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An Accident Lawyer Becomes an Accident Victim and Gains Empathy for Her Clients in the Process

A Personal Injury lawyer's role should be about more than just getting the most money for your case...and I know, from personal experience!   

 

Sometimes, folks call me and say, "do I really need a lawyer to help me with my car crash case?"  They reason that it is only about money, and that, if the only thing you can do for me as an attorney is to get me slightly more money, then why bother?

 

This argument seemed to make sense to me, 20 years ago, when I was a much younger lawyer and also the victim of a car crash myself.  At the time, my children were very young and still in car seats.  We were waiting to make a left turn into the parking lot of their preschool when a gentleman struck our vehicle from behind at a high rate of speed, causing quite a bit of damage to the car and causing me to black out.  It was an incredibly frightening experience for my children, as they watched me being taken away on a stretcher.  Thank goodness the accident happened in front of their preschool, as their loving teachers were there to help calm them until my husband could come to the site. I was taken to the hospital for severe neck and back pain and a possible concussion.  I treated with a physical therapist for  several months.  My one child chipped a tooth and had some emotional problems after the accident.  

 

But hey, I was an attorney---I could settle the case myself, right?  WRONG.  The insurance company barely offered to pay me back for my medical expenses, and offered me virtually nothing for all the pain and suffering.  The insurance adjuster actually told me that because I was an attorney, no one on a jury would feel sorry for me, "because everyone dislikes attorneys. "  Basically, I was told that my family and I were not worthy of basic compensation, and it hurt me deeply.  So, I had my attorney boss at the time try to get the case settled, but she, too, was unsuccessful at getting any more money for me. I had been through a lot of pain and, little did I know, I would have neck and back pain that would plague me for the rest of my life.  

 

So, I had to file a lawsuit to get the money I deserved.  The attorney I worked for didn't feel she could file a lawsuit for me, given the nature of our practice at the time, so I prepared the lawsuit myself and hired my former law firm to be my attorneys in the actual lawsuit.  

 

We thought that filing a lawsuit would get the insurance company's attention and they would offer more money as a result. Instead, I was viciously attacked with a counterclaim filed against me.  The old man who struck me actually claimed I slammed on my brakes, which was crazy--I had an independent witness who said that I was sitting there, with my blinker going, waiting to turn, for at least 10 seconds.  This old man alleged in his counterclaim that the injuries to my one child were my fault for slamming on the brakes!  Well, there is nothing more hurtful you can say to a mother than "you hurt your child," so my anger and rage was immeasurable.  

 

The attorney handling my case did his best to keep me away from the stress of the situation, which made things much better, but as my deposition was nearing, I was having trouble sleeping and was incredibly anxious, as I was going to have to face a baseless allegation of negligence on my part.  It felt like a severe injustice.  I ended up settling the case right before my deposition for a few thousand dollars more than I had been offered prior to filing suit, simply because the stress of the lawsuit was not worth it.  

 

Why do I tell this story?  Because I was over involved in my case.  I tried to deal with it myself because I was an attorney.  But what I learned is that when something happens to you, it is hard not to take it all personally.  And insurance companies do not care about how they make you feel when you are resolving a case with them---they are only worried about how much money they can save on resolving the case.  As a personal injury victim, the insurance company can sometimes make you feel more like the wrongdoer for filing a claim. I have often wished that I had hired a lawyer right from the start, so that I didn't have to hear some of the things the insurance adjuster had to say about me and my case.  It  would have been better to take the personal stuff out of the equation and to let a lawyer deal with the matter to resolution.  

 

As personal injury attorneys, it sometimes seems that the only thing we can do for our clients is to get them money.  And frankly, that is the bottom line. But I feel that a good part of a personal injury attorney's job is to ease some of the stress the client feels.  The attorney can deal with the client's case on a business-like basis and not on a personal level.  Maybe that is why we are referred to frequently as "Counselors." We are not psychologists, nor should we try to be, but we are there to render advice and to take on the client's problems in a professional manner. 

 

Although I don't like the fact that I have neck and back pain that still causes me problems to this day, I sometimes feel grateful for the car crash experience I had 20 years ago, because it has made me a more empathetic lawyer.  I understand when a client is upset at an unfair settlement offer.  It  seems like a personal affront to them, and I get that.  I understand how hurtful it is for an injured worker when the employer treats their employee like a criminal when they file a worker's compensation claim that occurred due to some unsafe condition on the job.  Our clients are the victims of the wrongdoing or negligence of someone else, and yet they are made to feel like the bad guy.  It is our job as personal injury lawyers to not only get the best possible monetary outcome for our clients, but also, to deal with the very stressful process on their behalf. 

 

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