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Needlessly Walking the High Wire: Risks Clients Take with Their Personal Injury Claims - Part 1

Posted by: Chad Hemmat | Thursday, December 30, 2010 | 0 Comments | Back to Personal Injury Blog

During the holiday season, some folks' emotions start to run out of control. Sometimes they can become reckless. This can involve overspending, over-eating, abuse of drugs, abuse of alcohol, and more. Sometimes people who have been injured also become overly emotional and take needless risks, which we will discuss herein.  Over the next two weeks, I will identify 10 reckless types of choices we often see and encourage you not to go down the same path.  This blog will detail the first five.

Some of these reckless choices may seem obvious, outrageous, and even silly. However, I assure you that the following are all actual examples of client behavior. At the outset, while some of the 10 types of situations are simply stupidity-based, most involve dishonesty. To that end, your mother was right, honesty is the best policy. This is particularly true when you are filing a claim and trying to get to a resolution with an insurance company.

LESSON 1: DON'T TELL THE INSURANCE COMPANY THAT YOUR INJURIES HAVE PREVENTED YOU FROM WORKING WHEN YOU ACTUALLY ARE ABLE TO WORK:

Some years ago a client injured on the job took the initiative to study and get his real estate license. Unfortunately, while earning a living as a realtor, the client continued to sign documents confirming that he remained unable to work. This worked, and he continued to get his temporary insurance wage benefits for an additional couple of years. However, one day a man from the insurance company happened to drive by a bus bench with the client's face on it. The bus bench identified that the man was "the top earning real estate agent" in that particular region. The client was confronted with his untruthfulness, but he never seemed to understand why the insurance company began a criminal insurance fraud investigation.

The lesson here is that signing papers from the insurance company claiming not to be able to work when you are, in fact, working, is extremely reckless behavior which can tank your entire case.

LESSON 2: DON'T CLAIM YOU CAN'T DO THINGS THAT YOU GET CAUGHT DOING ON SURVEILLANCE:

I had a client that was so disabled by a motor vehicle collision that he was unable to even resume his desk job. Legitimately, he had multiple back surgeries. So you can image my surprise when I received the insurance company surveillance detailing my client's 3 straight full day efforts at re-sodding his entire front and back lawn. We are talking about a large sod cutter, wheel barrel, and lots of lifting with his legs and back.

I had a client caught on video once leaving the insurance company's one-time doctor visit while jogging. The problem was that she walked in the clinic limping.

I had a client detail in her deposition that due to her accident she couldn't lift either arm above her waist. She clarified that she does "nothing all day," and that she never drove her car or shopped for her family anymore because of the pain. Again, you could have knocked me over when I got the surveillance footage days after her deposition showing her driving, shopping at garage sale, and using her hands to wipe off a dusting of snow on her windshield of her very high Suburban SUV.

The lesson here is to be truthful in your presentation. The insurance company has the support and money to sift out fraudulent claims. So, cut out any bull in your claim. Nothing is worse than being caught on video.

LESSON 3: DO NOTHING IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE THAT YOU WOULD NOT WANT A JURY IN JUDGMENT TO SEE

A lawyer friend of mine was trying a personal injury case. One of the issues was whether the injured person (a little old lady as I recall) was being truthful in her claimed need for continued care and medication. Invariably, the insurance defense attorney was trying to paint her as a malingerer and a prescription junkie. It is a very tired argument that the insurance defense attorney will usually argue if they can't find anything else to say.  The trial had lasted several days, and the plaintiff had already testified and by all accounts, trial was going well for her.

However, the wheels fell off the bus on the last day of trial. All that was left was the lawyers' closing arguments and then the jury had to go back and decide their verdict. Understand that though the trial had gone on for four days, it meant a year or more of careful preparation and scheduling of this lady's case to get it to the brink of a seemingly successful outcome. As the participants were returning to the Denver courthouse after a lunch break, the plaintiff was going through the metal detector and her purse suddenly was identified as having suspicious canisters in it.  As the security guard began the process of going through this lady's purse, with at least 3 jurors in line to go through the detector and watching very intently, security pulls out 3 unopened beer cans from this old lady's purse. While this might be a slap on the wrist at a Bronco game, it meant "check mate" for this lady's claim that she wasn't a junkie.

This little oversight resulted in a mistrial of the case, and ultimately, a very small settlement some months later.

The lesson here is that it is imperative that you keep your demons in check--at the very least, until the jury makes its final deliberation on your case.

LESSON 4: AT ALL COSTS, AVOID LOOKING LIKE A DRUG SEEKING JUNKIE

Insurance companies and the attorneys who represent them love to find records that suggest "drug seeking" on the part of an injury claimant. If you think about it, it's really a perfect situation for the defense to brand any pain, procedure, and even a surgery, as not being motivated by the injury (caused be the negligent defendant) but as simply "a thirst for drugs." If a doctor thinks a plaintiff needs surgery, they say "nope, that's just an opportunity for her to get narcotics."

So, since we know that this is a perfect defense, it is critical that the client avoid AT ALL COSTS doing anything that might feed this defense.

On hundreds of occasions, I have read records where my clients are running from doctor to doctor getting narcotics. Each doctor believes they are the only ones dispensing drugs. Those clients end up with prescriptions totaling 4-5 times the amount of narcotics that would kill a horse.

Another trick is to bounce from the medical doctor back to the emergency room.  Most of my friends on the defense will usually send out medical releases to the 5-6 hospitals closest to my client's home. Believe me, they get amazing stuff even when the client doesn't own up to ever going to the emergency room.

Another really reckless action is when a client alters a prescription that says "5 vicodins," making it "25." That is a felony! To my knowledge, no junkie has ever gotten away with that maneuver.

The lesson here is if you are addicted to the narcotics, talk to your doctor about helping you. But taking any of the above actions will kill your case and possibly land you in jail.

LESSON 5: DENYING PARTS OF YOUR PAST NEVER WORKS AND WILL ALWAYS MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE A LIAR:

Over a nearly 20 year career, my clients have denied the occurrence of prior accidents, prior injuries, they have lied about the filing of tax returns, lied about graduate degrees they claimed they had, have lied about being a US citizen, and lied about where they were headed at the time of the accident, etc. For some reason, there is a type of client that seems to want to test the insurance company's ability to sniff out the truth. They have data banks, computers, investigators and plenty of time. They always find the truth. Being the "one trick ponies" that defense lawyers are, they will suggest to the jury "well, if he lies about this, what else might he be lying about?" It is one of their very common arguments. However, once you have been caught lying, you too will see how effective their one trick can be.  Remember that juries are conditioned to be skeptical of legitimate personal injury claims.  The jury is looking for a reason to not believe the plaintiff.

The lesson here is, first, don't lie. Second, don't try to lie. Third, if you find yourself lying know that you will get caught and your case will suddenly be about little else other than your level of truthfulness, and the value of your case will plummet.

Watch for next week's blog PART 2 detailing more poor client choices...

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