In every personal injury case, the goal should always be to achieve the maximum value available based on the applicable liability and damages. Personal injury claims involve both special and general compensatory damages and punitive damages in cases involving wantonness.
There are numerous factors to be considered in evaluating a personal injury case, including the basis for fault, whether negligence or wantonness, the type of injuries and medical treatment, the amount of special damages, especially medical expenses and lost income, availability of collateral source payments, the extent of permanent injury and disfigurement, jurisdiction and venue, whether the defendant is an individual or corporate entity, and the appearance and demeanor of plaintiff and defendant.
The preparation and handling of personal injury cases encompasses all of these factors, but we have found that certain activities and factors play a large role in achieving the maximum value. Although certainly not an exhaustive list, the following considerations are ones that we believe and have found to be particularly important.
An investigation conducted before and after suit is filed often yields information that can greatly increase the value of a case. The information can be gathered from several different sources.
As an initial matter, we routinely research Alacourt, Accurint, Motor Vehicle Reports, and Pacer to obtain information regarding the prior history of defendants and/or employees of defendants. Information regarding residency, employment history, criminal records, civil lawsuits, driving records and bankruptcy filings are available from these sources.
The information derived from these sources often leads to the discovery of evidence that advances our cases. In addition, social media is increasingly a valuable source of information regarding opposing parties and witnesses. It is amazing what people will post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. In fact, we now caution our own clients to refrain from sharing anything about their cases on social media.
Attorney groups and federal and state agencies are available for information in specific types of cases. A few examples are listed here. The Attorneys Information Exchange Group (AIEG) contains a treasure trove of information that is available to its members. It is a particularly valuable source in products liability, roadway design and trucking cases. In collision cases involving large trucks and 18-wheelers, a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request made to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration can result in production of a large amount of information regarding interstate trucking companies and drivers.
In bad faith or insurance fraud cases, a visit to the Alabama Department of Insurance in Montgomery often leads to the discovery of pattern and practice evidence or provides leads to other sources of information and evidence. In environmental cases, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) will often release the results of its investigation of certain matters that are involved in the case. In construction accident litigation, information supplied to local and state agencies and on file with them should be reviewed.
In addition, we find simple tasks that are relatively easy to do and inexpensive are often equally effective in increasing the value of a case. An accident site inspection early on by the lawyer handling the case, preferably with the client, can be very helpful in understanding the environment and circumstances surrounding the event at issue in the case. This is especially true in premises liability cases, construction site accidents and car and truck wreck cases.
Interviews and statements from an injured client’s relatives, friends and co-workers regarding how the client’s injuries have adversely affected him or her are highly persuasive. These are people who have no financial interest in the outcome of the case, which adds to their credibility as damages witnesses.
By doing these types of things, we have found that the results often significantly increase the value of a case.