Overstating Your Injuries is the 6th Most Common Way to
Damage Your Auto Accident Claim
There is a sure way to destroy your credibility to a jury or even to an insurance adjuster. That is to overstate or exaggerate your injuries. Some people think the longer they treat the more money they’ll get. Some people think the more medical care they have, the more money they’ll get. Some people think the longer they don’t go to work, they more money they’ll get. These ideas are not necessarily true. Juries are pretty good at figuring out who is exaggerating their injuries. If you see a doctor for four months, and every time you go in you say your pain is at a level 9, that is not really believable to a jury or to an insurance company. If it really is that high, you need much more serious care and treatment than just a physical therapist or a chiropractor. If your pain level is that high, then you should have been in a hospital getting an MRI, or getting epidurals, or some more serious treatment. Juries can usually tell if you’re exaggerating. If a jury feels that you have exaggerated your injuries, or are making them out to be worse than they really are, the jury will heavily penalize you on your verdict. They will not believe anything you say. They will become convinced that you are faking everything and give you much less money. Don’t lie to anyone about your case. Not your lawyer, the doctor, or the insurance company. I can fix a lot of stuff, but I can’t fix a lie. I cannot prepare for it, I cannot diffuse it, and I cannot prove our side if you lie to me or to the jury.
Your doctor cannot treat you effectively if you lie to him. Prior injuries are okay, but if you lie about them, then you will destroy any value in your case. Also, overstating your injuries or exaggerating them to your doctor is just not good medicine. Your doctor won’t know which tests to perform, which medicines to prescribe, whether his treatment is effective, and how to make you better.
A sure way to irritate and frustrate your lawyer is for him to find out you’re being dishonest. Never overstate your injuries. It’s not fair, it’s not honest, and it will almost always come back to bite you. Your bodily injury case is what it is. Your lawyer’s job is to get the most value for your case based on what what’s fair. Overstating your injuries usually results in a lower jury verdict and then less money from the insurance company.
Another component of overstated injuries is extended wage loss claims. If you cannot go to work, that’s perfectly fine. You need a medical excuse from a doctor telling you that you cannot go to work. People understand that right after the accident you very likely could not or did not feel like going to work. However, most people expect you to go back to work within one to two weeks. Just because you’re seeing a chiropractor or a physical therapist does not mean you cannot go to work. Some jobs are more physical than others and you would be prevented from going to work if you were injured. If this is the case, you need a note from the medical doctor saying you cannot go. Insurance companies and juries do not believe extended absences from work or extended lost wage claims without significant medical documentation. Juries are made up of normal folks just like you and I. Most cannot understand why you could not go to work for three months when all you did was treat with a chiropractor or physical therapist. They do not believe that you were injured to the extent that you could not work. Therefore, they will discount your lost wage claim if it’s that high, believe you are overstating your injuries, and punish you by giving you less than they normally would have. The insurance companies operate the same way. Juries expect that you’ll be in an accident, not go to work for some days and seek treatment, go back to work while you are still seeking treatment and then be done. Not going to work for three months with minor injuries is the same as overstating your injuries.
A component of this issue is simple honesty. If you are giving a recorded statement and they ask you a question, you need to be honest. Tell the truth. If your lawyer asks you a question, tell the truth. Lawyers can deal with bad information. What they cannot deal with is being caught not knowing about something. That makes them look like liars, or it makes them look like bad or uninformed lawyers. It is also makes you, the client, look terrible. I had a client who was asked in a recorded statement, "Do you owe any back taxes?" Back taxes have nothing at all to do with a car accident and they have nothing at all to do with a bodily injury case. The fact that my client had or did not have back taxes would not be admissible or relevant in court. However, my client did owe back taxes and lied about it. After her recorded statement was over and my client was no longer present, the insurance company said, "She does owe back taxes. Here’s the lien." The back taxes issue became admissible in court, not to prove she owed back taxes, but to prove that she was a liar. My client’s lie accomplished two things for the insurance company. One, it got the back taxes into the minds of the jury, so they felt like she was not paying her fair share to the government. Two, it destroyed her credibility; because she lied, the jury would not believe anything she said.
If they ask if you’ve been in a prior accident and you have, then you need to say so. Insurance companies will run your name and your social security number in their large database, and the will pull up every claim you’ve made in the last ten to fifteen years. You better believe they will know whether you filed a claim or not. If you say you haven’t, be prepared for your credibility to be destroyed in court.
Clients have said to me, "Well, Shane, I don’t want to tell them I’d ever hurt my back before the accident, because I’m afraid then they’ll think that none of my medical care is related to the accident." This is perfectly justifiable fear. An insurance company will try to say, "Well, we don’t want to pay for your back injury because you were hurt before." The important thing is, are you worse now than you were before the accident? If you were, then they are liable for that worsening of your condition. I tell clients it’s important to let me know what your status was six months before the wreck. Were you seeing any doctors for your lower back? Were you on medication? Did you need any therapy? If the answer to all of these is no, then it’s not really relevant that two years before the accident you saw your doctor for your lower back and he gave you a little bit of medicine and then you were fine. Juries understand that. They know that you can get hurt and get better. Even if you were seeing a doctor prior to the accident, your condition could, in fact, be made worse by the accident. As long as your medical doctor can document what your condition was before and what it was after the accident, we can work on it and we can have a case based on the worsening of your condition.