Don't Hide Things From Your Lawyer!
Don’t hide things from your attorney. For some reason, there are some clients out there who want to hide facts from their lawyer. One client wanted to hide from me the fact that she was smoking pot at the accident scene. Well, the insurance company found out because it was in her medical records from the hospital! If she had told me about this information, there may have been ways to deal with it.
Another time, a client came by for an initial consultation. I asked her about her work duties. She said, "Why do you need to know that?" Then I asked her about her past accidents. She replied, "Well, how is that important?" I knew from the get-go that this client was not the right fit for me. She was very reluctant to answer my questions. She viewed me as the enemy and wasn't forthcoming with information. I don't ask these questions because I'm nosy! I ask these questions because the information gathered helps me evaluate the case.
Some clients hide previous accidents from their attorneys. In many cases, the clients make the sole determination the accident must be irrelevant and therefore they either fail to mention it or the deliberately hide it. Again, this is not going to help your lawyer prepare for your case. If you’re hiding things from your attorney, you have bigger problems. The information is going to come to light at some point. If you tell your attorney about the matter, your attorney will be better equipped to handle it. Once litigation begins, they will indeed have the right to that information and they will find out.
If you go to the doctor's office for an exam, you have to tell your doctor what's going on. This isn't the time to play games. Therefore, the lesson to be learned is to not hide anything from your attorney because it simply doesn’t help anyone. The other lesson here is that sometimes, your lawyer may not be right for you. However, there are times when the client may not be a good fit for the lawyer. It's a two way street.
Please don’t be compelled to talk to everybody about your personal injury case. Remember there is something called confidentiality that exists between an attorney and his or her client. That confidentiality does not exist between the client and anyone else - even their spouse.
I’ve had some cases where my clients tell friends and family information about the accident case that isn’t terribly helpful to their case. If those people are called to testify, they might testify against you and whatever you’ve told them is fair game. You can’t claim confidentiality of any sort. You can’t even claim it if the witness is your spouse! Spousal privilege only applies to criminal cases.
Therefore, unless it is imperative that you share certain information with other people, please keep the facts of your accident case to yourself. Share the information about your accident with your doctor and with your attorney and no one else unless it’s absolutely necessary. Of course, if you do share information with others, always make sure it’s consistent with your claim! What you say to other people can come back to haunt you later on.
When dealing with an insurance company or attorney’s office after a car accident, you will inevitably be asked to provide photographs depicting damage to your vehicle and any other vehicles involved in the accident, photographs of all bodily injuries sustained, and any and all additional photos taken at the scene. On occasion, photos will be taken by police officers, but that is rare. However, don’t rely on others – you should take some of your own. In fact, take tons, and from many different angles, so that everyone from a lay person to an accident reconstructionist will have an easier time forming an accurate picture. The reason you have to take photos from different angles is because photos are only two dimensional and sometimes it's hard to fully appreciate the extent of damages if you only take a couple of photos. Also, take some close ups and take some from further distance to show the entire car.
If taking photos at the scene, make sure to take pictures of skid marks. Skid marks are faint imprints left on the road by tires during the braking process, before the tires actually skid. These marks only remain visible for 24-48 hours. A photograph of impending skid marks leading into actual skid marks provides an accident reconstructionist with the necessary perspective to determine the speed of the braking car. A photo of a measurable object, such as a shoe, beside an impending skid mark will make distances more clear.
Obviously, having a camera on hand is very important. You might want to consider keeping a disposable camera in your glove compartment or with your road hazard kit in case of an accident. You can never take too many photos of the damage or the scene.
Just because an accident occurred, and it wasn’t your fault, does not necessarily mean that some insurance company is going to pay your medical bills and other related expenses. There needs to be a showing that another party or entity actually caused the accident to occur, whether it is a car accident or other kind of injury matter. You must be able to show that someone was negligent at the very least and that negligence caused your injury to occur. Many times clients tell me that they were involved in an accident but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. If we cannot show the other party did something wrong or negligent, we will likely be unable to prove that you should recover any kind of compensation.
Aside from a basic showing of "negligence," we also have to prove you had "damages" from the incident. Just because you can show someone was negligent doesn't automatically mean you get compensated. If you had no injuries, then you can't legitimately bring a claim...especially one for personal injury. You can of course bring a claim for property damage if you actually incurred property damage. Therefore, there needs to be a showing of negligence, and there needs to be a showing of actual damages incurred. Without both, you are wasting your time.
Many people are afraid to hire a lawyer because they figure they will get less compensation since the attorney typically takes 1/3 the recover as a fee. In some case, that might be true and a good lawyer should tell you if you are better off without a lawyer.
However, in 1999, the Insurance Research Council (a nonprofit organization supported by leading insurance companies across the United States), conducted a study and found that insurance companies generally pay higher settlements to people who use an attorney versus those to try to handle matters on their own. Generally, they noted that people who use the lawyer received on average 3 1/2 times more money and settlement than people who settled on their own without a lawyer. That certainly does not mean there is a guarantee of recovery. It only means that in some cases, you are indeed better off hiring a lawyer who can zealously represent you and get the most compensation they can.
I always use the analogy of river rafting. If you go river rafting, you always have a professional river guide in your boat because they’ve been down the river and they know how to get you down the river safely. It would be silly (or dangerous) to go down the river without a guide. Having a guide doesn’t guarantee your safety, but it sure improves your odds of arriving safely. A good personal injury attorney has been “down the river” and can guide you effectively.
The sky is blue. We all know it. Insurance adjusters need more “information” before determining if the sky is blue! Well, I’m probably being silly here but only to make a point - there are some adjusters who stall by requesting additional information about everything! You can tell them you lost wages from your job. That won’t cut it. You can send them a letter from your employer. That won’t cut it. You can send them tax returns. Guess what? They want “more information.”
Some insurance adjusters drive me crazy by requesting lots of unnecessary information. It seems that regardless of how much documentation you give them, they always want more. In my opinion this is nothing but a stall tactic. These are people who can’t see the forest from the trees. You’ll provide them with adequate information regarding lost earnings but unless you have a video of you sitting at home in pain, they just won’t believe you. These insurance adjusters are making life difficult because they are trying to postpone the settlement of your case. They realize in their heart of hearts the additional information is not going to make any difference in their offer. Nevertheless, they will string you along and they will continue asking for additional documentation!
Not all adjusters are so myopic. Many of them get it. Usually the ones who have been doing it long enough actually know what they are doing. However, some give others a bad reputation….just like some lawyers give the profession a bad reputation. When I worked for a major insurance company, there were some adjusters who wouldn’t give their own mother a nickel. Then when a jury awarded the plaintiff money, these same adjusters called the jury “crazy.” I think some adjusters simply confuse the standard of proof in a civil case with that required in a criminal case. They need proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” when in fact, a “preponderance of the evidence” is the actual standard. Just like my Mother told me, “Some folks are difficult just to be difficult.”
Sometimes, insurance company adjusters will deliberately delay a settlement. They are getting a steady paycheck, and often have no incentive to settle your case. Sometimes, they hate their job, so they’re going to get even by making your life miserable. They know that they have all the time in the world, while you are the one who is under time pressure. After all, in most cases you need to file a lawsuit within a certain period of time. Some insurance adjusters simply try to run the clock against you. Even if you have good insurance, you may find that it is very difficult to get them to make payments and reimburse doctor bills. They are in no hurry. Usually the other party’s insurance won’t pay your bills until you’re done treating. Sometimes, they won’t even return your call. They understand that you are getting dinged by doctors and bill collectors. They figure the longer they take, the more desperate you will become. The more desperate you become, the more likely you will be to accept their low-ball offer.
You Don't Always Need a Lawyer
We’ve discussed this issue before, but it’s always good to discuss whether or not hiring a lawyer makes sense for your personal injury case. If you have medical bills and lost wages that are less than $2000, you probably don’t need an attorney.
If there is no visible damage to your car, it’s going to be difficult to prove that you had any appreciable injury to most juries and insurance adjusters. That doesn’t mean the impact wasn’t severe…it only means that it will be difficult to prove the impact was severe. Over the past several years, juries have grown less patient with cases involving only “soft tissue” damage. For most jurors, being present every day and serving on jury duty is giving them neck and back pain! They don’t want to hear about yours.
If the accident was your fault, don’t bother hiring a lawyer (unless you need one to defend you). I will be honest with you. I’ve turned away many cases because I honestly believed the client would be much better off without my involvement. It’s not that I don’t want to help….it’s mainly because the client will probably be better off doing it themselves. Of course, I’m still available to help people evaluate their case. Feel free to call.
The insurance company is going to be reasonable with me.
Many people try to handle their own personal injury case. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, the mistake occurs when they believe that if you simply write the insurance company a nice letter and act a reasonable fashion, they will be reasonable with you! Sounds fair, doesn’t it? Well that’s not usually how it works. Insurance companies have seen their fair share of scams and people who exaggerate their claims. They have, in many cases, become hardened to personal injury claimants. They give everyone a hard time. Mother Theresa can make a claim, and they probably will hassle her.
I have to give the insurance company a statement.
Another mistaken belief some people have is that when the opposing party’s insurance company calls, they have to give a recorded statement. That’s not true. You don’t have any legal obligation to give a statement to the other party unless there is a lawsuit pending, and your deposition is taking place.
The insurance company for the guilty party is going to pay my bills.
Some people also believe that the insurance company for the other party is obligated to pay your medical bills as they are due. Most of the time, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting them to pay anything at all. If they offer to pay ALL your bills, go get your camera and take a picture. That would truly be a Kodak moment!
A personal injury case is not the lottery!
There are some people out there who still believe that a personal injury case is going to make them rich! Like they’ve hit the mother lode – won the lottery. I have bad news – You’re not going to get rich from your personal injury case. This is a huge myth that needs to be dispelled immediately. The law allows adequate compensation – the law doesn’t say you will be able to retire due to a personal injury case. That’s not to say some people don’t collect significant amounts, but that’s because their case is worth a good deal of money – not because they won a lottery of some sort!
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.