Make sure you aren’t your own worst enemy when it comes to your personal injury lawsuit.
Trying to handle the claim on your own can lead to critical mistakes — the kind of mistakes you might not even realize you’re making.
Read on for a list of common mistakes people make with personal injury claims.
5. No Expert Opinions
As plaintiff, you typically have the burden of proof, which means it’s your job (or more to the point, your attorney’s job) to persuade the court that the law is on your side.
In many cases, to succeed, you’ll need an expert witness on your side — and sometimes more than one. Courts want experts to help them understand things that go beyond the expertise of the judge or jury, things like:
- The professional standard of conduct in a given field (For example: an expert witness in a medical malpractice case could testify to the appropriate standard of care for doctors.)
- How technical errors happen (For example: in a wrongful death case where an elevator crushes a customer, an expert witness can testify as to what caused the elevator to malfunction.)
- Evaluating documents (For example: a handwriting expert might compare a person’s penmanship; a physician might review a medical file for evidence of malpractice; and an accountant might review documents related to past income when assessing future damages.)
Unfortunately, people with otherwise legitimate claims often lose their cases in court because they couldn’t back up their arguments with expert testimony. That’s how important expert witnesses are. Courts simply won’t assume expertise they don’t have on their own.
Expert witnesses can even be helpful outside of court, as they can help you prepare your case for trial. Their support can also add leverage during settlement negotiations.
4. Losing the “Comparative Negligence” Argument
The state of Washington has adopted a rule called comparative negligence, which means you can recover money after an accident even if you were partially at fault for that accident. But your total recovery will be reduced by your portion of fault.
So if you were injured in a Washington auto accident and suffered $10,000 in damages, but the court decided you were 10% at fault because your car was sticking out too far at the stop sign, you would only be able to recover $9,000 (90% of the full amount).
Unlike some other states, Washington will allow you to win your case even if you’re 99% at fault, but your recovery would be limited to 1%… and that might not be worth the time and effort of a lawsuit.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure you aren’t assigned a bigger percentage of fault than you deserve.
There is no magic calculator for determining someone’s percentage of fault. The exact number is something the lawyers on both sides debate by using evidence, and every percentage point matters.
3. Lack of Credibility
Despite what you might have seen on television, honesty means everything when it comes to the law. Judges and juries care about your credibility, integrity, and trustworthiness. Few things can destroy your claim more quickly than getting caught red-handed in a misrepresentation or blatant untruth.
Credibility counts from the moment the accident happens. Common mistakes people make include:
- Exaggerating or fabricating injuries to the doctor
- Telling the police officer one thing at the accident scene but telling the hospital (or the court) something completely different
- Lying to insurance companies
Let your lawyer do the talking. Be honest about the injuries you’ve sustained. It’s only natural to feel pressure to make your claim “the best it can be,” but remember: it’s your attorney’s job to put on a great case. An experienced personal injury team can advance your best interests while also remaining entirely honest and complying with the applicable ethics rules.
2. No Proof
As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding…and the court wants to see some pudding.
If you don’t have any evidence to back up your claim, it is going to be extremely difficult to prove your case. Evidence is an essential building block for any personal injury claim.
The good news is that evidence can take many forms, and your legal team can often work with investigators to uncover compelling evidence you didn’t even realize exists.
Still, you can play an important part by gathering critical evidence at the scene of an accident (and in the days and weeks that follow). Examples include:
- Taking pictures
- Getting contact information for as many eyewitnesses as possible
- Obtaining a copy of the police report (or at least the file number)
- Writing down what happened as soon as it happens (you might be surprised by how quickly your memories scatter after a traumatic incident)
- Seeking medical attention right away so that your doctor or hospital visit can be documented
- Taking notes after each doctor’s visit so you can remember who said what and when
- Keeping a log or journal of your injuries and experiences
- Requesting copies of your medical records
1. Not Hiring a Lawyer
You’re never required to work with a lawyer on your personal injury claim, but it’s always in your best interest to hire one.
The legal system is complex and can be incredibly difficult to navigate on your own. Your chances of success are much higher with a seasoned veteran on your side.
Your lawyer may be able to identify additional sources of compensation, important legal issues that might arise later, or litigation strategies that could make all the difference in your claim.
Insurance companies, employers, and other defendants also have a tendency to take your claim more seriously — and negotiate more reasonably — when they know there’s an aggressive team of attorneys in your corner