Feature Article  


7 Things You Can Do To 
Help Your Own Case

A number of common pitfalls exist for the unwary personal injury claimant which may negatively impact one's case. While each and every personal injury case is unique, there are several things you can do to help preserve your legal rights.   

1.  Document your case.  Where practical, you should attempt to preserve and protect all evidence related to your case, so that it can be reviewed and used by your attorney.  For instance, keep all medical bills, prescriptions, medicine containers, and medical records related to the injury at issue.  You should also keep any correspondence, documents, or other records which may exist that in any way relate to the incident in question or the person or entity responsible for your injury. If possible, you should also take photographs of the scene of the incident or accident and the instrumentality which caused the injury (eg. the vehicles in an auto accident), to help eliminate argument as to the circumstances as they existed at the time of the incident or accident.  You should also photograph your injuries over time as they heal, so a jury can more easily understand the nature and extent of your suffering.  

2.  Identify Key Witnesses.  As soon as possible after the incident or accident, you should identify individuals who may have observed the incident or accident, or who may otherwise have been involved.  You should ascertain their addresses and telephone numbers so that your attorney may contact them to learn more about your case.

3.  Do Not Give a Statement Without Consulting an Attorney.   You may be contacted by the faulty party's insurance company shortly after the incident or accident giving rise to your injury in order to give a statement.  When asked to give a statement, you will likely be asked questions which bear upon who was at fault and the extent of your injuries.  Because this statement may be used against you later, you should consult an attorney before agreeing to give any such statement.

4.  Do Not Delay in Consulting An Attorney.  Generally speaking, a legal doctrine called "statute of limitations" provides that you must bring your claim (file a lawsuit) within a specified timeframe, or forever be barred from pursuing such claim.  The time periods can vary significantly depending upon the jurisdiction, the type of case, the plaintiff, and other factors.  Many exceptions and caveats have developed over the years in certain jurisdictions which make the calculation of these time periods can be exceedingly complicated.  Therefore, it is highly advisable to consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible to help you determine when the deadline is for you to file your lawsuit.

Beyond the "statute of limitations", many jurisdictions place additional deadlines on claims brought against certain types of entities.  For instance, in a number of states, additional deadlines exist for persons seeking to assert a claim against a governmental unit.  These deadlines require that the claimant put the government "on notice" of the claim much sooner than the statute of limitations requires that a lawsuit be filed (in some cases just a matter of months after the incident giving rise to the claim).  If notice is not given, the claim is barred.  This example illustrates the importance of acting quickly to obtain competent legal counsel to guide you through this legal minefield.

Besides the consequences of missing a filing deadline, there are other important reasons not to delay in pursuing a personal injury claim.  The sooner an attorney is hired, the soon he or she can begin investigating the facts, interviewing witnesses, and otherwise set about obtaining and preserving important evidence to be used in pursing your case.  Otherwise, witnesses' memories tend to fade and crucial evidence can be lost or destroyed.

5.  Do Not Discuss the Case with Others.  Generally speaking, when you discuss your case with your attorney, the conversation is protected by the "attorney-client privilege."  However, if you discuss the case with persons other than your attorney, there is likely no privilege which would keep the opposing party from discovering what you said in such conversations.  The opposing party's lawyers may attempt to use these conversations against you later on.  Therefore, it is advisable not to discuss your case with anyone other than your attorney, and those with whom your attorney advises you to speak.

6.  Keep Your Attorney Informed.  It is imperative that an open line of communication exists between you and your attorney.  You should promptly notify your attorney if anything of significance changes with respect to your or your case.  For instance, you should advise your attorney if you learn of new facts concerning your case, your medical condition changes, you begin consulting a new health care provider, you have been contacted by anyone concerning the case, etc.  You should also promptly notify your attorney in the event you change telephone numbers, move to a new address, or plan to be out of town for an extended period of time, as your attorney may need to reach you on short notice in connection with a case deadline.  Never withhold information from your attorney, even if you think the information is not that important or may be detrimental to your case.  Your attorney needs to know everything there is to know about your case.

7.  Follow Your Attorney's Instructions.  It is a personal injury attorney's job to steer his client through the complex and often confusing process of pursuing a personal injury claim.  Conversely, it is the client's responsibility to listen to the attorney, and to diligently follow his or her instructions.  Be mindful of any deadlines of which your attorney makes you aware, as failing to comply with such deadlines may negatively impact your case, or even result in the dismissal of your case.  Only discuss the case with those whom your attorney has given you permission.  







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