurate, and we can find you quickly. Here are some examples:
- I’m moving out of state
- I saw a new doctor
- I’m having surgery
- I switched jobs
Being a great plaintiff is hard work – it’s a job. If you earn $50,000 per year at your job, but your lawyer tells you that your injuries from your car accident might be worth $500,000 (so, 10 year’s salary), don’t you want to go the extra mile and help your lawyer make you a lot of money? Again, you know the answer.