Damages are About Putting in the Work
In his 43 years of practice, Chris Searcy of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley of West Palm Beach, FL, has learned a lot about presenting damages. But Chris came to the practice of law with a lot of instinct because at the age of 29 he earned a $1 million verdict, the youngest lawyer in the US to achieve such an award for a single personal injury case. Since then, he has compiled a long list of 7, 8 and even 9 figure verdicts.
If one talks with Chris you learn quickly that damages are not a tag-a-long element of the case that will take care of itself until a week or so before trial. That philosophy is not conducive to recovering the full damages that the client has sustained.
Chris believes it is the lawyer’s job to see that clients are helped to the fullest extent possible by monetary recovery. “If an attorney keeps in mind the difficulty of repairing an injured person, he or she will focus more on the development of damages from the beginning to the conclusion of the case. It is the lawyer’s job to teach the jury the full extent of the client’s damages through the presentation of the case. To do so, lawyers must fully understand the extent of the damages themselves.” Chris has a short checklist of things that trial lawyers must do to learn all they can about the client’s damages.
Listen to the Client. They are trying to explain how to win their case. There is no one size fits all for presenting damages. The extra time it takes to really learn about what is bothering the client and to do the extra research necessary to appropriately present it will be the most important time spent on a case, preparing proof of damages. And make sure you interview the client at least once in the home environment. One can learn lots that the client is incapable of verbally expressing if you see them in their day to day environment.
Believe the Client. If you are unable to convince yourself that the client’s complaints are legitimate, you will have little success in convincing anybody else. If there are doubts that the clients’ complaints are in keeping with the apparent nature of the injuries, do not be hesitant to refer them to other medical specialists for diagnostic work-ups, and do not be afraid to refer them for psychiatric consultation for potential diagnosis and treatment of traumatically induced psychiatric injuries. Psychiatric problems are just as real and just as injurious to a person as physical problems. If the client has such problems as a result of his/her catastrophic injury, do not be ashamed of that fact; focus on teaching the jury that psychiatric illnesses are just as real as physical illnesses and are even more difficult to cure. With the wrongful death of a child, psychiatric damages to the parents are often overwhelming and complex. Even where the parents do not wish psychiatric treatment, evaluation by a psychiatrist is an important step in preparing to present proof that will give the trier of fact insight into their damages.
Confer with the Client’s Doctors. Don’t wait for their depositions to be set. Be ready to explain to the physician the difficulty of the job in trying to explain to a jury the full extent of the client’s problems. Explain the concern over potentially leaving
something out, since the client will only get one day in court. Make it clear to the physician that his/her job is to teach all about the ramifications of the client’s injuries so that with his/her help, this knowledge will be imparted to the jury. Often you may be aware of many problems of the client that have not been communicated to the physician. Be sure to point these out to the physician so that he/she can inquire about them on the client’s next visit.
Look for Others with the Same Injury as the Client. For a client who does not seem to adequately convey the full extent of the problems, seek out a person who has suffered the same injury who has better expressive abilities and learn the full extent of the problems from him/her. Once you understand the problems, you can help the client bring them out despite the client’s poor expressive abilities.
Keep a Separate Folder for Each of the Compensable Elements of Damages. That includes medical, hospital and other care costs, bodily injury, pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of the capacity to enjoy life, and loss of earning ability. Every time information is received that is pertinent to one of these elements, make an entry or note in the respective file. By the time the case is ready for trial, a presentation of the damages will already be well organized and programmed for presentation.
Chris’ success speaks for the itself in what can be achieved when you are willing to put in the work. Chris is on the faculty of Damages: Go Big or Go Home, February 26-28, 2017 at Encore Las Vegas.