You may not think that the seven deadly sins have anything to do with your lawsuit. Before you get nervous, know that I’m not a religious person and I’m not going to preach to you. Rather, I appreciate the simplicity of a defined “code of conduct”, as it makes it easier to recognize when you’re screwing up. So, I decided to take some widely known (and therefore, easier to remember) “sins” and use them as a warning to plaintiffs. I’m not trying to save your soul, just your lawsuit. Commit the following sins and your case will pay the price.
Sin Number One – Wrath
A personal injury lawsuit is not your personal vendetta against the person who injured you (or his insurance company). Whenever a client tells me that they are suing for “the principle of the thing” I get nervous. You should be suing for fair compensation, not vengeance. When you would prefer “your day in court” over a fair settlement, you’ve lost perspective.
Abandon all hope of teaching the insurance company a lesson. You will not shame it. You won’t change the way it does business. It will continue to do whatever it thinks will make it the most money. Insurance adjusters don’t take your case personally, win or lose. Don’t project malice onto an entity which has no feelings.
In short, don’t let anger cloud your judgment and cause you to decline a fair settlement offer. The only people you’re hurting are your lawyer and yourself.
As a side note, be nice to paralegal on your case. They can take wrath to a whole new level.
Sin Number Two – Greed
This one is pretty straightforward. A lawsuit isn’t a lottery ticket. Its purpose is not to make you rich. Be fair when evaluating your damages. A jury certainly will be.
Sin Number Three – Sloth
Many people get the wrongheaded notion that they should stop working in order to increase the value of their lawsuit. Unless your doctor tells you to stop working, or restricts your work activities, you should keep going to work as you did before the accident. You won’t be paid for wage loss if you can still work, but simply choose not to.
Even if you can no longer perform the job you held at the time of the accident, if you can work at a different job with lower physical requirements, you should. You will be compensated for the difference between what you used to earn pre-accident and what you can earn post-accident. If you choose not to work when there are jobs which meet your physical restrictions available, a jury will be instructed to deduct the money you could have made from your wage loss damages.
Sin Number Four – Pride
Do not become so overconfident in the strength of your lawsuit that you fail to consider all the risks involved in going to trial. Jury trials are never a sure bet. Jury nullification is not limited to criminal trials. If a jury finds the defendant to be sympathetic (that little old lady who plowed into the back of your car is still a little old lady) or if the jury doesn’t like you, there are plenty of things they can do to minimize your judgment.
Jurors can latch onto insignificant details or speculate about things they shouldn’t even consider and surprise you with a whopper of a verdict. They may love the defendant’s expert witnesses and hate yours. Plenty of things can go wrong. Some things can be fixed through an appeal, but do you really want to have to go through that?
No matter how strong your case is, only go to trial if you have to. Pride goeth before a fall. Pride in your lawsuit goeth before a defense verdict.
Sin Number Five – Lust
For this one, I’m going to have to go with the “pursuit of pleasure” definition, as sexual lust really doesn’t have much to do with a personal injury lawsuit (unless, of course, you cheat on your spouse and thereby create an adverse witness). Be very careful with your recreational activities while your lawsuit is pending. Even if you don’t think surveillance is likely in your case, you should always accord yourself in public as if you are being watched.
I understand that even badly injured people can have “good days” when they don’t hurt as much. If you decide to play beach volleyball on one of these good days, don’t be surprised if it comes back to haunt you. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want a jury to see.
By the same token, if you go on vacation while your lawsuit is pending (remember that lawsuits can take years), don’t post pictures of your trip all over Facebook. Don’t tweet about the good times you’re having (unless you also tweet about the bad times as well — but who wants to read that?). Do not let the pursuit of pleasure in the short term hurt your lawsuit.
Sin Number Six – Envy
Most people know someone who’s been in a personal injury lawsuit. Unfortunately, people don’t always tell the truth about how much they made from their lawsuits. For some reason, people tend to embellish their awards, as if they’re ashamed of how much they really received. This is a problem that seems to multiply, as people don’t want to admit that they got less in their lawsuit than someone else (who probably made less than he claimed).
Any time someone tells you how much they made in a lawsuit, take it with a grain of salt. Even if they are telling the truth, don’t allow their outcome to color your evaluation of your own case, as no two lawsuits are the same. Maybe they lucked out and got an adjuster who stupidly paid way too much. Maybe they got a one-in-a-million runaway jury. You will never know.
Any time you tell your lawyer that you know someone who wasn’t hurt as badly as you and got “X dollars”, your lawyer rolls his eyes. If you think your lawyer, whose income depends on getting you the most money he can, is lowballing your case, you’re probably wrong.
Do not envy your friends’ supposed lawsuit results. Evaluate your case on its own merits and trust your lawyer’s opinions when it comes to settlement talks.
Sin Number Seven – Gluttony
Too much of anything can hurt you. For gluttony, I would warn about receiving too much medical treatment. Overtreating may not hurt you physically (though it may), but it will certainly hurt you when the time comes to settle your case. Medical bills can pile up quickly, and if you overtreat, you can price yourself out of a reasonable settlement. In other words, you may not be able to afford to settle due to your unnecessarily high medical bills.
Soft tissue injury plaintiffs are most at risk for overtreatment, mainly because their cases tend to settle for far less than cases involving herniated discs, torn rotator cuffs, broken bones and surgery.
Be especially careful of overtreatment when it comes to chiropractic care. Do you really need to go three times a week for 10 weeks? Would you feel just as good going two times a week or once a week?
Keep track of your medical bills, including those that are paid for by your health insurance (yes, you will likely have to pay your health insurer back from your settlement). Hire a lawyer early in your treatment, so you can get his opinion on the value of your case and the amount of medical bills you are accumulating. Be frank with your medical providers and explain your concern about not making enough from your lawsuit to pay for all the treatment you’re receiving. Make sure you’re not being overcharged for your medical care.
Don’t pig out on medical care just because insurance is paying for it. At the end of your lawsuit, there will be a price to be paid for all of your “free” medical care.
Be Reasonable and Emotionally Detached
If I had to boil this code of conduct down to a “golden rule”, it would be to “be reasonable and emotionally detached.” Emotion clouds your judgment, so don’t make any big decisions about your lawsuit until you can do so with a clear head. Also, as long as you’re reasonable, you should not have any regrets about your lawsuit, regardless of the outcome.
Now, go forth, my plaintiffs, and sin no more.