As an Orlando personal injury attorney, the biggest question most of my clients want to know is how they obtain the highest possible personal injury settlement or verdict. Actions you take, or fail to take, can have a tremendous impact on your ultimate financial recovery after an accident or injury.
The first thing you should realize is that you do not want a high personal injury recovery because, if you receive one, you will have suffered more than any human would ever want. You have either lost a loved one through wrongful death, or you were severely and permanently injured, which most likely means that you will be in significant pain, or suffer some other disability or disfigurement, for the rest of your life. This is another way of saying that the very highest personal injury settlements or verdicts, despite smiling billboard faces with big checks in personal injury cases, only follow serious accidents, injuries & deaths. However, regardless of your level of injury or disability, you can help maximize the value of your personal injury claim by taking the following important steps after your accident:
(1) Highest Possible Personal Injury Settlement or Verdict: Act Fast!
Personal injury attorneys can help you the most in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Important things begin to happen right away, such as the need to collect and preserve evidence, identify witnesses, communicate with insurance companies, and begin your medical treatment with a doctor who is most likely to help maximize the value of your personal injury lawsuit. The best time to call a personal injury attorney, and the time when they can most help you maximize the value of your claim, is as soon as you possibly can. The longer you wait, the less we can help. Just in the last week, I consulted with one person who is going to lose 100% of what was likely a million dollar GA worker’s compensation case because he did not hire an attorney much earlier. Unfortunately, one of the deadlines in his case, which he had been handling on his own, expired. Another potential clint with whom I consulted recently, and who has been representing himself in a serious injury case, has delayed to the point where critical evidence needed to fully maximize the value of his claim in the form of phone records, and likely other important evidence, may well have disappeared.
(As a side note, you should make sure you will be dealing with a real attorney, not a paralegal or case manager from a settlement mill firm. You should also avoid talking to any insurance company without an attorney.)
(2) Begin Your Medical Treatment ASAP
Delays in your treatment lead to strong arguments, on behalf of the insurance companies, that you weren’t that badly injured. (And, make no mistake, insurance companies (even your own) unquestionably want to pay you as little as they possibly can.) Those arguments become increasingly difficult to counter the longer you wait. This means you urgently need to seek medical treatment. Ideally you were transported by ambulance or drove yourself immediately to the emergency room. If not, and let’s say you are reading this a day or two after the accident, then you need to seek treatment now. That doesn’t mean calling your doctor and waiting until they can fit you in. Rather, you should take yourself to the ER. Going to the ER is much, much better than going to your own doctor or a walk-in clinic for the initial evaluation, from a personal injury case evaluation standpoint. (Side note: never mention, to any doctor, that you are seeing them because a lawyer said to do so, or to help increase the value of your injury lawsuit; this could be noted in medical records, which would lower the value of your case.) After you are released from the ER, if you were not hospitalized due to more serious injuries, next follow-up with your regular family physician. Going to your normal doctor after the ER visit is important for a variety of reasons. If you delay seeking medical treatment, or seek other types of medical treatment, your claim may be reduced in value. I cannot overstate the importance of immediate or as soon as possible treatment from the ER followed by your regular family physician.
(3) Continue Your Treatment Until You Are Finished & Treat EVERYTHING
This is another biggie! You absolutely must follow your doctors’ instructions, but you should also question your doctor if he ignores any of your symptoms. Normally doctors will “triage” symptoms. This means they are trained to treat the worst or most dangerous conditions first, and rightly so. For example, if you have a spinal cord injury that could lead to paralysis, which surgery could correct, then they should and will treat that symptom before others, which might be hurting as much or more, but are not in danger of leading to your paralysis. Obviously this avoid-the-worst treatment approach makes sense. But sometimes that approach causes doctors to ignore other serious or painful symptoms for an extended period or even forever. Then, months or years later, you could be left with ongoing & permanent pain in a body part that the doctor ignored. So it is imperative that you insist that each and every one of your symptoms be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible after a car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian, slip and fall, or other accident. Each one of your symptoms adds value to your claim (as long as you do not lie or exaggerate). This includes things like numbness, tingling, headaches, dizziness, altered walking gate, pain in more than one body part, radiating pain, lacerations, bruises, and burns, but only if your doctor notes those symptoms in your medical records, ideally every time you visit him. This means you need to be a squeaky wheel where your injuries and symptoms are concerned. Busy doctors or physical therapists may not mention in the records anything that you do not emphasize. The need to tell your medical provider about all of your symptoms applies to every single visit, even if you mentioned the same symptoms during previous visits. I work closely with all of my clients throughout their medical treatment, in moderate to severe accident cases, to help them understand the legal ramifications of whatever medical treatment they are receiving. I regularly advise clients when their doctor’s decisions are potentially lowering the value of their personal injury lawsuit. This is a very common problem. The solution requires regular attorney-client interaction.
(4) Call Your Personal Injury Lawyer If You Decide To Stop Any Medical Treatment
Stopping medical treatment often limits your damages. You may have a very good reason for stopping, such as physical therapy is hurting you, or injections are not helping. But you should discuss these decisions with your personal injury attorney because not treating often hurts the value of your case. So alternate treatment ideas must be explored or your case may lose value. ANY gaps in treatment (including missed appointments) are also bad, so you should not delay these discussions.
(5) Avoid Total Reliance On Pain Pill Treatment
Another common scenario when clients are experiencing pain is, of course, taking pain pills. But taking only pain pills, and doing nothing else to resolve your pain, is not the best from a personal injury valuation standpoint. Juries, and therefore insurance companies, tend to disfavor those who are taking pain pills as their only treatment. Many also believe that pain pills aren’t the best for your body, meaning most pills have side effects, some of which may be really bad. So often the best treatments from a legal case value standpoint include physical therapy, injections or surgery. Chiropractic treatment is also common, although treatment by a physician is preferred, again from a case value perspective.
(6) Continue Working However You Can
As a plaintiff, you have a duty to mitigate your damages. That means you have a duty to try to keep your damages as low as they can be. More importantly, juries often try to help those who are helping themselves by continuing to work in whatever capacity they are able. Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may not be able to work at all. As an extreme example, if you were in a coma or paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury accompanied by a significant brain injury, obviously you could not continue working. If you really, truly cannot work, then that’s a different story. But you should continue working in some capacity if at all possible. You may have to get someone else to perform certain tasks, request accommodations from your employer, or even get a new job. For example, a self-employed store owner might need to hire a clerk to perform some tasks that he previously did himself, such as lifting heavy objects. But he would continue running the store, although making less money because he had to hire help. One way or another, you need to show that you are doing everything possible to help yourself financially. This makes your personal injury attorney’s job of convincing a jury to compensate your losses easier.
(7) Be Honest
Personal injury attorneys often say that the number one factor determining the value of a lawsuit is the credibility of the plaintiff. Credibility essentially means how honest (or dishonest) you are proven to be. If the defense attorney can prove that you lied about just about anything, then they can suggest that you might be lying about everything, including the extent of your injuries. For example, if you say that you cannot lift anything anymore, but the insurance company produces a video taken from surveillance by an investigator showing you lifting a heavy box, or a medical record where you told your physical therapist that you were able to lift your children (or you picked something up during PT), then the value of your claim could go down. The more accurate statement might be that you cannot lift more than X pounds, or that you experience much worse pain when lifting, or that you can’t lift as often as you used to do. Insurance companies may take video surveillance of you, and will speak with witnesses and carefully review medical records (hoping to find inconsistencies in your story), so being precise and honest about your abilities & feelings is critically important.
(8) Be Patient
Personal injury lawsuits take time for a variety of reasons. One is that you need time to undergo treatment & fully heal (or prove that your injuries are permanent). Without taking the time needed for your body to respond to treatment (or not), you simply cannot maximize the value of your settlement or verdict. Lawsuits themselves also have many stages that sometimes span over a year or two or even longer in more serious accident cases with high potential damages. Turtles often win this race.
(9) Respond To All Of Your Attorney’s Calls & Requests
Your attorney cannot prepare your case without evidence, some of which you control. So it is very important to provide your attorney with everything that she requests, so that she has the evidence she needs. This may include things like not skipping medical appointments, providing names of medical providers (and an accurate list), and providing wage loss documentation. There is other important evidence, so just be sure you provide whatever your attorney requests.
(10) Stay Away From Social Media.
Just like insurance companies can hire investigators to take video surveillance, they can sometimes also access your social media and even online forum posts, comments, photos & videos. This includes all platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and many others. You would probably be very surprised at the creative ways that attorneys can twist the meaning of anything you might post on the Internet. Even saying that you had a great time dancing at a party, or the way you were sitting in a photo, could be used to disprove some critical aspect of your injury case. So the best approach is to avoid social media altogether when your lawsuit is pending. This includes private messages, which are not necessarily protected from the reaches of attorneys seeking discovery in a lawsuit. This reminds me of a video displayed on YouTube a few months ago, in which a man was shown pushing a huge boulder off a rock in a state park in Utah. Meanwhile, he had a personal injury lawsuit pending, in which he claimed that he couldn’t use his back. Not a good combo.
(11) Stay In Touch With Friends Or Family Who Might Be Good Witnesses Regarding Your Pain Or Disability Level
We all lose touch with friends or family from time-to-time. But having good witnesses who can explain the difference between your life before and after the accident, or what might have happened during the accident, is important. So try to stay in touch with your friends so that they still know and care about you if your case ever goes to trial.
(12) Assist Your Attorney In Collecting Evidence ASAP
As the plaintiff in a personal injury case, I cannot stress enough that you have many obligations, including filing your lawsuit before deadlines expire and proving your case. Put differently, you have the burden of proof. That means that you must prove both liability (or fault / cause of the accident) and your damages. Proving your case is no easy task. We cannot just tell the insurance company that you are hurt and watch them write a check. Nothing could be further from the truth. We absolutely need evidence. To that end, take extensive photographs of any of your injuries (your body, if visibly injured, such as lacerations, gaping wounds, or burn wounds), vehicle damage to any vehicles involved in the crash, and roadway scenes (which may later change), from wide angle shots to narrow close-up shots. Choose angles that best depict the damage to all vehicles involved in the accident. Take more rather than fewer photographs. Include the undercarriage, windows and interior of your vehicle, particularly if the axle is bent. Also take shots of any other items damaged during the crash, such as attached trailers, hitches, items in your vehicle, etc. Save any items that show the destruction, including tattered clothing. Finally, talk to witnesses early and get all of their contact information, including ideally their home address, email address, mobile and home phone numbers, date of birth, driver’s license number, and work phone numbers.
(13) Never Give A Recorded Statement Unless You Must
Often you are not required to give a recorded statement to an insurance company, although sometimes you are contractually obligated to do so. This is a critical issue because recorded statements are ONLY ever used to find ways to reduce the value of the claim. So there is no reason to give them unless you must. Review of the policy is the only way to know whether you are obligated to give a recorded statement. Never give one to the insurance company representing the at-fault driver.
(14) Provide Only Necessary Information To Your Health Care Providers
You need to give your doctors, nurses and physical therapists accurate information about past injuries and your current symptoms so that they have the information they need to diagnose and treat your injuries. Be honest with them, as both exaggerating and understating your injuries can have negative consequences (exaggerations can be proven false by investigators who show you lifting when you said you couldn’t, and understatements give insurance companies evidence that you really aren’t that badly injured). At the same time, do not chat with your medical providers about events in your life, such as the dance party you attended this weekend, or the camping trip you have planned for next weekend. These innocent discussions are very often included in the medical records and can be used later by the insurance company defense lawyers to prove that you aren’t badly injured or your pain isn’t that severe. This is true even if you go camping and your pain level if a 10 out of 10 the entire time. So keep small talk to a minimum. Focus on your symptoms and accurate depiction of your pain level.
(15) Do Not Apply For Disability Benefits, Unless You Truly Cannot Work In ANY Capacity
Put simply, juries and therefore insurance companies favor those who continue working in some capacity, unless working is clearly impossible.
(16) Hire An Attorney Who Will Thoroughly Prepare Your Case
Roughly 98% of filed lawsuits settle before trial. Also, many personal injury cases never even lead to the filing of a lawsuit. Roughly guessing, that means probably over 99% of personal injury cases never go to trial. But the key to obtaining the highest possible settlement is to have an attorney who will thoroughly prepare your case for trial. Insurance company attorneys often respond to losses, or perceived losses, when a lawsuit is pending. After a lawsuit is filed, but long before any trial, the parties exchange documents & evidence. They also sometimes file (and win or lose) many very important motions. Judges decide whether certain evidence might be admitted at trial. Both parties also may depose important witnesses (which are questions asked and answered under oath in the presence of a court reporter). From all of this evidence, attorneys make arguments on your behalf that lead to settlements. Thorough preparation, along with your assistance in following your medical treatment and legal advice, is often what leads to the highest settlements. If your case must go to trial, thorough preparation during the pendency of your case leads to the best trial presentation. On a related note, check out this video of a Maitland area well-respected mediator saying the best plaintiffs’ attorneys are those who know their clients and their clients’ stories. Hire someone you are thoroughly convinced is committed to learning your story.
(17) Factors Beyond Your Control
All of the other factors mentioned are things that you can control to increase the value of your claim. But there are a number of other things that can change how much you receive at the end of your case, which are outside your control. Those include:
- The amount of any insurance coverage or wealth of the defendant. Put simply, if the defendant has no money, you cannot recover any.
- Whether it is clear that the defendant’s negligence caused your injuries. The less clear the defendant’s fault, the less the value of your case. This depends on thousands of factors beyond the scope of this article, but does require careful legal analysis by a personal injury attorney.
- What witnesses have to say about the accident and the impact of your injuries on your life.
- What medical providers believe about the cause and severity of your injuries (although you can significantly influence this factor, as discussed above).
- What the lawyers for both sides believe the jury will think about you and the defendant. For example, if the defendant is a jerk who doesn’t care that he harmed you, then the value of your case may be higher. On the other hand, if you come across as untrustworthy during your deposition, then the value of your case may be lower.
I work closely with my clients from the first day they call me to ensure that they are doing everything possible to help maximize the value of their personal injury lawsuit. My offices are located in Orlando and Winter Garden, Florida, but I accept moderate to severe injury cases from anywhere in Florida or Georgia, which includes the nearby cities of Ocoee, Clermont, Lakeland, Dr. Phillips, Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Casselberry, Maitland, Winter Park, Winter Springs, Mount Dora, Tavares, Eustis, Leesburg, Kissimmee, Deland, Deltona, Daytona Beach, Heathrow, Melbourne, Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Valdosta, Macon & Atlanta.
Personal injury cases include car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, nursing home abuse, unsafe products, defective security, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park or any other accident or injury which might have been caused by some other person or company. If you are unsure whether you might have a personal injury case, call me today for a free, no obligation consultation.
(Disclaimer: There are exceptions to almost every rule in the law, so do not rely on this article without discussing your unique case with a personal injury attorney.)