Lawyers seldom see their clients’ personal injury cases the same way their clients see their cases. This phenomenon typically has little to do with the client or the facts of the case – really, we want do to all we can to help our clients. Rather, this divergence in viewpoints comes from a lawyer’s legal training and experience.
From our clients’ perspectives, their cases often are very straightforward and uncomplicated. Take for example this scenario: A self-employed client is sitting in her car at a stop light when she is rear-ended by a large van. The van struck the client’s car with such force that her seat broke and she found herself looking up at roof of her car. Immediately she has a great deal of pain in her neck and back and is transported to the hospital where she is examined by a doctor and has x-rays. She is released later that night with diagnoses of neck and back sprain and is given prescriptions for pain killers and muscle relaxers.
She follows the doctor’s advice and takes the medication prescribed at the emergency room and stays out of work for three days. However, at the end of the three days, she is actually feeling worse. She then goes to see her family doctor who tells her that it will be about a month before the pain goes away and gives her another prescription for pain. On the advice of a good friend, she begins to treat with a chiropractor about three weeks after the accident. The client sees the chiropractor three days a week for ten weeks, but at the end of her treatment she is still dealing with a great deal of pain that limits her at work and at home. The chiropractor tells the client he can’t do any more for her and recommends she see an orthopedist or a neurologist about the pain.
Two weeks later the client finally gets in to see an orthopedist about the pain in her neck and back. An MRI reveals the client has a bulging disc that is putting pressure on a nerve and the orthopedist tells her that is what is causing the pain.
In the meantime, the client, who has yet to retain an attorney, is dealing with the other driver’s insurance company, which has paid her for her car, but because the client has not finished with her medical treatment, the insurance company has yet to make an offer to settle her bodily injury claim. Because of her continued pain, the client has been able to work only part-time at her business and her bills are mounting. Then one day she has had enough and calls a lawyer that helped one of her friends years ago.
The client meets with the lawyer and explains the facts to him. The lawyer is very empathetic, and thinks that the client has a good case, but tells her that there are some problems. First, he tells her that the doctor in the emergency room diagnosed her with only a back and neck sprain, and that she didn’t actually get the diagnosis of the bulging disc until about three months after the car wreck. The insurance company will claim that because of this “gap” in time, the bulging disc was not caused by the accident. Moreover, he tells her, insurance companies hate chiropractors and don’t like to pay their bills. Finally, the lawyer tells the client that although it is quite clear to her and everyone else she knows that the pain began when her vehicle was struck by the van; the law will not allow her to testify that the bulging disc was caused by the accident. Instead, they will need to find a doctor who will testify that the bulging disc and accompanying pain were caused by the car crash and that it will cost more than a thousand dollars for the doctor’s time.
Through all this, the client has become very frustrated. It is not enough that she was injured by the fault of the other driver, but now a lawyer is telling her that it will be tough to prove that the injury she knows she sustained in the accident was actually caused by the accident. The good news, however, is that the lawyer has tried a lot of these cases, and has been pretty successful in the past. Although the lawyer can’t guarantee any results, the client is comforted by the lawyer’s straightforward assessment and his confidence and they agree to partner on the case.
I like to think that a good lawyer is not just an advocate for his client’s position, but also is a wise counselor who will tell his client the good news and the bad because that is the only way that the client can make a sound decision. So, if your lawyer is cautious about how he thinks your case will turn out, or tells you that there are problems with your case, remember, he is telling you these things because he is a good lawyer and it’s for your own benefit.