If you become a personal injury plaintiff by suing someone else who you believe wrongfully caused you to suffer a physical injury, you can easily ruin an otherwise strong claim in a number of
ways. Some of these ways include offering inconsistent testimony or signing statements that have not been approved in advance by your lawyer. A multitude of other mistakes is also possible.
The Most Common Mistakes Made by Personal Injury Victims in Seeking Legal Representation
Your choice of who to represent you might just turn out to be the most important decision you make in the entire case. The most common mistakes that personal injury plaintiffs make when seeking an injury lawyer to represent them include:
- Getting a lawyer involved too late. One reason to hire an attorney is to prevent you from making errors that could damage your claim beyond repair. Don’t wait until you have already made one of those mistakes before you retain an attorney to advise you.
- Retaining “my cousin Vinny” to represent you because he wrote your father’s will or because he once got a traffic ticket “fixed” for you. You wouldn’t hire a podiatrist to perform neurosurgery on you, would you? Likewise, your lawyer needs to be experienced and successful in handling personal injury claims.
- Retaining a lawyer who always settles out of court. It’s good if your lawyer settles out of court most of the time. Nevertheless, he should have a track record that includes winning at least some of his cases in court in order to give the defendant or the insurance company a reason to negotiate seriously with him (because if they don’t, he might win in court against them).
The 10 Most Common Mistakes Made Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim
Even a list of the top 100 mistakes made by personal injury plaintiffs would be necessarily incomplete. But even a partial list can show you where you need to exercise caution, and of the mistakes, a good injury lawyer will warn you about:
Mistake #1: Failing to collect easily available evidence right away
Whether in court or at the settlement table, the truth only matters to the extent that you can prove it. If you are in a car accident, for example, take photos with your cell phone unless your injuries are too serious for this; collect witness contact details; file a police report; photograph your injuries, etc.
Mistake #2: Failing to obtain witness statements as soon as possible
Witness’s memories fade over time, and the mere passage of time can be used to discredit a witness’s testimony even with no loss of memory. Witnesses also move out of town or become difficult to locate, etc. Taking witnesses’ depositions (sworn testimony outside of court) can help preserve your claim.
Mistake #3: Failing to use expert witnesses when appropriate
Not all personal injury claims require the use of an expert witness, but some do. A general rule of thumb is that the more technically or scientifically complex your claim is, the greater the need for an expert witness. Medical malpractice claims, for example, usually require the use of an expert witness. Professional expert witnesses are commonly used in court and at depositions.
Mistake #4: Failing to seek immediate medical treatment
Seek medical treatment immediately after an accident, even if you don’t believe you were injured. This is particularly important in cases of head injuries and back/neck injuries, because symptoms may take time to manifest themselves. If you fail to seek immediate medical attention to document your injuries, you are inviting the defendant to argue that your current malady was caused by an injury that occurred after the accident, not from the accident itself.
Mistake #5: Missing doctor’s appointments or otherwise failing to cooperate with medical treatment
Iowa applies a comparative fault system to personal injury claims, in which you lose part of the value of your claim in proportion to the extent that your injuries are attributable to your own fault. If your injuries are mostly your fault (51 percent or more), you will lose the right to any compensation at all. Failure to cooperate with medical treatment can reduce the value of your claim or kill it altogether.
Mistake #6: Lying to your doctor
This is a big no-no. If you exaggerate your symptoms (by always reporting “10/10” on a 10-point pain scale, for example), your doctor as well as the defendant is likely to discover the truth. Once you lose credibility in this manner, it will be difficult to get anyone to listen to you even when you are telling the truth. You might also be subject to legal sanctions.
Mistake #7: Using social media while your claim is pending
You can be almost certain that the insurance company will be doing what it can to monitor your social media accounts and to get around any privacy restrictions that you might have in place. Imagine the effect on your claim of serious injury if you upload a photo of yourself holding a beer and smiling at a party, even if the actual party occurred before the accident. Don’t post while your case is pending.
Mistake #8: Giving statements or signing documents without seeking legal advice first
Insurance companies absolutely love personal injury plaintiffs who “cooperate” with them in this manner – but you definitely will not love the results. Seek the advice of your lawyer before giving any statements or signing anything.
Mistake #9: Offering inconsistent or incomplete statements, especially sworn testimony
Keep a journal of all information relating to your personal injury claim and review it frequently. The opposing party will certainly exploit any inconsistencies in your statements at different times. You can also get into trouble by forgetting important details, such as dates and times, that you would normally be expected to remember.
Mistake #10: Attempting to negotiate a settlement directly with the insurance company
Your lawyer should be doing this for you. At the very least, you should never accept a settlement offer without clearing it through your attorney first. Your claim could be worth a lot more than you think it is – pain and suffering damages, for example, are often worth three to five times the grand total of medical expenses.