Common Misperceptions Of Personal Injury Clients

A client came into my office the other day having been in a car accident. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Her car was wrecked. The accident was not her fault. She had some questions and some comments which I hear fairly often.

  • I am not the “suing type”.

One of the first things she said was that she was “not the suing type.”  (She meant that she was opposed to litigation generally, and that there were “other” people responsible for litigation, regardless of whether those “others” included individuals or business attempting to enforce or protect their legal rights). When I come across a client like this, I try to make it clear that litigation is not an easy undertaking.  (I call it a “meatgrinder” to drive the point home) and I rarely file suit except as a last resort.  I try to politely suggest that categorizing someone as the “suing kind” is nothing more than an urban myth.

  • I think I should get punitive damages.

In a typical personal injury case, recoverable damages include “special damages” and “general damages.”  Special damages are for itemized amounts, like wage loss and medical bills. General damages are for non-economic damages, that is,  pain and suffering. Punitive damages, designed to punish the wrongdoer, are rarely if ever applicable or recoverable. I try to explain to my client at the outset that my role is to try to help them recover their out of pocket expenses and non-economic losses related to their accident.

  • The other guy injured me. Why should my (car insurance or health insurance) pay for my medical bills?

I explain that Pennsylvania law rightly and correctly requires your own insurance company to pay for your own medical bills, whether it’s your car insurance, health insurance, or through workers compensation benefits if injured on the job. This is a benefit to you that you paid for in some way, either directly or, in the case of workers compensation benefits, by the very nature of being employed. You may also be a beneficiary of insurance benefits, say for instance, if you are a passenger in someone’s insured car and you have no insurance of your own.

  • Should I not go to work? How long should I go to the doctor?

These are issues that require medical consultation and advice. I always explain that issues related to medical treatment  and disability should always be left up to the doctor that my client sees, after consultation with my client/their patient. I urge my clients to go to their doctor visits armed with questions.

  • This didn’t hurt before, but now it does. It had to be caused by the accident.

It very well may be. But unless an injury can be related to an accident by credible medical expert testimony, it cannot be proven as related to the case. Put another way, your doctor must make the causal link between your injuries and the accident. The worst thing to do in a personal injury case is to overreach. That’s not to say you should not tell your doctor of all of your ailments. But  you should also rely on the competency of your treating doctor to causally connect your injuries to the accident and only those injuries that are related to the accident.