It is necessary for the attorney to be very thorough regarding the client’s claim for damages. Initially, the attorney needs a complete description of all of the client’s alleged damages. This would include visually seeing any injured body parts. If the injuries are in a private area, the client can be asked to appropriately drape themselves and take photographs of the injured area that are not revealing of anything but the injury. Hopefully, the client will be able to tell the attorney what the diagnosis and prognosis was as given by the emergency room physician. After obtaining information about prior injuries, illnesses and claims, an assessment should be made to determine if any of the prior injuries or illnesses contribute to the present injuries of the client.
It is very important to obtain all the relevant information from the client about medical providers who have performed service regarding the client’s injuries. Physicians, chiropractors, hospitals, nursing homes, paramedics, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists, counselors, technicians, diagnostic facilities, prostheses, surgical centers all must be contacted where applicable to obtain medical records and bills. Similarly, the client must provide copies of prescriptions and over the counter medication. The client can be told it sometimes is helpful to keep the empty bottles of prescriptions and/or medication to prove they were taken as prescribed. The attorney should also obtain a complete summary of each body part that was injured in the accident including the frequency and severity of pain involved. If the treating physicians have indicated anything about future pain, that fact should be developed thoroughly as well.
The client should also provide information regarding mental anguish and emotional trauma. For example, the client may have had a change in sleep habits, body weight, personal relationships, work habits, usual routine around home, eating habits, and hobby participation. They may have had personality changes, mood swings, irritability, suicide attempts or threats, worsening of condition, disfigurement, scarring, physical impairment, range of motion limitations, lifestyle changes, amputation, phantom pain, loss of internal organs, pre impact fright, post - impact fright. Finally, if married the parties may have suffered changes in their marital relationship, both physical and emotional. Loss of affection, solace, comfort, companionship, society and assistance from a spouse is compensable as damages.
Obviously, it is important to obtain a copy of any and all medical bills incurred from treatment. Even if medical insurance or the client has paid all or part of the bill, the entire bill should be used in the damage claim since the insurance company is entitled to be reimbursed for what they have paid. If there are custodial care expenses, cost and expenses for appliances and equipment such as a special chair or bed, these must be identified and included in the claim.
Loss of earnings is a very real element of damage. If the loss of earnings claim is just about past loss of earnings, that should be relatively easy to compute given the correct information. The attorney should obtain the complete name of the employer, the supervisor of the client, the job title of the client, his normal and customary functions, duties and responsibilities at work and address the types of things the client could not do at work that he was normally expected to do. If the employee cannot return to his prior employment the attorney should determine the client’s qualifications for obtaining other employment, types of work previously performed, education level, special job training in order to assist the client in looking for other employment. If inability to return to prior employment is because of the injury, it becomes important to perhaps have a rehabilitation counselor assist in determining what employment possibilities are available and/or what re-training would be necessary to assist the client in obtaining another job. Collateral sources such as accumulated sick leave, health insurance or disability insurance often should not mitigate the claim since these might have to be repaid at a later time.
Another possible claim for damages revolves around loss of services. For example, if the spouse who is injured normally would have performed all the cleaning services around the house and a cleaning service had to be hired to perform those service after the spouse’s injury, the cost of the cleaning service would be an element of damage. This could likewise be extended for services such as meal preparation, child care, home repairs, home maintenance, electrical, plumbing and carpentry repair, automobile repair, yard work, trash removal, washing dishes and doing the laundry. Accurate and complete records of these costs must be maintained with receipts obtained from the provider upon payment.
If the loss of services or loss of wage earning capacity involves future loss as well as past loss, it may be important to hire a vocational rehabilitation expert and an economist to project the future costs reduced to present value. The economist may want to have all the personal information of the client including, but not limited to, employment data, wage information, tax returns for several years, W-2 statements, union contracts, fringe benefit information, vacation pay, health and welfare fund information, pension funding, life insurance, stocks and stock options, bonuses, prior occupations, employment contracts, and pre accident information related to life expectancy.
In wrongful death and survival action claims the attorney should develop information regarding the date of birth of the deceased, birth certificate, date of death, death certificate, date of injury if different from date of death, date of marriage, divorces if any, names and birth dates of natural and adopted children, names of other persons who are claimants but are not clients, the status of estate proceedings, the pecuniary losses including lost wages, value of lost services, love, support, companionship and society, mental anguish, burial and funeral expenses. If there was conscious pain and suffering this must be documented even though it may be uncomfortable to discuss.