Gaining The Best Settlement in Auto Injury Cases
A) HOW TO EXPERTLY SCREEN AN AUTO ACCIDENT CASE.
Gaining The Best Settlement in Auto Injury CasesADDRESS IMPORTANT INITIAL CONSIDERATIONS
Timothy W. Mazzela, Esq.
A) HOW TO EXPERTLY SCREEN AN AUTO ACCIDENT CASE.
The first impression of the client is an important consideration in the decision on whether to accept the case or not. This highlights the importance of the initial interview with the client. A wealth of information can be informally discovered about the potential client in this meeting. The client's general appearance, demeanor and credibility can be evaluated by the attorney not staff. Beyond that, the client's personality type, view of the case and expectations from you and from the case can be gathered. You can determine if the client answers questions directly or is evasive and appears to be hiding something. Medical histories, employment and background questions can be asked in a more direct and efficient manner by the attorney. Several positive things happen when the attorney personally meets with the client. Generally, the client feels more important, the right questions get asked by the right person and important details do not get lost in the translation from staff to counsel. Additionally, the ground rules for the attorney-client relationship can and must be established in this meeting. You can also direct staff to perform a conflict of interest check on your computer and active case list.
It is imperative to establish that the attorney not the client will be making the technical and legal decision with the informed consent of the client. The determination of whether a medical lien has been correctly established, its priority among other liens and whether the lien must be paid from the settlement proceeds/judgment are technical/legal issues.1 A client who will not follow the attorneys advice on the payment of medical liens, is likely not to follow the attorneys advice on other material matters. This can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the case. Client control over the type of expert witnesses, how to present the case and the ultimate value of the case is beyond the average client's knowledge. If the client is unwilling to follow your advice, you should strongly consider disengaging in writing from the case immediately. One is strongly encouraged to give the client knowledge as to why you need to be in control over these decisions. Knowledge is power. This knowledge can help overcome the client's need to be in charge, harmonize the relationship and will empower the client to trust in your ability to handle these complex matters.
The initial meeting will also assist you in further evaluating the client from an age, medical history and pre-existing medical condition standpoint. Damage claims widely vary depending on the age of the person, the impact on a person's quality of life and the nature of the injury producing event. Pre-existing physical and mental conditions must be explored to determine the level of pain and limitations in the five year period immediately preceding the subject auto accident. Failure to explore, document and investigate these pre-existing conditions and/or prior injury claims can and will be devastating even to the best auto injury case. Probe the client's mem
How To expertly Screen the Client and caseThe initial meeting will also assist you in further evaluating the client from an age, medical history and pre-existing medical condition standpoint. Damage claims widely vary depending on the age of the person, the impact on a person's quality of life and the nature of the injury producing event. Pre-existing physical and mental conditions must be explored to determine the level of pain and limitations in the five year period immediately preceding the subject auto accident. Failure to explore, document and investigate these pre-existing conditions and/or prior injury claims can and will be devastating even to the best auto injury case. Probe the client's memory to bring out all pre-existing conditions relevant or not. Then question the client on all prior injury claims. Once you feel confident that you have exposed all possible sources of pre-existing conditions and claims, order the medical providers records that treated and diagnosed these conditions/claims. Additionally, order all of the medical records from the primary care physician. This can provide insight into your client's interaction with the medical community and provides a great source to identify pre-existing conditions and claims that may have been genuinely forgotten by your client.3
Pre-existing mental and emotional conditions are rarely an obvious condition that the attorney will readily identify. However, if the case has an element of post traumatic stress disorder (hereinafter "PTSD"), care must be taken to ferret out any psychological and/or mental health conditions that predate the injury claim. Blindly sending your client to a psychiatrist may subject your client to a cross-examination at trial about being molested as a child or being abused as a wife or a whole host of other very tragic experiences for the client. This will diminish what could otherwise be considered a very horrific accident injury claim. Indeed, once you make the claim that the mental and emotional distress damages are beyond what naturally flows from the injury producing event, the Pandora 's Box is wide open. You need to know what is contained in that Pandora 's Box. Once the issue is tendered, the flood gates are wide open to matters that would normally be off limits. Therefore, you must fully explain this dilemma to your client to determine how far your client really wants to push the mental and emotional claim. Perform a cross-examination that you reasonably anticipate will occur. Oftentimes, this experience will make the client realize how private they want to keep these matters.4 Other times; it will encourage the attorney to make the heightened mental and emotional distress claim. This exchange will also assist the attorney in determining how well the client will holdup under a rigorous cross-examination. In either event, informed decisions can then be made between the attorney and client on whether to pursue the enhanced mental and emotional distress claim.
At this point in the meeting, you are probably getting a feel for the client's personality type, their demeanor and the manner in which they respond to your questions. Personality traits are an important consideration t