The goal of making a claim and/or suing for damages is to compensate an injury victim. To compensate means to balance out. A person is injured as a result of another’s actions or lack of action. The new post accident state of affairs is out of balance – the injured party has lost something – in the form of impaired health, medical bills, lost wages, vocational impairment and so forth.
The question then becomes how do we, as a society, redress this imbalance? Well, let’s see. I suppose one way to balance the imbalance is to go back in time before the injury occurred and somehow prevent the actions and circumstances which gave rise to the injury in the first place. Now stick with me. I don’t want to come off as facetious. Let’s conduct a “thought experiment” to help us answer the question — isn’t personal injury law all about the money?
If time travel were possible, would an injury victim, or “claimant” opt for what amounts to be a “mulligan,’ i.e., a do-over? I submit she would and I’ll give you my reasons.
There are very few things in life as important as good health. I think we all can agree on this. One’s very livelihood flows from good health. If we cannot work due to ill health, most other aspects of life soon falter — our shelter, security, ability to pay for necessities like electricity and water, well, you get my drift.
Once any reasonable person realizes the critical role good health plays in her well-being, she will naturally do all she can to safeguard that commodity. Accordingly, if it were possible to go back in time to reset history as it were, to avoid n accident, a claimant would most likely do so.
Of course you can raise the case whereby a person would want money so badly that she’d be willing to suffer even a hideous injury in exchange for enough money. Such a person might point out that she is so distressed without money that the money she would receive in a personal injury award would, on balance, make her life better, even with the physical impairment.
To that I would say that such a person has more problems than lack of money, that her lack of money probably flows from her inability to set priorities. It’s better to avoid an accident and its crippling effects than have one and enjoy some money, especially if the crippling effects damage your future earning ability. Besides, I would say, is that the best idea you can come up with to earn money, to maim yourself? You be the judge.
Still not convinced? Let’s engage in a further thought experiment. Suppose someone were to say to you “I’ll give you $500,000.00, tax – free, if you allow me to break your right leg.” Let’s pretend for the moment such an agreement is not illegal. How many people would take this deal? I submit not very many.
But, you may argue, most people would say no because they are afraid of the pain. What would the person say if I would to throw in 50 grains of morphine before the breaking? Perhaps a few demented souls would take the deal. But those of us who understand the importance of good health to our well-being understand that even half a million dollars do not begin to compensate for a crippled leg. I would submit no amount of money would.
Money’s a funny thing. No matter how much you have, there’s still a nagging feeling that you don’t have enough. I’ve never been quite capable of understanding this phenomenon.
There will always be someone with more money than you, if your thing is to be at the top of the money pyramid. And money is not, and never has been, the measure of a good and worthy person. The measure of a good person is how well she treats and helps others, how committed she is to the truth, how constructively she handles adversaries and adversities and how much compassion is in her heart. Simple as that.
I digress. The fact is we cannot go back in time, at least not yet. So where does that leave the injury victim? Intentionally or not, another person has taken something from her and therefore owes her. The at-fault party has to pay you for her loss.
What has she lost? Her health. The best thing she can do to return to the status quo ante is to see a doctor or set of doctors, depending on the extent of her injuries. True enough, but this requires money.
Injury law at this point is about medical care. She may have also lost her ability to work; therefore, she may need occupational rehabilitation. So injury law is also about getting the injured back to work. The whole ordeal may have made her depressed and anxious. So, injury law is about getting the psychological care she needs. And don’t forget the little matter of her vehicle. Injury law is also about getting her back on the road so she return to work, shop, bowl — lead a normal life again. Injury law is about all these things.
Now the at – fault person does not personally provide the above services. It would be impossible. And the professionals who do provide such services are not paid in wampum. Money is the commodity that modern societies have always used to trade for goods and services. And it’s no different if injury victim needs goods and services in order to be made whole again.
So when confronted by the question of whether injury law is only about money, say of course it’s about the money. How else can you pay the victim’s medical bills, lost wages, psychological and property damage?
The question is merely designed to undermine the credibility of someone who’s been injured and is seeking compensation.
Workplace injuries are extremely common, so, first of all, don’t feel you’re “odd” or a “special case.” Employers know that workplace injuries are a business risk. That’s why most employers carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance works pretty much the same way as other insurance policies. The employer, whether it’s a big corporation or a sole proprietorship, pays a premium to the insurance carrier, so that when one of his, or its, employees are injured, the employer is not out of pocket for the damages.
So what’s the catch? Insurance companies only pay “compensable” claims. Just because you think you have a compensable claim does not mean the insurance company will automatically start cutting you checks. There are many hurdles standing between you and your benefits.
This where a personal injury attorney comes in. A knowledgeable and experienced lawyer will help you navigate your claim through the legal and factual obstacle course that sinks many otherwise valid claims.
What do I have to do to get my workers’ compensation benefits?
The first thing you need to do when you are hurt at work is to report it to your immediate supervisor. This is called giving your employer “notice” of your injury. If you don’t carry anything else away from this blog, remember this: tell your employer how you were injured, where the accident happened, what body part or parts are injured, when you were injured, and then make sure you ask to see a doctor.
Upon receiving notice, your employer or his representative should fill out an incident report narrating the facts of your case. Make sure you get a copy of this report. Make several copies of it. After this, your employer may refer to an in-house doctor. In-house doctors are becoming more and more common in big corporations. If your employer has no in-house physician, he will probably refer you to a private group that customarily deals with that employer — usually what I call a “doc-in-a-box.” These are private emergency medical clinics. Some are quite good, others provide questionable services. In any event, if your employer refers you to a doctor, you must go. Don’t worry, you have the right to demand alternate care and get a second opinion. But at this stage, you need to give your employer the chance to provide medical treatment. Failing to go to your employer’s doctor could seriously jeopardize your case.
When you meet with your employee’s doctor, say as little as possible about the facts and circumstances of your case as anything you say can be used against you later on. But the same token, be careful filling out the doctor’s intake form. Again, you are essentially making a statement and any inconsistencies with what you report and what you later testify to will damage your credibility, and it’s not an overstatement to say that credibility is the single most important factor to consider in any litigation.
Should I go to my family doctor?
If your employer fails to refer you to “the company doctor,” by all means make an appointment to see your family physician. Also, this is another good time to call an experienced personal injury lawyer. Please feel free to call our firm at any time, day or night. If we are not available, leave a message with our answering service. We will get back to you as soon as possible.
Be careful what you say to your family doctor. Although she is “on your side”, she may report damaging statements you make, not knowing any better because she is not a lawyer. If you don’t have a family doctor, go the emergency room or ask your attorney to refer you to a doctor. He or she should have a network of generalists and specialists ready and willing to examine you, treat you, and if necessary, provide a medical opinion as to the seriousness of your injury, what treatment is necessary, and what, if any, future care you may need.
What if I am unable to return to work?
If your injury results in your being unable to return to work at full duty in a full duty, the insurance carrier should begin paying you what’s called “temporary total disability,” i.e., your weekly checks, as long as the authorized physician has written a note excusing you from work because of the nature of your injury. Make a copy of this and make sure it gets to your employer who should forward it to the carrier. If you are not receiving checks, call your lawyer and she should get on the phone with the carrier and raise a ruckus. Believe me, unless you are independently wealthy, you’ll need that money. Deliver a copy of the doctor’s excuse to your attorney as well as all other documentation pertaining to your case. Remember, giving your lawyer too much information is better than giving him too little.
There are many other pitfalls to avoid when trying to get your benefits. If you’ve been hurt at work, call us immediately at 864.233.2000 in Greenville and 591.1114 in a Spartanburg. We’ll safeguard the integrity of your case and get you the money you need and deserve.
Good luck and be careful out there. Remember, you are not alone. We’re only a phone call away.
This sounds obvious, but what are the implications of this statement? Personal Injury Law, like all other areas of law, is complex. Courts and legislatures have wrestled with personal injury law and its manifold applications and meanings for centuries.
It is nothing new and has gained notoriety in the past few decades because of sensational awards and less than tasteful attorney advertising. And the body of personal injury law increases daily. Even for a licensed attorney, it can take years to become a truly competent personal injury advocate.
For a layperson, unschooled in the law, to think he can fairly contend with a sophisticated insurance company whose business it is to deny claims, and which has an army of highly paid attorneys well versed in personal injury law at its disposal is, bluntly speaking, ludicrous.
Going up against an insurance company unrepresented is akin to a person who has never seen a chess set before suddenly cast into a match with a Russian master. David versus Goliath may be a good story, but, David rarely beats Goliath.
For example, if you have been injured in an accident, an insurance adjuster may tell you that you are not injured enough to justify any compensation whatsoever. And she may be right because you have not presented any evidence to show you have been injured, You have merely claimed it. You have the burden of proof to show that you’ve been injured, not the other way around. On the other hand, she may be bluffing you. Either way, you just don’t know without professional guidance.
2. Lawyers know what compensation is due their clients
Every legitimate injury case results in “damages.” Damages have “value.” Determining how that value translates into money is the central challenge of personal injury law. People complain that all injury lawyers are interested in is money. This is absurd as there is much more to an injury case than damages. But until man can go back in time and with foreknowledge avoid the accidents that befall him, money is the only way to compensate a person for her damages. I would much rather have my client avoid the tragic consequences a serious accident than get him money after the fact. But unfortunately, that is not the reality.
Now, most non-lawyers focus on their “pain and suffering.” But pain and suffering, while important, is only one piece of the damages puzzle. But what constitutes pain and suffering? How is it measured? How is it translated into dollars and cents? What about lost wages, future lost wages, vocational impairment, permanent disability and the host of other potential damages? Luckily, experienced injury lawyers are out there trained to deal with these and other questions about your case.
3. Lawyers know how to build cases
A strong legal case does not burst full-blown and mature into the world. Cases must be developed. Lawyers identify relevant and credible witnesses. Experts examine accident scenes and reconstruct what happened, reducing it to writing, exhibits, and testimony. Investigators unearth new evidence, run background checks, locate missing witnesses, build photographic records. If a case is very serious, a lawyer retains doctors to render opinions diagnoses, causation, and a client’s future medical needs. And after all, this is done, a lawyer needs to research the law applicable to the case.
From the perspective of laypersons, such work occurs behind the scenes, which accounts for the confusion as to what lawyers actually do. There’s a lot more to legal practice than making a few phone calls. It’s easy for people to appreciate a doctor’s or an architect’s expertise – their work is manifested in something concrete – a prescription, a building. A lawyer’s work is largely intellectual, its goal — justice — is ephemeral – difficult to perceive and appreciate.
4. Lawyers know what to say, but more importantly, what not to say
Have you ever heard the adage: give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself? This applies in spades in the context of making a personal injury claim.
Clients are eager to tell their story to someone in an “official position.” Adjusters know this and prey on the fact. Injury victim has the fallacious idea that if they are “reasonable” with the insurance company, the insurance company will respond in a reasonable manner. The non-attorney believes he’s on a journey of cooperation with the insurance company – that he’s in “good hands.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The insurance company’s goal is to pay you nothing, or as little as possible. As the non-attorney proceeds on her merry way, disclosing gourds of information about the claim and herself, mindless of the fact that some information might hurt her case as the adjuster sits back, say nothing and encourages her to proceed in her tale of woe.
The adjuster will flatter her, pretend to be interested in every aspect of her story, when, in fact, he’s like a spider, waiting for her to make that one disclosure, that mistake or series of mistakes fatal to her case. What kind of mistake? That you were partially at fault. That you had been partying. That you got in a car with a person you knew was partying. That you had injured your back in an accident the week before. That you have a motive to lie. Anyone of a thousand things.
But a good lawyer knows “the game” and properly prepares clients for examinations. He evaluates if the testimony is relevant and whether it should be disclosed. He knows what areas to avoid and what areas to highlight. He’ll counsel the client to always tell the truth, to appreciate the concept of truth. He’ll know how to neutralize or minimize information harmful to your case and unearth facts favorable to your case that a client might fail to spot, and so on.
5. If you are not represented by an attorney, insurance companies will not take you seriously
There it is. In a nutshell. Insurance adjusters rub their hands together at the prospect of an unrepresented injury victim because they know they know the rules of the game and how to manipulate them and the victim doesn’t. A case of Godzilla vs. Bambi. And take it as an article of faith – Godzilla has no respect for Bambi.
One of the main purposes of the law is to compensate persons for a wrong another person or entity has perpetrated upon them which results in a loss of some sort.
For instance, if you’re a buyer and a seller agrees to sell you a specific number of goods at a specific price and that seller reneges on the deal in one or more ways, then the law provides you with a remedy (possibly a lawsuit) intended to make you whole should you prevail. In a very real sense, you have been “injured”. But you have been injured financially.
It is also true that, in a very real sense, you have been personally injured. What could be more personal than losing one’s money?
But the legal field of personal injury, the field in which I practice law, is generally limited to bodily injury.
The personal in personal injury literally refers to the human body. Of course, I deal with “financial” injury also, that is, when my client loses money because his injury resulted in medical bills, lost wages and so forth, but the main loss is bodily loss.
It’s a cliché that lawyers have their own language. But it’s a true cliché. Lawyers refer to legal language as “terms of art,” and it has been developed and refined over the centuries. Words which mean one thing to a lawyer may mean something entirely different to a nonlawyer. So, when you see a legal term, simply look it up for its precise definition. You may be glad you did.
It’s not a good idea to talk to anyone about your case. Sure, there are people with whom you may safely discuss your case, for instance, your spouse, but the better rule is: never discuss your case with anyone, except your lawyer and his staff. This applies to workers’ compensation cases as well as to other types of injury cases. Why?
The simple answer is that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law or other adjudicatory proceedings. Sound familiar? That’s because the foregoing statement is part of the Miranda warnings police are obligated to recite to persons under arrest. Spontaneous statements are admissible in criminal proceedings, and any statement, voluntary or not, is admissible in civil proceedings. (within certain parameters) which includes workers’ compensation and other tort cases.
Even if you make a statement about your case to your best friend, that friend is subject to subpoena and must truthfully disclose what you told her or face contempt. So – MUM is the word.
If my case is compensable, why do I need a lawyer?
Achieving compensability for your cases is only half the battle.
Take good note: insurance accompanies do not have your interests at heart. Period. Insurance companies are corporations, usually public, and their allegiance lies exclusively with the stock price of their company. Look at it this way: one does not run a profitable insurance company by paying claims.
Employers and insurance companies may like you to think they are paternal, willing and always ready to take care of you if you are a good and loyal worker. Unfortunately, in most cases, this is not true. You are replaceable, and they know it. And if it comes down to you or them, they will do whatever it takes to protect themselves. Of course, there are exceptions.
Given this reality, do not assume that just because you are receiving temporary compensation that the workers’ compensation insurance company will maximize your disability payment or make good on your other damages. To the contrary, it will usually hire attorneys to make sure it pays you the minimum.
This is why you need an experienced, aggressive lawyer fighting for your interests throughout the life of your claim. This is what the Attorney Offices of Thomas Gagne, P.A. promises you – an ally sincerely looking out for you.