Personal Injury Cases: The Importance of Plain Language

As a personal injury attorney, you’ve spent countless hours studying the law and learning how to read, write, and speak like a lawyer.  That said, your clients have likely delved into minimal, if any legal jargon.  As a result new lawyers need to resist the temptation to use fancy legal words when talking to clients and witnesses.  If your client does not understand the words you are using they will not understand what is going on with their case.   Here are a few key places where plain language is key to good communication:

  • Significance of a Statutory Offer to Compromise.  The meat of a defense offer to compromise is going to be filled with language that’s difficult for someone that has not studied law to understand.  Your job is to summarize the main points of the offer into an easy to understand letter that your client can understand.  No plaintiff can accept or deny an offer to compromise if he or she does not fully understand what the implications of rejecting a statutory offer to compromise are.
  • Medical Diagnosis.  It is also your job to help educate your client about the content and meaning of the medical records in the case.  A plaintiff should be able to testify in a way that is consistent with the medical record itself.  It is helpful to break down the medical records and terminology in a way that your client can understand.  When the plaintiff takes the stand at trial, one of the main areas of impeachment arises from testimony that is inconsistent with what is written down in the medical record.
  • Letters to the Treating Doctors.  Medical professionals are certainly well-versed in difficult terminology, but keep in mind that they are not normally aware of the nuanced procedural issues in a civil case.  For example a doctor will not understand that the first day of trial in a civil case is simply a meet and greet with the attorneys; and no live witness evidence is presented.  If you inadvertently instruct your doctor to show up for the first day of trial at 9:00 am, they will be frustrated to learn that they will not be testifying that day.  You can be certain a large bill will follow in the mail.

Do you want to learn more about the pivotal places where miscommunications can occur in personal injury cases?  If so, sign up to be one of the first to know when we launch our new course, Signup to Settlement: Personal Injury Law Bootcamp.

About Albert Stoll

In his 20 years of law practice, Al has handled more than 40 jury trials. This experience, combined with a commitment to ethics and integrity, has earned Al an excellent reputation throughout the San Francisco Bay Area legal community. He is the recipient of Martindale-Hubbell‘s “AV” peer rating, which signifies preeminent legal ability and ethical standards, and has been named a Northern California Super Lawyer every year since 2006. In 2009, Al was awarded the prestigious 2009 Civil Justice Award by the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, given to attorneys who show integrity, grit, tenacity, ethics, and great advocacy skills, and who contribute to the betterment of consumers and/or injured victims and their families.