After an accident, most people don't know what to do first. Most lawyer advertising is pretty silly and unhelpful; the insurance adjuster is calling to get you to sign "just a few forms." In any Virginia car accident case there are some things you can do to really destroy your own case. Here are the Five Deadly Sins that can wreck your personal injury claim.
These errors are based on my many years of experience and many discussions with judges and jurors. 1. The Client is Referred by the Lawyer to a Doctor.
Beware of any lawyer who has a stable of doctors to refer you to. This is a scam. Local judges call this "service" the kiss of death to a claim.
(One long-time Virginia attorney was disbarred because he referred clients to a chiropractor and then told his clients to lie about the referral when asked in deposition.) The problem with a lawyer to doctor referral is that jurors are highly suspicious of lawyers and doctors who have a referral relationship. While the client may not know how many of that lawyer's clients have been referred in the last 12 months to a particular doctor, you can bet that the insurance company knows it or will find out about it. How credible do you think that doctor's testimony will be when the jury finds out that he treated 50 patients from the same lawyer last year? Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes, there are. You may have a very special need for a doctor with a special expertise. It is perfectly legitimate for the attorney to make that suggestion/recommendation.
If every client, though, is getting referred to the same chiropractor or the same orthopedist, then that is a huge problem. (So beware of the attorney who has a stack of doctor/chiropractor cards in his office. You need to ask the right questions and fully understand the business relationship, if any, between that attorney and the doctor.
) 2. Hiding Past Accidents From Your Lawyer Once you begin a case, the other side will be interested in knowing how many past accidents you have been in. The truth is that they already know the answer or have easy access in their databases to that information. Most major insurance companies subscribe to vast databases and usually the only reason they ask you this question is to see if you are credible. If you have been in other accidents, your lawyer can investigate this and make a determination as to whether this is a valid problem in your case or not. If you do not tell this to your attorney, and you lie about your accident and claim history to the insurance company, then it is almost assured that you will destroy your own case.
(One former client told us that she didn't think she needed to disclose prior accidents to us because "It didn't matter." The insurance company already knew and when they told the judge, the case was lost. While we could have dealt with a past accident had we known about it, the mistake cost our client $75,000.) 3. Hiding Other Injuries from Your Lawyer It goes without saying that you should be upfront and honest with your attorney about any injuries that occurred before or after this accident.
Again, if you saw a doctor or other healthcare provider, then there is a record in existence that the insurance company will find. Your lawyer can deal with this if he knows about it. If you lie about it, and the insurance company finds out, then your case is over. 4.
Not Having Accurate Tax Returns In almost every case, a claimant will have lost income because of the accident. You will only be able to claim that lost income if your past tax returns are pristine. It would be foolish to risk going to prison by claiming a loss of earnings in your case, only to have your federal and state income tax returns not back up your claim. Again, being honest with your attorney is the only way to be, because he or she can deal with the problem if they know about it. 5. Misrepresenting Your Activity Level Insurance companies routinely hire private investigators to conduct videotape surveillance.
If you claim that you cannot run, climb or stoop, and you get caught on videotape, you can forget about your claim. There often is no good explanation (other than "you got my father, not me") that can overcome the eye of the camera. Personal injury lawsuits in Virginia are serious business.
The insurance companies are willing to spend a ton of money investigating your claim. Juries in Virginia are very smart and will see right through any claim shenanigans. Before you sit down and chat with the insurance adjuster, its usually a great idea to at least consult with an experienced, board certified, car accident attorney in your area.
Ben Glass is a personal injury attorney in Fairfax, Virginia. He has been representing individuals against the insurance companies since 1983. He has authored numerous consumer publications, including The Truth About Lawyer Advertising and The Ultimate Guide to Personal Injury Claims in Virgina. He is a frequent lecturer to the legal community. Visit his web site at www.BenGlassLaw.com.