One of the most importants aspects of personal injury law is accuracy. Not only does a lawyer need to be one hundred percent certain he or she is telling a client the truth, but also important is making sure that what the client hears is correct. When a client asks how much compensation to expect for an injury with lifelong consequences, you need to know exactly what to say in order to manage this person’s expectations. And that means knowing every detail, no matter how small.
One Disability Advocates Group pointed out that personal injury awards will never affect your SSDI payments because they are not considered wages.
What should you tell clients, though?
First, if a client is not yet on disability benefits, then you need to make sure they understand how difficult the process is and how it works. It can take years from the time of application to the receipt of the first benefit check. Once that application is approved, though, and that first check is delivered, the recipient must alert the Social Security Administration of any life changes — or risk that the benefit will be revoked.
What constitutes a life change? Typically, anything that involves income, such as wages, the ability to start or continue work, divorce, etc.
But a personal injury award is not considered a wage (or income). However, there is one big caveat: a personal injury award might still be lower because future wages — the ones you lose by not being able to work or remain productive because of the injury — are usually calculated when determining the award. If a person is on a disability benefit, then you can’t “lose” wages (or at least you cannot according to the law). Punitive damages can also sometimes affect the outcome, but this is dependent on each case’s facts.
You should make sure the client knows all of these facts before proceeding with the case, but you should also revisit these facts after winning. You’ll want to remind your client to maintain contact with you if anything changes, so that you can help the client navigate communication with the SSA.
You might also let the client know that although lost wages might reduce the overall award, this is equalized somewhat by the potential for receiving additional damages based on overall pain and suffering. This is why so many lawyers will ask their clients to keep track of thoughts and feelings — usually with a journal — during the long recovery process. It can go a long way to reaching a more beneficial settlement from the defendant or swaying an empathetic judge.
It’s also worth letting the client know that they can expect a brutal fight, especially if the case goes to court. This is because insurance companies and the lawyers for the opposition already know that they should expect emotional testimony and potentially graphic evidence of pain and suffering. Opposing counsel will already have an argument ready to combat yours. They will already be experienced. That means you can’t let down your guard.