Posted on: January 2, 2010
A while ago I had dinner with a close friend (call him “Jack”) who is a brain surgeon. His wife (call her “Jill”), a former medical professional, was about to undergo a surgery that was completely outside of her husband’s specialty. In the course of conversation Dr. Jack seriously expressed confidence that he could do the surgery on Jill if he “just had the manual.”His confidence was calm, clear, and deserved, I think, for a skilled professional of his rank. Jill, however, dissented and had her surgery performed by an experienced professional in the field of her problem, which was entirely unrelated to Jack’s experience. Jill chose someone who had done the procedure many times before, rather than take a chance with someone skilled whom she loved and trusted but who did not have years of experience – like her husband.
Jill understood that experience matters. Despite her husband’s high level of skill, understandably, she did not want to be the first or even the tenth victim of her husband’s new learning experience.
Like a complicated surgical procedure, pursuing a recovery for damages caused by an accident is an intricate process. Each case is different. If that is the case, I have no fear in handling you this “manual” explaining many things about injury cases, knowing that you, as did Jill, would not be comfortable gambling when experienced professional help is available.
There is an old saying that goes “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Just as you wouldn’t perform a root canal on yourself, there are certain matters with legal implications and consequences that perhaps you should not handle yourself without at least consulting a lawyer.
Our firm, George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers , has represented over 40,000 injury victims, so I have a good idea of what may happen in, for example, a South Carolina auto accident case. Let me start this blog with the first thing we look for when potential clients call for help when they have been in an automobile accident: “Who is at fault?”
“Liability” is the legal term for determining who was at fault. Here are three things we use when trying to determine liability in an automobile collision case:
- How to ask the appropriate question to get an objective evaluation of who was at fault (who is liable for damages),
- How to get the best description of the accident from the collision victim, and
- Whether there is any additional evidence that the at-fault driver was liable.
Over the years, we have learned not to ask “Who was at fault?” One of my favorite books, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie starts off by clearly illustrating that people never think they did anything wrong. It is not a matter of lying or telling the truth, but of understanding that people tend to picture themselves as the hero. Dale Carnegie teaches that this is an important key to understanding human nature. I find it much more helpful to ask instead “Who got the blue ticket?” This immediately tells you what the police officer discovered after he responded to the scene. This is important because this is what the officer will testify to in court. I have found this to be an excellent indicator of whether this person’s claim may be recoverable in our system of laws.
Another tip is to not ask a prospective client how the collision happened. Instead, we take out three or four Matchbox cars that we keep in our conference rooms and ask the prospective client to show us how the collision took place. By moving these toy cars around, everyone overcomes the inherent confusion of language and instantly has a clear picture of exactly what our prospective client experienced in their collision.
Another issue we stress in evaluating a case is to find out whether the other driver may have been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or was in the course of some other illegal activity. We have found it more productive to ask “Was the other driver taken away by the police in handcuffs?” than “Was the other driver somehow impaired?” Our prospective client, who may have been injured, in shock, or being treated by paramedics usually has no way of observing the condition of the other driver. We know that if the police officer who was called to the scene let the other driver go, it will be impossible for them to later testify that the other driver was drunk or otherwise impaired at the scene of the collision and the officer released them in that condition. On the other hand, if the other driver was handcuffed and taken away by the police, the chances are excellent that the police officer felt there were grounds to believe that the other driver was impaired.
In hindsight these simple techniques seem like common sense, but in fact they are procedures, among many others, that we have developed and implemented over many years of trial and error. That’s called experience.
“The information relayed in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. The cases referenced and explained by the blog’s author(s) are for informational purposes only and are not intended to imply that certain, or similar, results may be achieved in each client’s case.”