As a lawyer, there is only so much I can do. I'm not a magician. I can't take a horrible personal injury claim and make it into a good one. If a person calls our office months after an accident, my first concern is, "Why are they calling a lawyer so late in the game?" In most cases, the client has caused damage to their own case, and they think a lawyer is going to fix it.
Like a good coach, I'm only as good as my team. Phil Jackson is arguably a great NBA coach. However, if his players simply ran around the basketball court and did not follow his instructions or did not execute the plays they practiced over and over again, then his team is going to lose. It doesn't matter how good his coaching is.
There are many things that clients do that can ruin their personal injury case. Oftentimes, clients have no idea they are putting holes in their boat that will prove to be a problem later on. Then the boat sinks and the clients wonder why.
So here are some things people do that will almost always sink their personal injury case:
1) The client misrepresents how the accident has affected them. For example, during a consultation, the client says they can barely get out of bed, they can't work, they can't pick up their kids from school, etc. Given today's technology, insurance companies are eager to hire people to film you going about your daily life, picking up heavy groceries, going to the gym, playing ball with your friends, etc. Keep in mind this is an adversarial process. They are out to prove you wrong. In fact, that is their job. If you misrepresent matters to your lawyer, and the lawyer represents the same to the insurance company, then both you and your lawyer are going to be seen as untrustworthy. Also, be very careful of what appears on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media outlets that might be viewed as inconsistent with your claim. In some cases, you may not be the one posting harmful photos, but a friend or family member might be doing so. In short, do not act inconsistently with your claimed injuries.
2) The client fails to show up to medical appointments and/or has significant gaps in treatment. Insurance adjusters always use failures to show up for appointments and gaps in treatment as indications that your injuries aren't as bad as you say they are. Otherwise, you would show up to your doctor's appointments, and there wouldn't be such gaps in treatment. Also, when there are gaps, the adjuster may assume there must have been another injury that occurred during the gap. Remember, adjusters are generally looking for reasons NOT to pay you. Why should you make their life easier?
3) The client makes damaging statements to the doctor that show up in the medical records. For example, the client says they feel 100% better when in fact they don't. Or they don't mention an injury because "it's not a big deal." Why would a client say that? Sometimes, clients want to be "macho" or stoic in front of their doctors. I tell clients that even if they still have 10% pain, they must mention it to their doctor. Whatever you say to your doctor during your visits, assume you are speaking directly with the insurance adjuster who will, whenever given the chance, use your statements against you.
4) The client hides past medical issues or past injuries from the lawyer. So many times, clients have looked me in the face and told me they did not have any prior injuries or similar medical issues in the past. I have to believe them, so I represent the same to the insurance company. What clients may not know is that insurance adjusters have access to large nationwide databases, and clients should operate under the assumption that their past injury or past medical records will be found. How can your lawyer help you if you don't tell them the truth or deliberately hide information from your lawyer? A client came for a consultation to my office long ago, and I asked her about prior injuries. She said, "Why do you need to know that? How is that important?" Needless to say, I did not take the case. This client was going to be difficult from the start! Don't be difficult with your lawyer. They are on your side!
5) Along the same lines, some clients hide past accidents from their lawyer. Again, those will most likely be found by the insurance company. Your attorney often doesn't have easy access to the same databases, so you and your lawyer will look like fools when the insurance company finds your past accident(s).
6) The client refuses to hire a lawyer when their injuries are serious. Cases involving serious injuries require serious attention. Would you go river rafting without a guide in your boat? If you wait too long to hire a lawyer, you may already be doing things that are harming your case without even knowing it. As stated earlier, if you've done irreparable harm to your case, your attorney is only human - they can't magically make the mistakes go away!
7) The client gives too much information to the opposing insurance company. Don't talk too much at the beginning of your case. As noted elsewhere on this website, don't be eager to give a statement to the opposing insurance company. As the saying goes, "Whatever you say can and will be used against you...." Statements solicited from you by insurance companies are rarely designed to serve your interests. The insurance company is preserving its own interests. If you give them too much information, you may find yourself in a bind when some of that information turns out to be false or not entirely true. The biggest mistake I see in this regard is when clients say, "Oh, I'm not injured. I feel OK." Then a few days later, they don't feel so good as their body recovers from the impact. Then they bring an injury claim, and the insurance adjuster conveniently pulls out their recorded statement and whacks them on the head with it! In most cases, there is no exigency that requires showing your entire hand to the insurance company so early in the case. Talk to a lawyer about your options first.
8) If the client is injured at the scene, some make the mistake of not calling the police. Most insurance adjusters use the absence of a police report as evidence that no one was hurt. In other words, if someone was hurt, they would have called for the police.
9) Some clients fail to obtain information about the other party involved in the accident and fail to document other evidence of the incident. It is important to take photos of the damage, obtain names, addresses, phone numbers etc. Of course, that isn't always feasible, but when it is, failing to do so can harm your case. How can your attorney help you when you don't even know who the party at fault is? Your lawyer is not clairvoyant. The information is not going to appear to them in a dream sequence. How can your attorney help you if you don't take photos of your damage? How many photos should you take? As many as it takes to convince an insurance adjuster you were injured. Photos taken at close range or that are blurry don't help convey any message to an adjuster. In short, take photos designed to illustrate the severity of the impact.
10) The final thing that people do to sabotage their case, and this is perhaps the most important, is they wait too long before seeking medical care. Clients who wait more than a few days to seek active care for their injuries often encounter resistance from the insurance adjuster. Again, the insurance adjuster's position will likely be: "If your injuries were that bad, or as bad as you say they were, then you would have sought treatment/care for this accident."
Here is the basic overall lesson - a personal injury matter is basically an adversarial process. On one side is the injured party who may do things to sink their own case. On the other side is an insurance company that generally hates parting with money and will use your mistakes against you whenever possible. If you want help with your injury case, make sure you consult with an attorney as soon as possible so you know how to best handle your claim. A lawyer isn't a magician but a good one will tell you what mistakes to avoid and how to present your case in the best possible way. Again, no lawyer can guarantee an outcome - but at least you can increase your chances of a decent result by avoiding all the landmines that are out there.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,