Common Misconceptions about New York Personal Injury Cases, Part II: “If I Complain about My Injury A lot to My Doctor And to The Jury, I Will Get More Compensation”

Take two clients with the same injury, say a cervical disk herniation. They are both in pain day and night. They can’t sleep. They have a hard time doing what they used to do during the day. They both try nerve block injections but get only limited, temporary relief. They both get neck fusion surgery and now have limited rotation of the neck, but still experience pain every day. There is only one difference between the two: Client A complains bitterly to his doctor about the pain and convinces his doctor to take him out of work. Client B sucks it up and tells his doctor he really wants a normal life, and wants to try to keep working. Who has a better personal injury case, client A or client B?

A few (fortunately, very few) of my Central New York personal injury clients believe it is client A because he has “proved” how much he is suffering by having his doctor take him out of work, and by filling up his medical file with complaints of pain. But actually client B may have a better case. In any event, I would much rather represent client B. Why?

Juries hate whiners. In fact, everyone does. Juries often assume they are milking the system, exaggerating their injuries to bring in a big verdict at trial. Conversely, juries, and people generally, love the fighter, the survivor, the guy who doesn’t give up. When such people testify in their own personal injury trial, they don’t give the impression that they are in it for the money. They have done everything they can to try to overcome their limitations, and are now just seeking fair compensation for what they have been unable to overcome. And juries like them and reward them for their I-can-lick-this-thing attitude.

Jury disdain for the whiner is so pervasive that any personal injury lawyer worth his salt is wary even of having the plaintiff testify about his own pain and suffering. It is hard to have the injured victim testify about his own pain and suffering without making him look like a whiner. So good personal injury lawyers try, to the extent possible, to have others testify, from the heart, and from their observations, about the victim’s pain and suffering. Family members, friends and co-workers give much more powerful testimony about the victim’s pain and suffering than the victim himself. “He used to play with our kids, and now he can only watches, and he cries about it in bed at night” is much more powerful coming from the victim’s wife than from the victim.

So if you are injured, do everything you can to overcome your injury. Fight it! And then we will ask the jury to compensate you for what you could not overcome. You are likely to get much better results in court, and in life, if you try your hardest to overcome the obstacles life throws in your way.

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