When you become a plaintiff in a personal injury case, there are time-tested steps you can take to ensure your lawyer is able to secure for you the top dollar amount your accident and injuries warrant. Of course, each case is unique. Your personal injury attorney will guide you through the process and tailor the process to the facts and circumstances of your situation.
However, having represented countless injury victims over the years in motor vehicle accident, trucking accident and motorcycle accident litigation, I can say the following apply in most cases:
1. “Recorded Statements.”
Do not give a recorded statement to the insurance company. Hire a personal injury litigation attorney and let her or him make the determination as to whether and under what conditions you will provide a statement. Your attorney may decide to allow it under certain terms. If the case is likely to go into litigation anyway, he or she may decide such a statement would be a waste of time, as you will be giving a deposition in the near future anyway. Either way, do not let an insurance adjuster convince you such a statement is required of you. Only in special circumstances, such as fire losses, does an insurance policy require a person seeking compensation give a pre-litigation statement to an insurance representative. Even then, you have the right to have your lawyer with you during the questioning.
2. “Should you retain an attorney?”
In short, yes. You will almost always receive more if you retain an attorney after a motor vehicle accident, motorcycle accident or any accident. Why not make sure you are receiving all that you deserve by having a professional take care of your case for you?
3. “The gap in treatment” defense.
The “gap in treatment” argument has become cliché' jargon your attorney hears from the insurance company or their attorneys in personal injury cases. It goes something like this: “Your client was seen in the emergency room, followed up with her family physician a few days later, then waited two months before going to see an orthopedic surgeon. She must not have been hurt in the accident if she waited two months to obtain treatment.” Of course, this is nonsense. There can be any number of reasons an injured party is forced to wait on additional treatment. Family obligations, work obligations, financial stresses, insurance coverage issues and the availability of treatment in your area can all legitimately delay needed medical treatment.
Unfortunately, if such a “gap” in treatment can be shown in “black and white” in the medical records, at a trial or mediation in your case, the insurance company's attorney will always attempt to make a big deal out of it to diminish your damages. Remember, they want to pay you as little as possible no matter what. If you find this has occurred in your case, your attorney will make valid arguments that explain the “gap.” However, you can make your good case better by never permitting such a “gap” in the records. It is a good idea in general to have a family doctor or primary care physician. If you do not have one, get one. After you are hurt, go to your family doctor regularly while you are still in pain and having problems. Go once a week. Remember, you are honestly keeping a verifiable paper trail of your continuing problems. If for whatever reason, you need to wait on a procedure or surgery, or to be seen by a specialist, in the interim continue seeing your family doctor. Report to him or her what is going on. You are honestly and diligently obliterating the so-called “gap in treatment” defense. You are making your good case better.
4. “Client Medical History.”
When you first retain an attorney, you may be asked to fill out a questionnaire seeking various background information such as family history, work history and medical history. Try to be as thorough as possible in answering these questions. If you leave something out, call your attorney and tell him or her. Knowing ahead of time of any past medical treatment or conditions you have had will help your attorney prepare your case. The insurance company lawyer has the right to obtain this information and usually will. They will try to distort and twist prior medical conditions to make it seem as though your injuries were present before your accident to one degree or another. Do not hesitate to tell your attorney everything.
5. Take Pictures, and lots of them.
After your accident, you are in the unique position of documenting the damage to your vehicle and the injuries you sustained. Take pictures of both and save them. Jurors are visual creatures. If your attorney can introduce timely photographs of your injuries and damages at trial, it makes it easier for a jury to award you money.
6. Prepare For Your Deposition.
When your deposition is scheduled your attorney will meet with you once or perhaps several times to prepare for it. Follow his or her instructions and prepare for your deposition.
7. Come to the Other Depositions!
As the Plaintiff in your case, you have an absolute right to be present at all depositions in your case. Some or most of them may take place locally, so if you can make it, by all means come to these depositions with your lawyer. Typically the defendant will be deposed by your lawyer and possibly witnesses and others. When you are present at these depositions you are showing the insurance company you are very serious about your case. Also, if a witness or adverse party in a personal injury case is going to lie in their deposition about what happened that caused your injury, make them do so to your face. I have found it is much harder for an at-fault driver in a motor vehicle accident, motorcycle accident, trucking accident case or any case to lie when they would have to do so in my client's presence.
8. Be Careful What you Post on Facebook.
Nowadays insurance companies and their lawyers search Facebook and other social media sites for anything they can twist and distort to attempt to diminish your injuries. My advise is to not to post anything on Facebook while your case is pending. The most innocent photograph of you washing your car or grilling a burger on your day off could be manipulated against you by the insurance company.
9. Activities of Daily Living.
Activities of daily living are always impaired by injuries. Mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, picking up the kids after school, etc. are all more difficult when you are in pain. Keep a log or journal of these activities and how your injury has impacted them. These impairments of life-function drive value in cases because jurors can relate to them. They paint a picture of your injuries beyond the medical jargon contained in your medical records.
10. It is Worth It? Yes!
Litigation can take time. Â However, my experience shows putting effort and time into a case pays off. Don't be afraid to let your lawyer walk away from the insurance company's first, second or third offers. Be ready for the fight and it will pay off.