Dear Diary: Why It's Super-Important to Document Your Damages

Diary? What?

Four months ago, you were riding your motorcycle when a guy in a Jeep switched lanes without looking and sent you into the guardrail.  Your injuries included a broken ankle, a concussion, and a herniated disc in your neck.  In the months since the accident, your injuries have generally improved; your ankle is completely better, and your concussion is a distant memory.  However, your neck is bothering you every bit as much as it was the day after the accident, despite the fact that you've been getting chiropractic adjustments and massages on a regular basis for four months.  

Once you finally get done treating, you put together all of your medical bills and records, write up your demand letter, and ship the whole thing off to the adjuster.  The adjuster looks through everything and says that you've over-treated by getting chiropractic treatment and massage therapy at the same time.  He states that both treatments weren't necessary or reasonable, and that he'll pay for one, but not both.  You know (put more accurately, only you know) how frustrating the whole ordeal has been, especially the part where your neck pain hasn't gotten any better, and you know that all of your treatment was absolutely necessary.  Basically, you know the full extent to which the accident made your life more difficult, and you're better positioned than anyone else to speak to the value of that unfortunate sea change in your life.

Right, but who's gonna listen to me?

The problem is that your hard evidence - medical bills, medical records, lost wages, and the like - doesn't do anything to convey the real-world unpleasantness of your injury and recovery.  The adjuster's going to look at your demand letter and see a bunch of SOAP notes and expenses, but he won't be willing and/or able to see the pain, stress, anger, and fear that you've been plagued with in the months since the accident.  This disconnect is a serious problem, and it devalues personal injury claims all the time.

The problem is severe enough on its own, but it also illustrates a bigger, over-arching misconception that I've found to be extremely hard to dispel.  A lot of clients expect their participation in the claim to end once the engagement letter is signed; the claim gets passed off to the lawyer, the lawyer handles everything, and the client goes back to his or her everyday life.  Now, that's fine if it's what the circumstances dictate; I get how much time can go into handling these claims, and I completely understand how frustrating it can be.  But the point that I want to make is that in order to maximize the value of your claim, you may need to buckle down and take an active role in it.

How do I do that?

The most immediate, and often most effective, way is to document your damages.  Of course that's going to include documenting your special damages in a cohesive way (like with our totally awesome Damages Diary), but it also includes documenting those more elusive general damages; physical pain, mental suffering, emotional anguish, and basically any manner in which the accident has made your life less pleasant than it was before.

The simplest way to document your general damages is with a daily diary.  Get a notebook, keep it with you at all times, and commit to jotting down your general condition at least once a day (and preferably several times a day).  Include your pain levels, your emotional and psychological condition, any activities that are less fun (or even impossible) since the accident, any medications and how they affect you, and anything else that you think might be relevant.  

You might be surprised at how a diary can give life to an otherwise dry claim.  It's quite common to see this method break through to a stoic adjuster, and you can bet that the jury will eat it up, if it comes to that.  Remember that your participation doesn't end once the engagement letter is signed; you're the expert on the effect of your injuries on your everyday life.  With each undocumented moment that passes, you're losing evidence that could be the difference between fair compensation and a pittance.  Document your damages and realize the full potential of your claim!