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Injuries to our older clients

How many times do we have clients who are by definition old, are usually in compromised health with reduced quality of life before the wrongful conduct, and not working or ever intending to work again. In these types of cases, the largest element of damages by far will ordinarily be general damages.

Claims adjusters and defense attorneys regularly suggest that the claims of our older clients have limited value because they are at the end of their lives or the quality of their lives was already poor. My response to this mindset is always – either everybody matters or nobody matters.

Whether old or youth, with pre-existing disabilities or not, the victim of wrongful acts are entitled to what they have lost. They are entitled to what was taken from them and what they have been left with. For each unique individual there are many pieces which form them as a person and bring this every day joy and fulfillment. Each of these personal pieces has a priceless value. To find and express these pieces to a jury, you must be able to see through the eyes of your clients. In the story below, you must see through the eyes of Max.

Max is an 86 years old widower; he has limited mobility, a bad heart and can drive only short distances. His daily routine is to go to 3 locations, the YMCA, a local café and to Home Depot. He goes to bed early every night so that he is rested and able to follow his routine. As he prepares for bed each night, he experiences a bit of excitement as he looks forward to the next morning and his routine. For Max, it is a powerful feeling that he experiences as he goes to sleep each night.

At the YMCA, he walks around talking to people, gets into the hot tub and steam room and, 3 times a week walks 4 laps on the indoor track. At the local café, the waitress knows what time he arrives each day and has coffee ready for him, at the regular bar stool where he sits, just prior to his arrival. The café cook makes Max’ eggs exactly as he likes them each morning. At Home Depot, he never buys anything; rather, he walks the aisles, and takes a great deal of time checking out the tool section. The tool sales person knows Max by name and spends some time each day showing him tools and the various tasks that can be done with the tools.

Each of these activities brings Max joy and happiness. He lives his life looking forward to visiting with folks at the YMCA, the café and Home Depot; and, everyone looked forward to seeing and visiting with Max. He enjoys the physical activities associated with his visits. Max has no other wants and lives with a feeling of fulfillment. At this point in his life, he has no greater wishes.

Then, Max is involved in a car crash caused by the carelessness of another. Max suffers a broken leg and injuries to his back. After he is released from the hospital, he gives every ounce of effort in rehabilitation, but, now has to use a walker, cannot drive and is no longer able to walk the YMCA track. He is able to get a ride to the YMCA 3 days a week where he is now only able to get into the hot tub and the steam room. He no longer is able to go to the café or Home Depot. In a younger person, the injuries would have caused some limitations, but, the younger person would have been able to return to most, if not all, of his or her prior activities. For Max, however, the injuries from the crash have resulted in permanent life changes.

So what has been lost by Max? While some would say very little, because his life was so basic prior to the car crash, and he had so few years left of his life, I, on the other hand, would say Max has lost nearly everything.

The little that Max had, was everything that Max had at his age of 86 years. He had a limited life, ok, but, it was his life and a life that brought him great joy and happiness. He was entitled to live his life to its fullest. He didn’t need any more than his visits to the YMCA, the café and Home Depot to give him complete joy, happiness and fulfillment. All of this was wrongfully taken away and Max is now left with feelings of loneliness, isolation, emptiness and regret. In presenting these damages, a key is to express them in terms of feelings. Feelings are something that all jurors can share with our clients, regardless of their differences with our clients. Feelings are also something that allow jurors to connect regardless of their differences.

Max, prior to the crash, had fewer days in which to enjoy his visits given his age and physical abilities. Those fewer days are much more valuable than the many more days a younger person would have to enjoy. To Max, each day was precious. Each one of his days counted more.

Let me share a story, when I was young we would travel by car across the State of Washington. This was long before ipods, ipads and hand-held video games. My parents would bring along several rolls of lifesavers. When the rolls were new and we had many lifesavers, we didn’t think about the end of them, but, when we were down to the last few, we thought about the end of the lifesavers, we savored each one more and tried to figure out ways to make them last longer, too enjoy their flavor as long as possible. It is in the same way that Max’ days should be viewed. Each day must be presented as one fewer day to enjoy. For many reasons, we don’t think in this manner when we are younger. It is as though we don’t think about coming to the end, until we turn a certain corner and see it. Our older clients have turned that corner and are staring at the end of their ability to fully enjoy each day. For our older clients, the importance of each day amplifies. Each day, each experience becomes that much more special.

One more important injury that must be carefully considered is dignity. Dignity is the sense of self-worth and self-respect. Dignity is important to all of us, but, for our older clients, there is a depth to it, that, I believe, is a result of having earned both self-respect and self-worth over a life time of hard work, accomplishments and the ability to take care of others and oneself.

So often, I have found that if viewed through the eyes of my older clients, I can see how physical injuries and limitations and the results caused can destroy the dignity earned and held by my older clients. Self-respect and self-worth have been described by some as the innermost armament of the soul. It is where the heart of humanness lies. When one is deprived of dignity, they are dehumanized and their identity is erased. In addition to the loneliness and isolation experienced by Max, he has lost his dignity and experiences a sense of worthlessness, and a lack of respect. Instead of engaging in life and being about to experience life at his own pace and in his own terms, he feels as though he is now a burden to others. Many older clients in this situation feel as though they have nothing more to contribute to life. They live with a feeling of helplessness.

These losses, as described above, in our older clients are powerful. They must be explored in depth and presented passionately to a jury. Look beyond the age of your older clients and focus on what they had, what was taken away from them and what they have been left with. Search deep and look at their losses from their viewpoint. Presenting damages in terms what your client has been left with and in terms of feelings will better allow the jurors to connect with your client and the damages that they have suffered.

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