Is handling a catastrophic personal injury case different from a routine one in Vermont?

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Richard T. Cassidy - Personal Injury - General - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Richard T. Cassidy

Located in South Burlington, VTRich Cassidy Law

Phone: 802-858-8116
Fax: 802-778-0510

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Is handling a catastrophic personal injury case different from a routine one?

Catastrophic injury cases are like routine personal injury cases, but on steroids. The injuries are tragic, involving total or partial paralysis, serious brain injuries, the loss of one or more limbs or bodily functions, or even death.

In such devastating circumstances, injured persons and their loved ones need a lawyer who can provide guidance, support, and reassurance, combined with consummate advocacy.

The stakes are high

Such serious damages mean that large amounts of money are at stake. The cases need rigorous early attention. Normally, the injured party’s lawyer needs to act quickly to be sure:

  • The scene is examined
  • The relevant evidence is collected
  • The responsible parties are identified
  • The witnesses are interviewed or deposed
  • The mechanism of injury is understood
  • The relevant law is correctly analyzed 

Typically, these cases are intensively defended. One or more insurance companies are usually involved.  When there is substantial insurance coverage, the most senior levels of the insurer’s claims department will be calling the shots. The more serious the claim and the higher the coverage, the bigger the defense budget. With that naturally comes more sophisticated defense lawyers and more vigorous defense.

The injured person’s lawyer must be more than a match in intensity and experience.

Case Valuation

Strategic decisions about case handling should be driven by an understanding of the value of the claim. To evaluate a case, the effects of the injury must be fully understood. Enough time must pass so that any permanent disability is clearly established. The lawyer needs to know the cost of the medical care and estimate the future expenses. The value of lost compensation and earning power must be calculated.

The lawyer must understand the victim’s losses and ability to bear the risk of trial and estimate what a jury would award for pain and suffering, disfigurement, and disability, based on experience and good judgment.

And the case’s weak points – there are always some – must be identified and objectively assessed in appraising the likelihood and size of a jury verdict.

Several lawyers should separately evaluate the case, and then roundtable their views to reach a consensus.

Focus Group Testing

Even the most experienced personal injury lawyer needs research to accurately anticipate juror attitudes.  Focus group testing is the way to know. The lawyer can recruit a simulated jury from the same area where the actual jury will be selected. These focus group jurors are presented with a balanced summary of the facts and asked to debate their views. These deliberations help the lawyer understand potential juror preconceptions. The lawyer can vet evidence, trial exhibits, language, and arguments. Focus groups can help to gauge the likely range of a jury award.

Multiple focus group sessions may be required.

Settlement Efforts

An early effort to settle most cases is appropriate. Sometimes, particularly where the insurance coverage and defendant’s assets are low compared to the case value, early settlement is best. In serious cases, suit must usually be filed, and discovery and motions completed before serious settlement discussions begin. Mediation can help. Often, these cases simply must be tried, particularly if there is any basis to contest liability.

Trial Preparation

Extensive trial preparation is essential.

  • Investigation. Both sides should explore the backgrounds of parties and witnesses. Their social media accounts will be reviewed.
  • Written Discovery and Depositions. The lawyers will exchange written questions and answers and relevant documents. Important witnesses for both sides will be interrogated under oath and transcripts of their testimony created.
  • Expert witnesses. If liability turns on scientific, engineering, or medical principles, the injured person’s lawyer will need to identify, recruit, and educate expert witnesses. Experts will also be required to help prove the claimant’s damages. The case may require vocational rehabilitation professionals, life planners, economists and more. Defense experts will normally be deposed.
  • Documents and Exhibits: The right exhibits can help show the mechanism and nature of the injury. Exhibits can take many forms and may be used to tell the victim’s story and show how life has changed. A classic example is a “day in the life” video, in which the everyday challenges the claimant faces are shown. Medical illustrations can prove valuable. A scale model of the accident site, or even a computerized animation of the accident, may be needed to demonstrate the defendant’s negligence.


The trial demands the utmost preparation, confidence, and skill. The lawyer must select the best jury possible. You cannot win if the jury is biased. The lawyer must present a compelling opening statement, carefully structured direct examinations of the claimant’s witnesses, and revealing cross-examinations of the defense witnesses. The attorney must also propose well-crafted jury instructions, argue the motions, and bring the whole case together in a persuasive final argument.

In short, handling catastrophic injuries cases is the job of a skilled trial lawyer. There is no substitute.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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