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Helping injured senior citizens

November 2, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Today I’m posting a video about educating lawyers on how to better represent injured senior citizens. This video is part of a question and answer session I had with a good friend of mine, Jason Studinski.  Jason is  head of Studinski Law in Wisconsin and he specializes in protecting senior citizens, primarily in nursing home abuse and neglect cases. So he is very familiar with all of the defense arguments from insurance companies on why the elderly and their injuries just don’t matter – or matter as much.

It’s an important issue. I’m trying a case in Macomb County next week on this issue. In my own case, an 83-year-old was horribly killed by a truck.  The death was one of the most gruesome I’ve ever seen.  In my case, the defense lawyer told me his life didn’t matter and the main legal defense seems to be that all of the safety violations and reckless conduct that both the truck driver and the truck company committed should be excused because my client, who they killed, was elderly.

It’s an ugly defense, and I took on the case because what bothers me the most is that the defense lawyers and insurance claims adjusters in these types of cases involving the elderly and senior citizens always think they got a lucky break. They think that because they killed someone who wasn’t working anymore, or who was older or sick, or who already had health problems, that they got lucky.  They got lucky because they killed an “old guy,” and that they can pull one over juries because people on juries will ignore all the safety regulations and rules that were violated.

Worst of all in these cases, they think they get a pass on safety because they killed someone who was older, and the defense in these cases is always the same: “He was old. He was sick. He was going to die anyways, so we got lucky and don’t have to pay what we otherwise would.”

And that pass on full and fair compensation then needlessly endangers all of us, because next time maybe it isn’t a senior citizen, but maybe a child.  Maybe it is any one of us.  That is why I take these cases so seriously, because the defense devalues life, and if it is accepted, then it is a direct threat to us all.

Jason and I want to share this video to dispel this myth for other lawyers, and to offer some practical strategies for truly helping  elderly accident victims.


This Pernicious, ugly defense in senior citizen personal injury cases is spreading

Our senior citizen population is getting bigger as people  live longer.  This trend impacts our law practices.  It means that  most injury attorneys will be representing an increasing number of seniors and the elderly in a wider variety of personal injury cases.

According to a study by the AARP, “From 2007 to 2030, the population age 65+ is projected to grow by 89%, more than four times as fast as the population as a whole.”   During that same time period, the population age 85+ is expected to increase by 74%.

Again, as lawyers, we know that accident cases for the elderly present the usual  ugly defenses that negligent companies try to use to evade taking full responsibility.  Defenses  such as:

  • “He was old, he had lots of medical problems, and he was going to die anyway.”
  • “Injuries, pain, and future suffering should be discounted because they will die soon anyways.”
  • “The medical records are full of co-morbidities and pre-existing conditions, implying that this is somehow not a normal part of aging, and that people who have pre-existing conditions can be treated differently and less fairly.

These problems and defenses are difficult, but the most pernicious thing about them is that we as lawyers hear them so often that there is a subtle brainwashing that takes place.

Suddenly, good lawyers start to buy-in to these defenses and we become willing to give a discount on responsibility to negligent defendants.  We buy-in to this lottery ticket argument that they got lucky because they killed an old person, or that human life really does mean less once people get to some age.

But these arguments that insurance companies and skilled defense lawyers make in all personal injury cases about the elderly are not insurmountable.

Here are a few talking points we covered in the video:

  • Changing our DNA as lawyers to better understand the “real damages” suffered by elderly plaintiffs;
  • Understanding typical defenses in elderly cases ;
  • Discovering the story in an injury and damages case for an elderly plaintiff;
  • Preexisting conditions and an analysis of what this really means;
  • Using lay witnesses to help people understand your client and his value and worth.

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