Here are Five Ways You Could be Sabotaging Your Personal Injury Claim
Ask any personal injury attorney and they can surely tell you about cases where their client greatly reduced the value of their case by the client’s actions or inaction. Many injured people don’t understand the personal injury process and unintentionally do things that hurt their case. Here are five of the most common missteps that I see in North Carolina and South Carolina personal injury cases.
1. No Treatment or Large Gaps in Treatment
A surefire way to drastically reduce the value of your personal injury claim is to not get medical treatment. No matter how much pain you are in, if you don’t get medical treatment, it is incredibly difficult to get compensated for that injury. There needs to be documentation from a medical professional, acknowledging your injury. Otherwise, those injuries are not going to be included in any settlement offer or will be greatly discounted. This is the case even when you don’t have health insurance or can’t afford to go to the doctor. While it’s not always fair, the thought is that if you are hurting bad enough, you’ll find somewhere to go for treatment.
Similarly, you don’t want to wait too long to get treatment. This is especially true immediately after you are injured. If you wait days and especially weeks before getting your first medical treatment, it’s going to have a negative effect on the value of your case. This also applies to later treatments when there are treatment gaps many months or even years apart. The rationale for this is that if you are hurting, you’re going to see a doctor, so if there are large gaps in your treatment, that must mean you are not hurting. This is often not the case, and many people have very good excuses for gaps in their treatment. However, insurance companies rarely care about or consider the rationale behind gaps and instead just reduce their settlement offers, so do your best to not have large gaps in your treatment.
2. Exaggerating or Downplaying Pain and Symptoms
At most doctor’s visits, injured people get questioned about what’s hurting and oftentimes are asked to rate their pain on the pain scale. Some people tend to exaggerate their injuries. Whether it is intentional or not, it happens frequently. Saying things like “I can’t get out of bed,” or that your pain is 10/10 are almost always exaggerations. That’s because unless you are 100% bedridden, you are doing things other than just lying in bed all day. And unless you are literally experiencing the worst pain imaginable, your pain is at a level lower than 10 of 10. For most people, I think they make these exaggerations, not to trick anyone, but rather to emphasize that they are really hurting and can’t do much of anything because of their injuries. However, those kinds of exaggerations can hurt your credibility both with your own doctor and with the insurance company.
The inverse of this is to downplay or not mention your pain or symptoms. In my experience, this is much less common than exaggerating pain and symptoms, but it does happen. For whatever reason, there are some injured people who just don’t want to acknowledge that they are in pain or can’t do certain things. As a result, their medical records describe minor injuries which are not indicative of what really went on. This of course leads to a greatly diminished financial recovery. There is a time for toughness and putting on a brave face, but that time is not during medical treatment for a personal injury case, at least not if you want to sufficiently be compensated for your injuries.
Honesty is always the best policy.
The best approach is to just be honest. If something is hurting, say it’s hurting and describe how it has affected you. Don’t exaggerate your limitations and do your best to consider how it compares to other pains you have experienced in your life when rating it on the pain scale. If it truly is the worst pain in the history of pain, then go ahead and rate it a 10/10. Otherwise, be realistic, and consider it’s probably a lower score. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt and hurt badly, in fact, it makes you look more honest.
This is an easy one. When your doctor tells you to do something, you need to do it. Some common examples that we frequently see are not going to physical therapy appointments, not doing home exercises prescribed by physical therapy, not taking medications as prescribed, and not following doctor’s orders regarding limitations or other things. If you choose not to follow medical advice, that’s your right. However, if you are non-compliant, the value of your cases is almost always going to be reduced as the argument can always be made that you would have been better quicker had you been compliant.
4. Excessive Lost Wage Claims
A personal injury claim is not a blank check and insurance companies don’t want to pay a penny more than they have to resolve your claim. As a result, almost every insurance adjuster looks very carefully at the damages you are asking them to compensate and this includes lost wages. Every now and again I will have a client who wants to try to claim lost wages that greatly exceed the amount of money they actually lost as a result of their injuries. Oftentimes, this happens with someone who is self-employed. Without fail, I refuse to submit illegitimate wages. This is because the insurance company is almost always going to want supporting documentation from you to support your wages, which if they are illegitimate, you won’t be able to provide. Additionally, not only are you not going to get paid those wages, but you’ve now damaged your credibility and the insurance company is going to question what else you might not be honest about. So, do yourself a favor and don’t try to inflate your lost wages as it almost certainly will backfire.
5. Trusting the Adjuster
Some adjusters are friendly. They express sympathy about what you’re going through and, in some instances, can be very personable. Other adjusters are more robotic in their dealings and make no attempt to hide their lack of empathy. However, regardless of their approach and personality, all adjusters are hired to do a job and that job is to pay you as little as possible to resolve your claim. So, don’t be fooled by a friendly adjuster. There is a reason that lawyers don’t want insurance adjusters to talk to their clients and inversely why adjusters like dealing with injured people rather than lawyers. Oftentimes the adjuster gets the injured person to say something that can be used against them or to lower the value of the claim. So, if you aren’t hiring a lawyer and you must talk to the adjuster, just bear in mind that no matter how concerned they might seem, they aren’t on your side.