Before I begin, I want to confess that this is going to be a frank and honest discussion about your case. Let me warn you that this article is not for the faint of heart, because it is too important of a topic for me to mince words. The fact is that there are several types of cases, situations, and clients that my lawyers are trained to identify and reject. Like David Letterman, I compiled a list of the top 10 ways that people self-destruct otherwise perfectly good personal injury claims. This top ten list, in relative order from less egregious to more egregious, will hopefully serve as an eye-opener for present and future clients.
It is a fair bet that if you contact my office and detail one or more of the following circumstances, you will be gently and politely told that we probably can't help you unless you have some strong compensating factors (i.e. you were hit by a drunk driver or some equally compelling fact). In truth, if you have one or more of the following circumstances, like Tom Cruise said in the blockbuster "A Few Good Men," you probably don't need a lawyer, you need a priest.
10) Waiting Weeks To Seek Medical Attention:
If you look hard enough, you can find statistics claiming that a large percentage of individuals injured in motor vehicle crashes will experience little or no symptoms for up to 6 weeks after the crash. Not surprisingly, these types of statistics are usually found in pamphlets located in the office reception area of personal injury attorneys. However, do you know how many people actually believe that these statistics are true? Nobody believes they are true, not even the personal injury attorneys and chiropractors who made up these statistics.
As a trial attorney with 20 years of experience, I know all too well what I can and can't sell to a jury of your peers. I can say with certainty that if you were in a car crash and it took you weeks or months to recognize that you were hurt, you should not waste your time by bringing a personal injury claim. If it really took you 6 weeks to feel pain after a big crash, I'm afraid that you have much bigger problems than an insurance claim to worry about.
9) Treating Only with Chiropractors / Massage Therapists:
The following is a summary/combination of the answers that I receive from prospective clients when I ask them about the medical care that they received after an automobile accident. "I was injured a year ago and my care has been limited to chiropractic manipulation, shiatzu massages, acupuncture (administered by my chiropractor), and Rolfing, by some guy in saddles whose name I forget." I'm sorry-- you might be legitimately injured, but the choices you made for treatment are really….well….. Look, in the eyes of most juries outside of Woodstock, your case isn't worth the price of your ergonomic pillow. A few lawyers will take your case, but if you think they are going to score big money for you, you are kidding yourself.
8) Failing to Show Up for Doctor Appointments or Stopping Treatment For No Reason:
This one mystifies me the most. I often see victims of severe car crashes start their personal injury cases on the right foot by scheduling and attending an appointment with a good medical doctor. From there, these victims are referred to treat their injuries with a respected physical therapist. With appropriate care, in about 5 to 7 months, the doctors will be able to detail a meaningful prognosis, and these cases will usually settle for really good money.
However, in some cases, the client will discontinue their treatment for no reason and disappear off the face of the planet. Nothing tells the insurance company that you "ain't hurt" like suddenly quitting your care without a good reason. If you are injured but you don't want to actually get medical care, please don't waste your time, my time, and your doctor's time by bringing a claim against the insurance company. By prematurely ending your medical treatment for no reason, you just snatched defeat out of the hands of victory.
7) Focusing Your Claim on Post-Traumatic Disorder:
If there is a bigger "waste of time" diagnosis than this for a personal injury claim, I certainly haven't seen it. Generally, most jurors are going to associate PTSD with shell-shocked Vietnam Vets, not a salesman in a Chevy Cavalier who was involved in a minor fender-bender. While I acknowledge that PTSD is a very real malady, I honestly don't care what your shrink, Dr Sigmond Putz Ph.D, is telling you about "how real the trauma is to you." In a minor, fender-bender case, I can't sell this B.S. to any juror anywhere.
6) Telling Big Fish Stories
I often have clients that self-destruct their personal injury claims by trying to exaggerate the severity of their accident and the injuries that they received from that accident. For example, the police report says that the driver was rear-ended by a vehicle going less that 20 mph. At the hospital, my client tells the ER doctor, who of course records it in my client's medical records, that it was a 40 mph crash.
Months later, that same client visits an orthopedic surgeon and claims that the at-fault driver was going 50 mph when he rear-ended my client's vehicle. Insurance defense attorneys call these "big fish stories." More than anything, this sort of exaggerated storytelling makes the injury victim look like a liar. While telling a "big fish story" will not always be fatal to a case, it will undermine your credibility in front of a jury and cost you tens of thousands of dollars in your settlement or judgment.
5) Providing Doctors Alternative / Possible Reasons For Your Injuries:
This one is a gem. The rough-and-tumble macho guy walks himself into the ER days after a crash and tells the doctor, who promptly records it in their notes, that the crash from days ago might be why he's hurt, but of course he has to also say, "I do a lot of power lifting and nearly always lift with some degree of pain." Who are these guys trying to impress? They certainly aren't trying to impress me. In these types of cases, I suggest you take your case to a lawyer who knocks on people's doors with poster- sized checks. In all honesty, there is no better butt-kicking that a client can get than the one he gives himself.
4) Concealing Your Medical History:
Up until now, we have been largely focusing on ways that people involuntarily or unknowingly self-destruct their personal injury claims. Now, we are going to discuss the more deadly and voluntary ways that people destroy their claims by engaging in intentional deception. One of the quickest ways to self-destruct your case is to conceal or lie to your doctors, opposing counsel, and your own attorney about your medical history and prior injuries.
If you had neck and back injuries before a car crash that are well-documented by your prior doctors, but you lie by telling your current doctor that you have no prior neck and back injuries, and they record that in your file, your case is a goner. This is a trick that has never worked for any deceptive client that I have unknowingly (until the day their deception becomes clear) represented and it has always blown up in their faces. The doctor looks uninformed, the client looks like a liar, and a good case is now worth very little.
The truth is that juries hate drug addicts more than they hate negligent drivers. Sadly, this is true even if the drug addict became a drug addict because of the injuries that they suffered from a collision with a negligent driver. In any case, it doesn't matter because the jury will almost never, and I mean NEVER, award decent injury compensation money to a drug-seeker because they assume that they will just use that money to buy drugs.
Insurance companies know how to find out if you are a drug addict. They know the tricks that drug-seekers use to get drugs like rotating through multiple doctors and multiple pharmacies. Sometimes drug-seekers go to 5 or 6 different metro area emergency rooms and get drugs by claiming that they are suffering from "through the roof pain." Insurance companies discover drug seekers by sending medical releases to get your records from all of the local hospitals and pharmacies. Drug seekers always get caught, and once they are caught, their personal injury cases lose most of their value and are settled very cheaply in favor of the insurance company.
2) Cheating On Your Taxes- But Then Seeking Lost Wages:
Now, this form of intentional deception takes "real huevos." I am always amazed at how often I have to explain to people who don't file taxes or misreport their income--there I go again, trying to keep things nice--I mean tax cheats-- that they won't be able to make a claim for wage loss in their injury claim. I can always tell that I am going to have to prepare to have this special talk with a client when that client refuses to give me their tax return, but swears up and down that he can prove his income by showing me his W-2's, 1099's, or bank statements.
Here's the rule: If you want to claim lost wages in your injury claim, the only proof that insurance companies will accept are your tax returns. Juries dislike tax cheats (even if some of them are doing the same kind of cheating) almost as much as drug-seekers. If I learn in advance that you are seeking a wage loss claim, but you didn't file your taxes, I promise that your claim for wage loss will never see the light of day. Furthermore, by advice of your counsel, you will be pleading the Fifth Amendment a lot during your painfully long deposition.
1) Being a Jerk:
Should I be more specific? Sure, okay. The number one way to ruin your case is to do anything that demonstrates that you are a "loose cannon," arrogant, not likable, or maybe just a prick. The type of behavior that I am referring to would include threatening the other driver at the scene of the accident, being nasty in the emergency room to doctors and nurses, acting unappreciative of your doctors or therapists, being difficult in the insurance doctor's exam, acting like an A-hole in your deposition, and/or yelling during your court-ordered settlement conference.
First, this sort of conduct is ALWAYS written down and recorded by someone. Second, and most importantly, insurance companies and their lawyers know that juries dislike jerks even more than they dislike drug-seekers and tax cheats. You should assume that if you were acting like a jerk on a couple of occasions during your medical care or during the litigation of your case, it is likely that your case won't settle, and it is also likely that when your case goes to trial, you will lose or get very little.
Over the years, I have found that many well-intentioned plaintiffs simply do not understand how certain actions are perceived by an insurance company. I hope this blog has been informative and will help you avoid the pitfalls that self-destruct a personal injury case. For those intentionally deceptive plaintiffs, while our firm does not want to represent those people, maybe this blog will deter them from engaging in such conduct. If you have been in an accident and are legitimately injured, call us today for a free consultation.