The process for the first interview with a plaintiff’s attorney in a mental and emotional injury case
Interview with mental injury attorney will probably be thorough and take time
Mental and emotional injury cases can be complex and challenging. And they can vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the injury. The trauma in a mental and emotional injury case may be a single event or in the case of abuse, harassment, or discrimination may be repeated acts that take place over weeks, months or years.
When a client’s primary injury is mental and emotional, a skilled mental injury lawyer will generally invest a substantial amount of time, energy and money in the client’s case. Because the attorney will take extra care in evaluating a mental and emotional injury case, the first interview with a potential client can be extensive. The interview topics can include the client’s psychological and emotional background, childhood history, the subject trauma, life after the trauma, and the attorney’s initial impressions of the case.
Depending upon the facts and complexity of the case, an initial client interview can take two to eight hours in a mental and emotional injury case. An experienced plaintiff’s attorney will want to ask questions that elicit all potentially relevant information. As a result, the first attorney-client interview can be as thorough as the interview that a psychological expert would conduct.
Talking about personal details
Most clients entering an attorney’s office for the initial interview do not expect to be spending two to eight hours divulging intimate details of their life. But if you are considering making a mental and emotional injury claim, be aware that investigation into the facts and discovery in the case may be of a far broader scope than in cases involving only physical injury. In your very first interview with a plaintiff’s attorney, the attorney will likely inquire into facts that may eventually be discoverable by the defendant. To properly evaluate your case, your plaintiff’s attorney needs to learn all the pertinent information, including any information that you might think is harmful to your case, before the defendant learns of the information.
Besides learning the details about the trauma event(s) that caused your injury, your personal injury attorney needs to learn about your life history. That way, your attorney can place into perspective the historical information which may have impacted your reaction to the subject trauma. In order to provide the best legal representation to the client, a competent mental and emotional injury attorney needs to try to understand the unique and special nature of the client’s psyche.
When you have been injured by an accident, by abuse or by other trauma, the law does not require you to have been in perfect health before the traumatic event in order to obtain justice. Contrary to what you might imagine, a person who is more susceptible to a particular injury, due to a pre-existing condition, often has a stronger claim for damages than someone who was not so susceptible.
If you are considering claiming a mental and emotional injury, some key factors to understand are:
- A person’s past determines how he or she will react to a certain trauma, like the one to which you have been exposed.
- To be able to understand the unique significance of trauma to you, your mental injury attorney will have to learn information about your history, which often includes childhood history.
During the interview, your mental injury attorney may discuss these factors and need to ask personal questions, as in the following example:
“You have had a very severe reaction to this trauma. I think that anybody who has been subjected to the trauma would have had a significant reaction. Then again, if there are some parts of your history which caused you to react to the trauma even more significantly than somebody else may have reacted, you are entitled to be compensated for your actual, more significant injury. Would you be willing to explore this possibility with me?”
Initially it may be difficult for you to be receptive to the idea of exploring your history with the attorney. But in order to be a strong advocate for you, your emotional-injury attorney will need to ask questions about early family history. To fully answer the questions, you will have to reveal information which is painfully private for you and which you may think will hurt your case. But it is vital that you inform your lawyer about all of your conditions, both physical and mental, and all past injuries.
Resist temptation to “hide” information
Sometimes during the initial interview, a client may try to hide something important that could have a significant negative or positive impact on the case. It may be that the client wrongly assumes that a piece of information is negative, and therefore is hiding it. Hiding pertinent information from your lawyer is a big mistake. If you have had a significant reaction to a trauma that was relatively minor, yet you have not revealed any vulnerability which would explain this reaction, the “story” simply does not make sense. In other words, if 99% of people would not have a significant psychological reaction to the subject trauma, there must be something about your history which has caused your unusually severe reaction. In this situation, your personal-injury lawyer may make a statement to you like this:
“It looks like you potentially have a good case, but from the information that I have now, I do not think I’m going to be able to prove it. If we are going to prevail, there has to have been something in your past, something that happened to you, which has caused you to suffer this very real, very severe and significant reaction to the subject trauma. You might be worried that if something ‘bad’ about your past were to come out during litigation, your case could be harmed. You might assume that you would lose your case if you were already damaged before the subject trauma. However, that assumption is almost always wrong.
The jurors will need to understand why your reaction to the subject trauma was more severe than the typical person’s reaction would have been. In order to explain to the jury why you reacted so severely to the trauma, we need to establish that there are things that happened to you in your past which made your reaction different than a typical person’s reaction would have been. Thus, almost certainly you will be helping your case by letting me know if there are any things in your past which you feel were traumatic or you feel may have caused you emotional stress. What you say to me is confidential. Once I know this information, together we can decide whether it helps your case, which is very likely, or hurts it, in which case we can decide how to deal with it.”
As the above example shows, in the initial interview with your mental injury attorney, you should disclose any traumatic experiences in your past. One or two traumatic events in the distant past can be significant and helpful in explaining the severity of the mental and emotional injury in your case. In any event, you and your case will be far better off if you disclose all this important information to your attorney in the initial interview rather than having it come out sometime down the road in litigation.