Making a record: Composing yourself and your story for a potential lawsuit

A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it. – Samuel Johnson, from Boswell’s Life of Johnson

What I did the day after I got home from hanging around St. Vincent’s Hospital:

Making A Record.

My friends S. and E. came over with milk (great) and a digital camera (even greater). I pointed E. to the location of the accident and he took excellent photos which would be Exhibit One in proving the liability of the building’s owner. If eventually necessary, E. could provide an affidavit stating that he’d taken the photos, and when.

One thing you can do if you’re trapped in an apartment on crutches: you can sit at the computer and, as Samuel Johnson said, you can write.

Good. Because you’ll need to fully document the details, the sooner the better. You’ll be asked to repeat them over and over, reciting every detail precisely as you first stated it, even years after the injury. So etch these details into your head by memorializing them in writing asap.

First, a bit of research.

I entered New York City’s generous data base at NYC.gov. and ran a property search on the offending building. A dab of glamour: the woman who owned the building–my future defendant–was an ex-supermodel, now actress. (Who pays her real estate taxes, more than I can say for the scoundrel Skush-O’Briens.)

Preparing for the first visit with a lawyer.

I then documented and printed out basic information I knew a lawyer would need. How did I know this? Because how many times in my working life had I made up files on legal cases without all this information? Lawyers can get so entranced by the case story they forget the mundanities—and then someone like me has to call the client and ask for:

  • Contact information
  • DOB
  • SSN
  • age
  • insurance coverage
  • annual income (and whence it came)
  • my residence; and
  • my occupation.

Then info about the accident:

  • Day, date and time
  • weather conditions
  • what I was doing, where I was going
  • location
  • in which direction I was heading (east); and
  • what shoes I was wearing when heading east.

(Later several lawyers asked me how deep the hole was. So I recommend that whenever you plan to step into a hole and break a bone, carry a ruler. You think I’m joking? Of course I’m joking. But one lawyer actually asked me if I’d measured the depth of the hole!)

  • I described people walking by–possible witnesses
  • how I got home
  • how I lived through the night: I took a generic Vicodin left over from a previous surgery. (The lawyers liked this detail, liked that I resorted to medication. You know, pain, suffering…)

Then the whole St. Vinnie’s episode, my brother, his car, “You broke your foot,” MD recommendations, and St. Vincent’s record information–three long strings of letters and numbers.

  • The photos and who had taken them;
  • Who owned the building, its precise location, block and lot number.

I had made an appointment with a podiatrist–which, ironically, had to be postponed because the doctor had had a skiing accident–and included his information. Without citing the doctor’s skiing accident. (Judged this to be one accident too many.)

Finally I described my situation: “I can’t leave my apartment. The stairs in my building are narrow and dark; although my brother took me to my polling place on Tuesday (primary day), I had to scoot down the stairs on my rear end. I am not able to pick up my mail. I had a laundry pick up, clean and deliver my wash. I have ordered meals in. Otherwise, I am dependent upon my brother and friends for supplies and food.”

So sad. But without any theatrics, any exaggeration.

Retaining your record.

I started two new file folders–one in the computer–succinctly called “Foot.” Into the paper one I threw all of the above and collected receipts for food, laundry, podiatry, etc.–all the expenses I would normally not have had (damages, again).

Thus, even before I retained a lawyer, I was unquestionably the Best Personal Injury Future Legal Client in the whole universe. Didn’t I deserve to be treated “as such” (a term lawyers knee-jerk with all the time and almost always foolishly)?

As my brother said once about something entirely different, “Yes, you deserve it but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.”

He was right.

(On February 3, 2008, with my encasted foot propped on my coffee table, I watched the Super Bowl, Giants won, an upset, unbelievable throw-and-catch but everybody knows about that…)

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