WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES IN MY PERSONAL INJURY CASE?
Now that we have discussed the contract, the statement of client’s rights and the issue of cost, it is very important that you understand the issues involved in personal injury cases. The issues involved in any personal injury case start with the damages and the potential areas of recovery. Those are basically broken up into two parts. The first part is called economic damages. What economic damages are, they have basically broken up into two parts themselves, the first being wage loss and second being medical cost. They call those economic damages because there is a precise dollar amount that can be attributed to each one of those areas of loss.
The first area is wage loss. Wage loss is exactly that, the amount of work and income that you lost as a result of your injury and also your loss of ability to earn money in the future. This would include things like raises that you would otherwise get that you are not going to be able to get now because your injuries prevent you from doing your job as well you did before, or cost of living increases that you are not going to get, or things that are pretty case specific that we will talk about in your case. But it is important that you understand that wage loss is a very, very important part of your claim because juries very often feel that if a person is not missing work that they are not really hurt that badly and we know that that is not necessarily true. The majority of us have to work, whether we are hurt or not, and we need to address these issues. So, whether you go to work, whether you do not go to work if your doctor says that you should or you shouldn’t, but you have to go to work, we understand that and we encounter that situation all the time and we need to discuss that with you. But it is very important for you to understand that in the overall value of your claim, the issue of wage loss is going to be an important factor.
The second factor in economic damages is medical bills. Medical bills in the past, meaning from the date of the collision when you got hurt until the date of your recovery, and then in the future from the time of either trial or settlement for the rest of your life. Obviously, these numbers can be very, very impressive and very, very significant. That is why the most important thing that you can do is to continue to treat with your doctor as necessary. If you are relatively young, the mortality tables these days show that you are expected to live to be about 83 or 84 years old, depending on your race and gender. That means that if you have, say, $10,000.00 a year in medical costs in the future in the event that your injuries are going to require to be paid, if you have a 30 or 40-year life expectancy, it turns into a great deal of money. The important part for you to remember is that if you are not treating as necessary, a jury is much less likely to award future medical bills because you are not treating the way you should treat now. Now we are not suggesting that you should treat when you don’t need it, but we are suggesting that when you do need to treat with medical providers, it is very important that you do so for two reasons. The first reason is you need to get better and you need to document what your injuries are. As a human being, you need the treatment. Secondly, as far as your case goes, it is the documentation upon which the value of your case is determined. So, it is very important to understand two things with regard to economic damages: It is comprised of wage loss and medical bills. Both of those need to be documented. If you have to go to work but you are injured, and it hurts you to work, it is fine. We understand. We do not expect you to sit home and lose your home if you simply cannot do that. However, it is important that you let people at work know that you are hurting, that you are trying to do your job the best that you can in spite of the adverse consequences resulting from your injuries. Again, it is so important for you to understand as far as medical bills go that the medical bills are one of the most important factors in determining the overall value of your case and so you simply must treat as necessary. This is the most important part of your case.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PRESENT MY CASE TO A JURY?
Let’s talk for a moment about the importance of presentation of your case. Presentation is everything. And we’ve already talked about the rule of four, which tells us that there are four ways to present every aspect of your case: testimony, documentation, photographs, and videotape. We know that videotape is the best way, photographs next, documentation next, and finally, testimony. So, every aspect of your case we need to put through this inquiry of can we prove this aspect of your case through the most important and persuasive means possible. We present every case, with your permission, with a company called The Big Picture. The Big Picture comes in and they digitize all of our evidence, and they put it in a computer presentation called PowerPoint. And we show on a big screen, instead of telling the other side, and telling the jury about your case, we show your case. It’s much more persuasive to do so. It costs several thousands of dollars, as you can understand, to implement this technology, but we certainly think that the cost is far outweighed by the benefit. So, we need to talk to you about the rule of four, and the presentation, especially with regard to before and after witnesses. What are they? A before and after witness is exactly that. It’s a person who knows you before this collision, knows you after this collision, and can best tell a jury how it affects you as a human being. This person has no stake in the lawsuit, has no stake in the outcome. Unlike you, when you get on the stand and you tell the jury how this has affected you, you’re also asking for a great deal of money. And juries necessarily should weigh that in determining your credibility, just as they weigh the defendant’s credibility in saying you’re not really hurt that badly. They have a stake in that story as well. So, what we try to do is bring in three or four what we call before and after witnesses, that again can show the jury through photographs, through documentation, awards, memberships in church or civic organizations, anything that shows that you as a unique human being, as to how this injury affects you as a human being, when it comes to pain and suffering and loss of the enjoyment of life and mental anguish. Remember that it is very, very important that you do the following: Always tell the truth. We don’t suggest that you would consciously do otherwise, but sometimes people don’t pay attention, they don’t think about the past, and say, you know what, I’ve never had a back injury before, forgetting that 10 or 15 years ago they did have a back injury. The problem is that if we don’t know that, we can’t present that to the other side in a way that protects your interests and it makes you look like you’re not telling the truth or you’re concealing information, when truly you’re not. But again, once that mistake is made, juries are very, very suspicious of people bringing personal injury actions. So, if the defense is successful in making you look sneaky or making you look like you’ve concealed a fact or not told the truth, it’s devastating to a claim. So, it’s very, very, very important that you answer questions very, very carefully, and if you’re ever asked, have you ever had a back problem, or ever had a neck problem, ever means ever. And you need to think about that very, very carefully.
IS MY CASE REALLY UNIQUE?
Finally, and most importantly, you must understand that the most important part of your case is you. It’s important that you help us present you in your case. We know that juries don’t like plaintiffs in lawsuits. Nobody likes plaintiffs in lawsuits. Nobody likes lawsuits. But people do like human beings. And people with families. And people with stories. And people with family members who care about them and with whom they interact on a daily basis. People that are active in their church, or Little League, or synagogue or community Rotary Club. Anything along those lines that people can relate to. So, it’s important that you give us the information we can present you as the unique human being that you are. We’re never going to get a jury to care about a plaintiff in a lawsuit. What we can do is get a jury to care about you. The essence of you. And that’s why you’re going to be provided with a form and we’re going to ask you a lot of questions about church organizations that you may belong to, civic organizations, Rotary Club, Little League, whatever. There are a thousand and one different life interests that people have out there. What are your passions? Running, photography, reading, going to the beach, are you helping with any volunteer organizations? These are the kind of things that define us as human beings individually. And it’s crucially important – and in fact, there is nothing more important in your case, than being able to present you as the unique individual person that you are. So, it’s crucial that you understand all of these issues with your personal injury lawsuit, they are all important, there’s none more important than being able to present you as the individual that you are. If you have any questions, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help you. This is what we do, day in and day out. If there’s anything that we can do to help make any of these issues more understandable, pick up the phone, come see us, we’re here for you. Thank you.
WHAT ABOUT THE NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES I HAVE INCURRED?
As we just reviewed, damages are broken up into two major categories. The first category is economic damages, which is wage loss and medical bills. The second main category of damages are what are called non-economic damages, or what we call human damages. Non-economic damages are comprised of categories such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of the enjoyment of life, inconvenience, significant scarring, aggravation of a pre-existing condition. And this can be a tricky part of an automobile personal injury claim, and here is why. The law in the State of Florida is that in an automobile claim – if you’ve been hurt in an automobile accident, you are not entitled to non-economic damages, any of these categories. Pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life. You are not entitled to any of those unless you have suffered a permanent injury. So, what is a permanent injury? A permanent injury is when you have healed as much as you’re going to heal. It’s called maximum medical improvement and you’re not back to where you were before. If you’re pain free in your back or your neck or your shoulder or wherever your injury is before this collision, and you’ve gone through the medical treatment with the medical providers, and the doctors have placed you at what is called maximum medical improvement, meaning you’re basically as good as you’re going to get, and you’re not back to wherever it was you were before this collision, then you can submit your claim to a jury that you’ve suffered a permanent injury from this collision. If a jury finds that you have not suffered a permanent injury, then you’re not entitled to anything for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of the enjoyment of life, inconvenience, significant scarring, aggravation of a pre-existing condition. You would still be entitled to your economic damages, which is wage loss, in the past and in the future, and the medical bills, in the past and in the future. So, it’s very, very important again to treat with your doctor and let your doctor know the truth about your injuries. And remember this: When you’re treating with your doctor, your doctor needs to put your complaints in the record. There’s an old saying under the law which is, if it’s not in the medical records it didn’t happen. And what that means is this. I like to compare trial lawyers are like professional gamblers. And like every professional gambler, we’re only as good as the hand of cards that we’re dealt. And as far as trial lawyers go, our hand of cards is made up of your medical records. And if it’s not in those medical records, we can’t play those cards. So again, it’s very important that you tell the truth and we’re not for a moment suggesting that you’re not always completely truthful with all medical providers. And we will talk more about that in just a few minutes. But it is important that you not just tell your doctor that you are in pain, but how you are in pain. What kind of pain is it? Is it electric pain? Does it radiate down your extremities? Is it a throbbing pain? Does it change later in the day from earlier in the day? Whatever the truth is, it is very important that you tell your doctors because your doctors have to put that in the records for us to be able to use that information to your benefit in your legal case. And once again, if the jury finds that you have not suffered a permanent injury as a result of this collision, then we are not entitled at all to any of the non-economic damages, which again are pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, inconvenience and aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
Now, why do they call those non-economic damages? They call those non-economic damages because if your case goes to trial, and we work every case as if it is going to trial because we know that is how to get the most value for your case, and I will explain to you in a few more minutes why that is. But the point is, is that we know in working cases up for trial that the non-economic damages are hotly contested by opposing counsel and by insurance companies because they add up to potentially millions and millions of dollars. Why? Because each one of these categories is separate and distinct. And the judge will read an instruction to the jury that there is no precise formula that a jury has to use when determining non-economic damages, that the damages should be awarded by whatever is fair and just in light of the evidence. So, we will suggest an hourly figure and if you say $5.00 an hour for pain and suffering and another $5.00 an hour for loss of enjoyment of life and another $5.00 an hour for mental anguish, and as you go down the list, and then however many hours a day times 365 days a year times how many years in your life expectancy, you can see that this can add up to a great deal of money. So, this issue of permanent injury or not is hotly contested by insurance companies and they know how to fight and, so it is very, very important that you understand the concept that even whether or not you have a permanent injury, even if you do not have a permanent injury, you are still entitled to your economic damages, which is your medical bills and your wage loss, but you would not be entitled to any of the non-economic damages. It is very important that you understand this critical aspect of your case and if you do not, ask us questions.
WILL MY CASE GET SETTLED OR GO TO TRIAL?
We know that one of the primary issues that you have in your mind is settlement versus trial. What is the likelihood that my case is going to be settled as opposed to what is the likelihood that it is going to be tried? We know that statistically, most cases settle. However, it is important that your case be ready to be tried to get the maximum value for your case. Why is that? Well stop and think about it; if you are an insurance company, would you pay the full value of a claim to a person who you know was not going to take the case to trial? Why would you? There is no reason to. There are only two ways to resolve a claim; one is through a settlement and the other is through trial, and if you know that a person is represented by a lawyer who is not going to take the case to trial ever, why would you ever pay full value for it? So, we know that to get you the full value of your case, we have to treat every case, including yours, as if it is going to trial. We need to let the other side, the insurance company, know we are ready, willing and able to take your case to trial. We do it routinely and we win. That is how we get you value for your case. Therefore, you need to know that number one, every case is prepared for trial. That is why throughout this video, you have heard me talking about jurors, jurors, jurors because we prepare every case to go in front of a jury. That does not mean that every case does and in fact, most cases do not. But again, to get you full value, we have to prepare for trial. In this area, the State of Florida, every case that is brought has to go to what is called mediation. And what that is, is soon before your case is scheduled for trial, we will sit down with a court-approved, the court ordered mediator and we present our side of the case, the insurance company presents the defense in the case, and we go into a negotiation. And if the case is settled at that point, it is over with and you can get your money and get on with your life and if not, we move on to trial. We are finding that about 80% of the cases these days are settled at mediations, so mediation is a big deal and we need to be ready. That means that your case has to go through the discovery phase, depositions have to be taken, documents have to be sought and prepared, we prepare a presentation through PowerPoint and computers to more effectively and persuasively present your side of the case and if the case is settled, that is fine and if not, we are ready to go to trial.
It is important that we discuss something called a proposal for settlement. A proposal for settlement is a document that is filed either by the plaintiff, your lawyer, or the defense, the insurance company’s lawyer, which offers a specific amount of money to settle your case. The important part of this process is that you understand that if the proposal is not accepted, there is a punishment if you do not get a certain amount of money from the jury. Let me explain how this works. If a defendant were to offer you $10,000.00, say, to settle your case, you have 30 days within which to accept or reject that offer. If you accept, the case is over, you get your $10,000.00 within 20 days and that is the end of the case. If you do not accept it, it is automatically rejected at the end of 30 days and here is the catchy part: If you take your case to trial and you do not get at least a final judgment of at least 75% of the offer, then you have to pay their attorney’s fees and costs from the time that they made the offer forward. For instance, if they offer $10,000.00 and you do not get at least $7,500.00 in a final judgment, then you would have to pay the attorney’s fees and costs, which would be way more than that at the end of the case. That is obviously very, very serious.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON ISSUES WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES?
Let us talk about some other issues, issues such as surveillance. Very often, insurance companies will put you under surveillance. Now it is not our intention to make you paranoid and we tell all of our clients you always live a lawsuit around your life, you do not live your life around a lawsuit. By having said that, these insurance companies have been known to do some pretty dramatic and, quite frankly, some pretty nasty things. I had one case where they intentionally dropped money at this man, who was a plaintiff in a lawsuit, at his car and then sat in a van and waited for him to come out and then took video of him as he bent over picking up the money to show that he could bend his back. Again, juries are very suspicious and sometimes these surveillance films completely destroy a case even if they show the plaintiff doing things that we never said they could not do. Again, juries are conditioned to be suspicious. So, very few moments in time on a surveillance tape can be very, very devastating so you need to be aware of that.
Very often, there are new injuries. What are new injuries? You are in another accident. It is not your fault. You are sitting at a stop light and somebody comes and runs into the back of you. Again, it is important that you let us know that right away because medically, that can be managed so it can be documented how much your injuries have been made worse by the new collision or the new injury, slip and fall, however it happens. But you have to let us know that and we have to get you back into the document who, of course, is the expert that can best tell the jury and show the jury through medical illustrations and medical records how your injury has been exacerbated by each mechanism of injury.
Do not discuss your case with people. The more valuable your case, the more likely it is that people are going to be jealous of you. Very often, people get mad, neighbors, friends; they want what they want, or they get jealous, or they want a piece of it or they are just mad that it is not them that are in the spotlight. The point is, the best way not to have to explain away a comment can be made in the fact is not to make your comment to begin with, unless it is to us, your attorneys, or your doctors; just do not discuss your case. It is best not to.
One of questions we get asked a great deal of the time has to do with working out. I have been an exercise freak my whole life. I go to the gym my whole life. I have been a runner my whole life. I love to run. That is one of things that brings me joy. Should I go to the gym anymore? My doctor says that I should go to the gym and exercise, but I am afraid they are going to have me under surveillance. What should I do? The answer is you have to be very, very careful. We are not going to suggest that you change your life, other than it has already been changed. At the same time, understand that if an insurance company sends a private investigator into your gym and gets videotape of you lifting weights, which has happened to my clients before, it is devastating to your case. So you have to use your common sense. Again, doctors will tell that you need to work out and exercise. At the same time, you have to be aware that most of the jurors that are going to be sitting in that jury pool, they do not exercise on a regular basis and they are going to be asking themselves, “How badly is this person really hurt when they go to the gym three times a week?” Again, we are not telling you not to do it, we are telling you that we need to have the discussion on these issues because they are very important issues and what could be really a very small collateral matter when it comes to trial of your case can play a very large role in how a jury determines your case.
HOW DO I MANAGE MY MEDICAL ISSUES?
Next, we need to talk about medical management. What medical management is, is simply who are the doctors that you are going to treat with for you injuries, when you are going to treat with them, how are they determined? Well, that is very case specific, and it depends on the nature of your injuries. If you have neck or backaches as a result of the collision or the trip and fall or the mechanism of injury, that is different than if you have radiating pain or electric type pain, so it is very, very case specific. It is not unusual for people to treat with a chiropractor and at the same time, treat with a neurologist and at the same time, treat with a pain management doctor. It just depends on the nature and scope of your injuries. It also depends, again as we talked about before, on pre-existing conditions. If you have been treated for an area of your body before, it is very important to go back to that doctor because that doctor is the best doctor to be able to document and show a jury the difference in your condition before and after the collision. Remember that the value of every case is determined by the medical records. Therefore, we have to make sure that you are not only getting good medical treatment for you as a human being, but you are getting good medical treatment from a doctor who is not anti-lawsuit, or anti-lawyer, or anti-litigation and will not do or say anything, maybe inadvertently, to hurt your case. So, the choice of a doctor is very, very important and primarily important, obviously, is for you to get the treatment you need as a human being, but your case is also important. Remember, if it is not in the medical records, it did not happen. I cannot tell you how many times we lawyers, we visit with you and you come in and you tell us about this problem you are having or that problem that you are having and it is very real and it is very legitimate, and then we get your medical records in and none of it is in your medical records. Again, what we use in our hand of cards are those medical records to determine the value of your case. So it is very, very important to pay attention to the choice of physicians, and it is also important that you do not miss any treatment sessions. This is so important because when this case gets going and we get into the discovery phase, the insurance company is going to subpoena all your medical records and if you do not go to the doctor and you miss a treatment and you miss an appointment, that goes down in your chart; patient is a no-show. Well, I am sure you can understand it is awfully hard to convince a jury that you are really in pain every day and you really have these horrible medical problems as a result of this crash when you do not even go to the doctor when you are supposed to. So, it is very, very important that you treat as necessary and that you make those appointments. If you have to miss an appointment, it is okay. Just call the doctor and ask them to put in your chart the reason why you cannot make it that day and reschedule your appointment.
Medical management is one of the more crucial parts of your case and if you have any questions about your doctor or any hesitation whatsoever, it is important that you ask us immediately.
WHAT ABOUT PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS?
One of the most important part of your case is, is whether or not you have a pre-existing condition in the area of your body that has been injured by this collision. We simply call that pre-existing conditions. Why is that so important? Because insurance companies will blame everybody in the world for everything other than themselves. They will blame the collision on other people, they will blame the collision on you, and if they cannot blame the collision on you, then what they will do is they will say you’re really not hurt that badly and if you are hurt, it is all pre-existing.
So, what is the best way to refute this kind of argument is to show through evidence what your life was like before this collision and what your medical condition was like before this collision, as opposed to after this collision. So, we are going to get for you all of your medical records from all of your treatment providers before this collision and after. It is very important that if you had a back condition, or a neck condition, or really a physical condition of any kind, and that has been exacerbated or aggravated or made worse by this collision, you need to go back to your previous doctor because really, nobody is better than that doctor of being able to tell the jury and show the jury to determine and document through testimony, documentation, medical records, photographs and videotape the nature of extent of how your pre-existing condition has been aggravated.
There is actually a specific instruction to a jury that tells a jury how to deal with an aggravation of a pre-existing condition. And what that instruction is, is that a jury is to determine if they can from the evidence the degree to which your injury has been made worse by this collision and you are to be compensated for that aggravation only. However, if the doctors can’t really tell the difference between before and after this collision and how it has affected your injury, then you are entitled to be compensated for your entire injury. But it is very, very important that we understand this, that we understand that you have had a previously existing condition so that we can alert the doctors. There is nothing more devastating than to have your doctor on deposition, who for the first time when the insurance company is taking his deposition, is told, “Well did you know they had a back injury before,” and the doctor says, “No, I did not know about that.” “Well, would that change your opinion?” And, of course, he’s got to say, “Sure it would change my opinion if they have had injuries before.” So, it is very, very important that you let us know and that you let your doctors know whether or not you have had a pre-existing condition and then we can deal with it effectively.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE ISSUE OF HOW I GOT INJURED?
An extremely important part of your case is what’s called the mechanism of injury, meaning how did you get hurt? If it is a car accident case, how did the car accident happen? Was it a rear-end collision? Was it a side-to-side collision? Is liability or fault going to be an issue in the case? It depends on each case and each case is case specific on its facts. However, one thing that is very important in every case is property damage. The property damage to your case is a huge portion of our claim. Why? Because juries we know are extremely prejudiced against low property damage cases. In other words, if we go into court with a case that where the facts show that the car only had $500.00 worth of damage, we know that it is much less likely, regardless of what the doctors say and regardless of what the wage loss claim is and regardless of what the medical bills are and regardless of what the MRIs or x-rays show, we know that that case is extremely hard to get full value out of because jurors are prejudiced against cases where there is not much property damage. Even sometimes there is property damage of $3,000.00 or $4,000.00, but a lot of that property damage is under the car where it is not readily visible. And what will happen, is insurance companies will come into court and they will have pictures that show your vehicle and they just do not look that bad. Why do they do that? Because they know that jurors are affected by it. So, it is very important that we properly document the property damage of your case because that is going to be a very, very important aspect of the mechanism of injury.
It is also important that we talk to any witnesses that were there that may have been also been injured, if it was a multi-car collision. Even though they would not necessarily be our client, they could be very, very important witnesses to your behalf if they also were injured. So, it is very important that we document everything. Remember, there are several ways to present evidence in cases. We call it the rule of four, and the rule of four is that there are four ways to present evidence in a personal injury case.
The first way is through testimony. You get on the stand and you testify as to what happened, what the injuries are. We know that testimony is the least effective way of persuading a jury. Documentation; that is anything in writing. Believe way more, as much as 400,000 times more of what they read than what they hear. So, it is very important that we document things. That is a much more impressive way to present a case to a jury than just mere testimony. Okay? What is better than testimony and documentation? Photographs. There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. That is so true, and it is especially true in the courtroom. People believe photographs more than they believe testimony, more than they believe documentation. They believe photographs because they are actually looking at the evidence. And what is more important and more persuasive than photographs? Videotape. This is very, very important when it comes to pre-existing injuries and what your life was like before this collision that we are here about. I am going to talk about that in just a few minutes.
So, with every aspect of your case: damages, mechanism of injury, future damages, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, every aspect of your case, we need to ask ourselves and we need to work with you on what can we prove simply by testimony as opposed to what we can prove through documentation, as opposed to what we can prove through photographs, as opposed to what we can prove through videotape as to every single aspect of your case. It is very important that you understand that this is the best way to present your case and we want to present all aspects of your case through the most persuasive evidence possible.