The Imperfect Plaintiff (or why our clients are like the Kardashians)
Acting for injured accident victims for more than two decades has taught me a lot. It has certainly taught me a lot about the human condition. By definition, the human condition contains frailties, idiosyncrasies, illnesses, poor judgment, and bad luck. Not one of us comes with a clean and pure slate. This isn’t the first thing we reveal when we are making new friends; but, once an accident victim embarks on the process of claiming compensation, light is shone into these darker corners of humanity. Suddenly everything about that person is put under a microscope.
Starting a lawsuit is definitely not the same thing as making new friends. We don’t get to reveal ourselves as we’d like to be seen. Minor slip ups become magnified. A past complaint to a doctor is elevated in status. The job that you quit because you didn’t like your co-worker gets blown out of proportion. Those couple of months that you took anti-depressants after grandma died now gets described as a history of depression.
What I have realized is that we are all imperfect plaintiffs – every one of us. It is just that until we suddenly find ourselves injured through a random act, we don’t have to reveal this side of ourselves to anyone; and, no one is really all that interested anyway. Once they ask to be compensated, injured plaintiffs are really just like the Kardashians, Justin Bieber, or any number of other figures in the entertainment industry who have their dirty laundry aired in public for the world to gawk at.
Usually with enough investigation there is something that could be said about any star…..or any plaintiff. You see, the stars simply experience the broad spectrum of human frailties, just like the imperfect plaintiff. Being a star doesn’t change it and only because they are stars is anyone interested. Instead of a defence lawyer and a private investigator digging for problems, they have TMZ and the tabloids.
In my world of helping accident victims, what I understand is that until the imperfect plaintiff starts a lawsuit, no one cares about those imperfections. The imperfect plaintiff can’t and shouldn’t flee from their reality – because it is simply the reality for us all – and neither should their lawyer. My job is to take this person, warts and all, and put their life into a true and fair context. I certainly don’t aim to create something out of nothing, but I sure do want to avoid nothing coming from something.
Rather than hiding from the imperfect plaintiff’s reality, I want to expose it first, and offer the appropriate explanation. I want to show how insignificant it is when looking at the big picture. The defence lawyer’s ability to blow a historical problem out of proportion is limited when the plaintiff volunteers the information first. The imperfect plaintiff is human and shouldn’t shy from his or her own life story. All life stories are interesting and compelling when you look closely. I want to tell my client’s story, with all of the ups and downs, because it is their story. I want to embrace their entire story, with all the imperfections revealed for the world to see, because it is the story of us all.