Despite what some people may believe, the first thing out of an injured client's mouth upon meeting with me is not "how much money can I get?" Frankly, if it was, I likely wouldn't interested in representing that client. In fact, it is not until I begin the conversation with them, usually prompted by some contact with the insurance adjuster for the other side, that the topic of compensation arises.
Something that most people (and even some out of state lawyers or lawyers who do not handle this kind of work) do not realize is that at the time of trial in a personal injury case, we cannot ask for a specific amount of money from a court or a jury to make up for what happened to an injured person. We can't even tell the jury that 1) there is insurance (although most people kind of figure this out) or 2) how much insurance there is. All that we are permitted to tell the jury is that they are responsible for deciding how much money an injured person should receive for what happened to him. All they are allowed to consider are the harms and losses to that person. That's it. Nothing else.
But for pre-trial settlement purposes, how do we measure the value of a personal injury case? A number of different factors weigh into this analysis and here are some of them:
1. Who's fault was the accident? Liability is the first question I have to answer for a jury if and when a case goes to trial. If an accident is caused by the injured person, there is no need for me to continue the conversation. For one thing, I can't take that case on and represent that person. If you cause your own injury, you are not entitled to compensation (except in super rare instances that I'm not going to bother discussing here). Liability has to rest with some other person or entity. An accident needs to be through no fault of the injured person (or limited fault at most) in order to even have a case worth pursuing. So as long as we know someone else is responsible for the bad thing that happened, we are in good shape.
2. What are the extent of the injuries? This is a little tricky and relies heavily on objective medical evidence which includes Xrays, MRIs, CT scans and other diagnostic tools that can show an injury to a doctor. If a client has broken a bone, that bone will likely and hopefully heal with the right treatment. But some injuries, like injuries to the spine in the form of herniated discs or even bulging discs in some instances, tend to be permanent injuries. A permanent injury has greater "value" than an injury that can be healed or cured. And that just makes sense because the impact on a person's life will be more significant when they have a permanent spinal injury in their neck vs. a broken arm.
3. What are the harms and losses? Harms and losses are the things that throw a person's life off balance resulting from an injury. If you think about an injured person's life as the scales of justice, for every bad thing that has resulted from a car crash; pain and suffering, the inability to take part in activities and hobbies, the loss of the enjoyment of life, etc..., compensation has to weigh as much as the harms to bring the person's life back into balance. A jury's verdict has to weigh as much as the harm done.
Everyone's life is different - what we do, how we live - so how an injury affects a person's life is going to be an individualized analysis. At least in my geographic area, injured people who give up their life activities and stop working are not well compensated by juries. But injured people who try to continue their lives despite their injuries, limitations and discomfort tend to obtain better results at trial. I think this has to do with the fact that no one likes a quitter - hard work is rewarded. Obviously, in some cases, working becomes impossible for some injured people, or at least working the job they had - especially when an injured person owns their own business or it's physical in nature. By and large though, a client who describes their life as full and active before a car crash and almost completely empty after, despite a zillion attempts to perform household and recreational activities with their family, tends to do better in front of a jury.
4. What are the policy limits? As I have said before, this is an insurance world, we just live in it. The policy limits of both the person who caused the crash and the injured person weigh into the analysis of settlement value. If the person who caused the crash (lets call him the "tortfeasor,"because that's what we learned to call that person in law school) has a liability policy of insurance on his vehicle of $100,000.00 per person and the injured person has an underinsured policy with $250,000.00 with his insurance, the available insurance coverage in NJ is $250,000.00 because we go with whoever has the higher amount. So if a person is significantly injured, they can conceivably collect $100,000.00 from the tortfeasor and an additional $150,000.00 from their own policy. This is a pre-trial resolution without the necessity of hiring many experts or incurring much expense. Of course, most cases do not resolve very quickly or easily, but at times we are guided by the policy limits in the case as we attempt to resolve the case without the necessity of litigation.
5. What are the jury verdicts or settlements in our area for similar cases? In order to determine a range of possible settlement values, smart lawyers always do (or should always do) a jury verdict search to determine the ranges or possibilities of a verdict. We look up similar injuries, demographic information and the like to get an idea of "what a case is worth." Again, every case and every jury is different so being definitive is not possible. However, researching prevailing values of settlements and verdicts can help resolve a case with an insurance company for the policy limits. It can also help maintain a substantial verdict if the defense appeals it on the premise that "it's too much money."
When you are living with a permanent injury that you got because someone else was negligent, it's really a life sentence to live with pain, discomfort and limitations. I tell clients and juries alike, "If we could go back in time and stand at Bob's front porch on December 13, 2015 and tell him, 'Bob, if you leave the house now, you will be involved in a bad car wreck that will change your life forever,' we would do that, but we can't. The best we can do and the best our system of justice allows is to help balance the harms and losses in Bob's life with a money amount equal to those harms and losses."
Our current system of injury compensation in NJ is largely based upon available insurance, unless you are unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get rear-ended by a Vanderbilt or a Kennedy or someone with substantial assets. Ultimately, a time machine where we could go back and change the history of a crash or a fall would be the way any of my injured clients would prefer to deal with their claims. No one wants to live with a permanent injury. The struggle is with the insurance companies to get them to fairly evaluate and compensate an injury claim; the insurance industry for unfairly trying to poison our jury pools, spreading propaganda about "fraud" or "mayhem;" and then with the jury to offer enough information allowing it to compensate an injured person in a way that will bring their life into balance.
This is a challenging struggle to which I have devoted my career, pursuing justice and fairness on behalf of injured people. On one hand, I'm somewhat glad the insurance companies are so unfair at times because their "no pay" or "deny, delay, defend" attitudes provide me with a job. On the other hand, I kind of want to send some of the remote adjusters who refuse to be reasonable a tray of cookies laced with laxatives. Luckily for them, I don't bake.
I cut bangs yesterday. Well, this time, I had a professional at Mancuso Salon, across the street from my law office, cut my bangs. You see friends, I have a history of drinking wine and taking paper scissors to the front of my hair to create that "edgy, bad ass Lauren" look to reflect my insides. That choice always goes badly for me. I regret it almost immediately and tell my friends, "next time I say I want bangs, remind me that I definitely don't want bangs."
"I think I'm going to get bangs," I reported to my office earlier this week. Because my staff genuinely cares for my well being (and know very well how this potential decision can affect their well being at the office - more complaining than usual from the ol' boss lady), they immediately reminded me I should not do that. I showed them the pictures I had pinned from Pinterest...
"But look, my hair can do this. This can work this time," I declared confidently.
"That's what you said the last time," replied Benjamin. He's right, I did.
"It's going to be different this time, I know it!"
Trying to convince me that I'm wrong might be the most difficult task anyone can undertake. Certainly when I am wrong about something, I admit it and move on from it eventually. I have been very, very wrong about many, many things. "Trump is never going to make it past the GOP Primary." Wrong. "A lease is fine. I definitely won't go over my miles in the first 18 months I drive the car." Wrong again.
So I felt for my co-workers and my amazing boyfriend as I sat in my stylist's chair and watched 6 inches of hair fall in front of me. Bangs. Boom. There I was. New look, new attitude.
It amazes me that all it takes to remind me I'm a bad- ass- lady- lawyer- boss- babe is to change my look a little. I thought the tattoo I got last November would do the trick, but when I tell people what it is, a Celtic Mother Daughter symbol, the reaction I get is not "Whoa! That's bad ass," it's, "That is so sweet." No people, tattoos are not sweet. Damnit! (When my mom saw it, she had a different reaction of course. And now I can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery since I've desecrated my body and stuff. Sorry mom. I'm probably too bad ass for a Jewish cemetery anyway, membership in my HS Marching Band, notwithstanding.)
Pleased with my new look, I took a selfie. I have so many photographer friends, I have picked up a few pointers on lighting so I turned around awkwardly and shot my selfie. Pretty, pretty, pretty good if you ask me. Then I did what any self respecting middle-aged bad ass woman would do, I filtered it and posted it on Instagram.
Then I sent it as a text to Benjamin and some of my closest friends. The compliments poured in from all over - "Love it!" "Sexy" "You look beautiful..." My expanding head was deflated back to its normal proportions when Benjamin responded:
"Did you use a filter?"
Him: "Don't lie to me."
Me: "Fine. Yes. I filtered it to post it on Instagram." (Note: Instagram filters are really flattering, especially if you adjust the light and color...)
Benjamin knows me and is also intimately familiar with my face. Specifically, he is fully conscious of the field of zits inhabiting my chin following this months break-out, that happened to be missing from this photo - makeup helps hide them, but they are a vicious gang of hormone induced jerks. The largest of the group, the leader, is an angry zit that communicates in three languages. It's disturbing.
In any case, my admission that I filtered and doctored my photo brought on immense guilt. Would a true bad-ass lady post a misleading photo of herself just to get compliments from the social media community? I felt like a jerk. Not only am I not getting buried in a Jewish cemetery, but I'm letting down feminists and woman-kind. Why did I even get out of bed today? (I remember, because it was bangs day.)
I proceeded to try to redeem my reputation, at least with my best friend and love of my life, and sent him the original, unfiltered version of the photo. Really, it wasn't that bad. You can kind of see the zits (yay for Younique BB Cream and cover-up) and you can definitely see that my face isn't smooth or laugh-line/wrinkle free as the filtered version would make you believe. I vowed to Benjamin that I would clear up my misleading photo with a blog post, and here we are.
Here's the thing: I don't know a lot of celebrities or even friends who don't use a filter when they post a photo on social media these days. The technology exists to make ourselves look younger, thinner, prettier, smarter (You can actually add glasses to your face on Snapchat and some other apps), so why shouldn't we use it? And we're all doing it. What's the harm?
The harm is, we are all living by comparison and hurting ourselves emotionally and mentally. We are so obsessed with what everyone else looks like or has in their lives because of social media, that we worry ourselves - make ourselves sick over it whether we realize it or not.
The filtered, Facebook lives of some of our friends would make us believe they are happy, sun-kissed, smooth - skinned, fit-model millionaires. And we are big, wrinkled, frizzy haired, poor losers with boring lives, crappy jobs and terrible kids. Newsflash friends- that's all a bunch of crap! All of it.
Here's the thing, only the most honest, good humored, bad-ass, balls to the wall, people out there will ever admit to the world of social media that things aren't going that great. Sure, we've got those friends who occasionally surf Pinterest at night searching for quotes and memes to passively aggressively inform our loved ones that "We deserve better than this." (Me) And we have those friends who over-share stories of the horrors of child-rearing at times giving the impression that the State should probably intervene. (Also me). The rest of us are wimps. We are. Or more accurately perhaps, we don't want to burden the world with news of how crappy our day just went or how bad our hair looks. Social Media typically reflects the very best moments in people's lives.
It's not that we are lying about our lives on social media or intentionally misleading people (I hope), it's just that we want to share the things we are most proud of - we ran an ultra race, graduated from college, our kid kicked ass at his piano recital, it's our anniversary, no one threw up today (moms, you feel me). But the filters change that concept. Now, we're being a little misleady (not a word, I know, just work with me language purists.).
And I'm not judging. I'm not saying don't filter. I'm not saying I'm going to stop filtering my posted pictures when necessary. What I am saying is, don't believe the "fake news" that you see and for the love of Peter Griffin, do not let that sh*t get you down. Envy is a dangerous vice. Please don't get caught up in other people's fantasy worlds and believe you are somehow inferior or insignificant in your life. Don't compare, even though it is so difficult to avoid those feelings.
See through the filters, click on "like" (because that is the polite thing to do) and remember we are all just trying to do our best to get by each day. Then jump over to Snapchat and take a bad ass selfie of yourself as an adorable woodland creature. Life can never be that bad when you are disguised as a little bunny.