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Common Misconceptions of PI Lawsuits

Today’s blog is about common misconceptions regarding personal injury lawsuits. I have written blogs on trial practice evoking the old adage from the real estate field, “location, location, and location” in saying that trials are about “evidence, evidence, and evidence”. The pursuit of a personal injury case is at first a matter of “insurance, insurance, and insurance”, something that may surprise many. In every injury or accident case, we must know the insurance coverage of the adversary. If there is not enough insurance or without insurance on the at-fault party, you are effectively suing someone personally. The good news is that you can learn the insurance coverage limits (amount of coverage) on the entity or person you are suing simply by sending a letter pursuant to a Massachusetts statute, c. 175, 113L. This provides a crucial piece of information at the outset.

Many people have misconceptions about the frequency, the speed, and the accessibility of a jury trial. The first misconception is the assumption that jury trials are common in personal injury cases. The system has several methods, such as mediation, arbitration, and a protracted course of discovery, which increase the likelihood of a settlement prior to the impaneling of a jury. (It is worth noting that there can actually be a resolution after the jury has been impaneled or even after a verdict has been reached.) The second misconception is the duration of the trial. Perhaps misled by the hour-long courtroom dramas on TV, people are often under the impression that a jury trial will be resolved quickly. Trials for a significant injury, where facts are in dispute, will go on for more than a week, and it is very possible for this to extend into a second week or more. Lastly, the time it takes to get to a trial can vary. Compared to when I first started practicing law, a client can get his or her case tried fairly quickly. But clients will not get it tried quickly in relation to when the injury (or the cause of action) arose.

Another misconception concerns the existence of something known as “special verdicts.” While some people think that the only decision for a jury to make is the amount of money to award, there are actually questions to be answered by a jury. Typically, the second question, about the causality of the defendant’s negligence, can be a trap or a pitfall. This has been discussed by me in prior blogs; it must be explained to a client.

The modern personal injury case uses experts, as I have written about over the years. The video on this website’s homepage touts my firm’s willingness to hire the “best experts regardless of the cost as long as they are credible and reputable”. The reference to cost is well-founded. The right preparation of a civil case requires experts, often a very expensive proposition. I have discussed this phenomenon with Massachusetts Superior Court Judges at “Bench and Bar” meetings and they are quite surprised at the expense. Therefore, it is no wonder that clients will be shocked, and therefore need to be informed. The conscientious lawyer will not let this potential misconception linger.

Finally, certain things that are brought up, or not brought up, in a trial may surprise the client. This is usually because of the rules of evidence. They have evolved over centuries and can serve to exclude relevant evidence. There is a rationale for these rules. Their exclusionary nature may lead to a debate on the wisdom of having them but I will leave that philosophical debate for another blog.

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