In our previous blog, we answered the question, is “how much will I be compensated for my pain and suffering?” This blog will address another element of damages commonly sought in personal injury actions—loss of a normal life (LOANL).
As with pain and suffering, loss of a normal life is a subjective element of damages, left to the jury or judge to determine.
People often have differing ideas of what a normal life includes. Accordingly, things that are difficulties to some people are normal to others.
Also as with pain and suffering, when you go to trial in Illinois before a jury, your lawyer must draft jury instructions for the judge to read after the closing arguments have been made. Each party’s attorney submits his or her own versions. After a conference with the judge, a final version of the instructions is read to the jury right before they begin deliberations.
All jury instructions are codified and published by the Illinois Supreme Court, and include case law, notes on use, and other helpful explanations.
Most experienced attorneys often consult jury instructions when they take a case. The instructions provide a roadmap of what they must prove before they even begin.
Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction (I.P.I.) 30.04.02 defines loss of a normal life, as “When I use the expression “loss of a normal life,” I mean the temporary or permanent diminished ability to enjoy life. This includes a person’s inability to pursue the pleasurable aspects of life.”
That wasn’t terribly helpful, was it?
In other words, jurors and attorneys, with a bit of help from past court cases, are left to define and massage the definition to fit their theory of the case.
One of the ways in which we see LOANL damages expressed is in terms of people who cannot work out. This characterization can be a double-edged sword for many plaintiffs. A jury full of couch potatoes who think running marathons is a waste of time may find it very difficult to award a large sum of money to a plaintiff whose fractured ankle from the accident caused by the defendant made her unable to run the Boston Marathon. To her, it’s part of what gives her life enjoyment, meaning, and happiness—normality. To the couch potato jurors, it might not be as highly valued.
This makes it all the more important for attorneys to do an excellent job in voir dire, the process of selecting jurors, to get jurors who understand their client’s life.
As with pain and suffering damages, the key is having the client/plaintiff keep a list of things they cannot perform or cannot do as easily or for as long or for as often as they could before.
If my client is a 62-year-old woman who lives to garden, but was unable to plant and putter in her garden for a year and a half following the crash due to her knee injury, I want to have her talk about her gardening activities before the crash extensively. Then I can compare this to what she is able to do afterwards.
It is also very important to make certain the plaintiff’s version of events jibes with her doctor’s version. If you are not telling your doctor you can’t do something you normally do, he or she will not put it into your history and medical records, which will make it seem unimportant.
One way to demonstrate evidentially how much the marathoner or gardener was affected by her injuries would be videos or photographs to compare and contrast the way her garden looked the year of the crash with how it looked the year after.
Or have the marathoner pull out her race numbers from the year before as compared to the year after.
One thing that is always problematic is photos, videos, or social media. It is important that the plaintiff not delete any social media posts, texts, or the like, as that may be regarded as destruction of evidence. By the same token, most plaintiff attorneys recommend that their clients not post anything about the incident or their injuries, as this information is discoverable by the defense.
The key, as in everything, is consistency. If the plaintiff says they cannot garden, make sure their social media posts and medical records support that. Don’t make a claim “I haven’t gardened since the accident” when your Facebook feed shows you standing by your award-winning lilac bushes and tomatoes (as if I would be able to identify either without my wife’s help!).
Also, if you claim you can’t run marathons, but never bothered to mention you are a marathoner to your doctor or that you cannot run since the crash, you might want to rethink how much faith people will put in that claim.
A skilled attorney will understand a multitude of factors must be considered when asking for specific elements of damages. Ask too little and you are not taken seriously. Ask too much and you are tuned out. The lawyer must read the case, the jury, the client’s injury, and the evidence to decide what the jury will accept as reasonable. Part of this feeling out process begins in voir dire, the questioning that occurs when the jury is interviewed and selected.
Ultimately, if the attorney does this analysis correctly, the jury will award close to, or sometimes even more than, what is asked for in closing argument.
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a personal injury lawyer.
If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.
Stephen handles personal injury on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.