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Enhancing Damages In Michigan Automobile Accident Cases

Michigan automobile accident lawyers are frequently posed with the question “How much is an automobile accident personal injury case worth today in Michigan?”  The question is posed by Michigan attorneys and victims of Michigan automobile accidents alike.   In large part the answer depends on the lawyers involved.   

There is no agreed upon value among Michigan lawyers that, for example, a traumatic brain injury suffered in a Detroit car accident is worth a certain amount of money, and a spinal cord injury suffered in a Grand Rapids car accident is worth a different amount of money.  In representing people who have been seriously hurt in car accidents in Michigan today, lawyers agree the end result is far more the result of art than science.

Few Michigan personal injury lawyers handling car accident cases succeed in receiving the full and fair value for their clients. Lawyers have an obligation to their clients to do better.  And, with the changes in how defense lawyers and insurance companies are evaluating and defending car accident injury cases today, the failure of some Michigan lawyers to receive full value effect everyone, lawyers and clients, throughout Michigan. 

There are two main areas where Michigan lawyers who handle automobile accident cases today can focus.  Keeping the statutory threshold requirements in mind, lawyers should pay attention first on the statutory requirements of Michigan auto negligence personal injury law: proving your client suffered an objective manifestation of injury in his or her car accident, and then on helping your client to document and show how these objectively manifested injuries affect a person's normal ability to lead his or her life.

Personal injury lawyers who focus on the statutory requirements will find that they provide a helpful framework to evaluate auto accident cases.  Many lawyers who change their approach will find that they are beginning to immediately increase the value of their car accident cases both for settlement and trial. 

This overview on how to handle automobile accident personal injury cases better is being written at a time when some of the largest insurance companies such as Allstate, State Farm, and Farmers are turning to highly sophisticated computer programs to determine what value they will place on different types of auto accident injury cases.  Many of these insurance companies then have incentive or bonus programs for adjusters who will pay 80% or less of what the computer determines is the value of that particular injury.  Value is also determined upon the geographic location where the injury occurred, jurisdiction, and other local factors.  Obviously, part of the much larger macroeconomic goal of these programs is that for each year settlement values injuries will be further reduced as offers are made upon the average settlement value from the year before.

One of the most important variables in these insurance company computer programs is the reputation of the personal injury lawyer representing the car accident victim.  Depending on the insurance company, the reputation of the plaintiff attorney can increase the value of an underlying personal injury settlement offer by as much as three or four times.  This is because the better the reputation of the Michigan lawyer representing the person injured in the car accident, the greater the exposure the insurance company faces at trial.  An attorney representing a person injured in a car accident cannot tell the lawyer or adjuster putting information into the computer program what to enter.  It is only the lawyer’s reputation, especially his trial verdicts and personal injury settlements that can change the value the computer program places on any particular auto accident in Michigan.  Ironically, a lawyer doesn’t even have to win his car accident cases, although obviously if he or she does it further enhances value.  Just the willingness to take a case to trial, which far too many personal injury lawyers in Michigan have the reputation for avoiding, theoretically increases the insurance company’s exposure and can increase the settlement value of a case.

The only way to stop this from happening for the lawyers handling automobile accident personal injury cases, both in Michigan and throughout the United States, is to fight hard for your clients to help them to achieve just compensation. The auto negligence threshold law provides a useful framework by which to do this.  By documenting the objective manifestation of these injuries and by focusing relentlessly on the ways that an injured person's life has been affected by a car accident, a lawyer is making each car accident case a stronger case for both settlement or for trial.

It is only by truly engaging a jury's or insurance company's appreciation of the way in which a personal injury from a car accident can truly affect every major area of a person's normal lifestyle - from work to recreational activities to social relationships - that a settlement or jury verdict can properly take into account the true and profound impact that a car accident can have on people's lives.

 

HOW DOES A LAWYER PROVE PAIN?

The fundamental challenge a Michigan lawyer handling automobile personal injury cases faces, as with most other personal injury cases, is in making the pain and injuries from a car accident real to secure the best settlement or trial verdict for his client. 

Pain is intangible, it creates no concrete image in people's minds and it is very possible that every person sitting in a courtroom may have a very different understanding in mind of what pain is.  In handling automobile accident injury cases, it is the lawyer’s job to make pain real.  The most effective way to do this is to demonstrate what the impairments are that your client is suffering from.  This is the key to maximizing your damages at trial.  It is also the key requirement under Michigan threshold law, and the last requirement of Michigan’s threshold test for auto negligence recovery.  Perhaps one unintended consequence of our law, which was enacted by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican Governor and then interpreted even more harshly by a slim four justice majority in the Republican Michigan Supreme Court, is that in attempting to raise the threshold level yet for victims of car accidents in Michigan, they have created a system by which the auto accident personal injury cases that do survive will survive by emphasizing the injured person’s lifestyle impairments, thus  increasing the value of these same cases.

To maximize damages and document impairment from a car accident, a lawyer handling an automobile accident injury cases is only limited by his or her imagination.  The impairments may also be provided to the trial court to assist the trial court in findings for the plaintiff that he or she has suffered a serious impairment of body function as a matter of law. If Michigan lawyers are unsure about the actual nature and extent of impairment, there are a wealth of resources that lawyers can turn.

Functional capacity testing questionnaires, such as the McGill pain Questionnaire, electronic pain diaries like PIPER that allow an injured person to record throughout the day their levels of pain and how injuries are affecting them, the AMA Guidelines for Pain and Disability are all available to lawyers.  These pain and disability impairment guides can be used to document impairment in people who are complaining in pain from a car accident.  Functional capacity and testing can be an extremely persuasive and powerful tool for providing the trial court with a sufficient factual basis for granting or denying summary disposition on a serious impairment of body function under Michigan auto negligence threshold law.  At trial, the more a lawyer can impress upon a jury how bad an actual injury has been for a person, the better the likely result in having them truly understand how the car accident has changed your client’s life.

Nursing evaluations, physical therapy questionnaires, surveys and testing can and should be presented by lawyers to the trial court at motions for summary disposition to support or attack the level of plaintiff's impairment.

With elderly clients and the unemployed, "time off work" will not establish a period of serious impairment under Michigan law.    The plaintiff lawyer should consider pain and grief counselors to establish the long term affects of pain.  Pain can depress a person's ability to function in every aspect of their life.  The same can be said with a psycho-pharmacologist or psychiatrist to talk to a jury about what the effects of the different pain medications that a person must take are, what they mean, the harms and risks that a plaintiff is exposed to in taking these medications and the long term affects that he or she may suffer as a result of someone’s negligence in causing a serious injury car accident.

 

Demonstrative aids can and should be used in auto accident cases.  There are wonderful life activity calendars that come in all different shapes, sizes and colors and that can graphically and persuasively show the impact of an injury accident by comparing a person's pre and post-car accident lifestyle.  Plaintiff and defense lawyers should also consider demonstrative aids to assist the judge with what an injury means.  It is unfair to assume that every trial judge has the medical background that most personal injury lawyers have and is familiar with these injuries.  Lawyers who deal with medical issues everyday sometimes assume a judge or a jury already knows that a given injury is serious.   When possible and when the opportunity presents, the plaintiff or defense lawyer should make every effort to impress upon the judge or jury in auto negligence personal injury cases what the effects of an injury are to better explain why an injury is or is not serious.