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A Tale of Two Outcomes: What a Pair of California Injury Cases Can Teach About the Importance of Good Legal Representation

Statistics show that people who hire an attorney to handle their accident case come away better for it. The Insurance Research Council found that of the people injured in auto accidents who subsequently sued and settled, the settlements achieved by people with attorneys were more than triple the size of the settlements obtained by people without attorneys. In short, while retaining legal representation may seem daunting at first, you’ll likely find that you can’t afford not to have a skilled San Mateo injury attorney on your side.

To get an idea of what a huge difference this can make, let’s look at a pair of California cases. One was a 2015 Santa Monica bus accident in which the Court of Appeal issued a ruling earlier this year. The other was a more recent bus accident in Fresno.

In some ways, the cases were exceptionally similar. As noted above, both occurred aboard buses. Both of those buses were city-owned. Both of the injured passengers were people who utilized the assistance of wheelchairs, and both were hurt when their bus drivers hit the brakes suddenly and that abrupt braking sent them tumbling from their wheelchairs onto the floor of their buses.

In the Fresno accident, the passenger was a woman in her 80s whose bus driver braked to avoid hitting a pedestrian in the crosswalk. The woman fell from her chair and broke her hip. She died just a few weeks later.

The passenger’s estate sued the city and ultimately obtained a seven-figure settlement in early 2019.

The Santa Monica passenger, P.S., was a man who was aboard a city-run bus in March 2015 when the driver braked abruptly to avoid another vehicle. The sudden braking threw the passenger from his wheelchair and onto the floor of the bus.

The passenger’s injury case went to trial and ultimately to a jury. The jury agreed with the passenger that the city was negligent but the jury then decided that the city’s “negligence was not a substantial factor in causing” P.S.’s injuries, so the injured man received nothing. Even when a defendant is negligent and the plaintiff is injured, if the jury finds that the defendant’s negligence didn’t cause the plaintiff’s injuries, then that means that the defendant is entitled to a judgment in its favor.

P.S. appealed but the appeals court struck down every aspect of the passenger’s appeal. Were all of P.S.’s arguments lacking? We don’t know. The reason that the court ruled against him was that he “forfeited” each of his appellate arguments by “failing to raise” them before the trial judge. In other words, a procedural error by P.S. prevented the appeals court from considering the merits of his arguments.

In a civil trial, if you believe an error occurred and that this mistake harmed your case, there is a specific way you have to challenge that error. A single misstep can mean all your future avenues of appeal may be closed off because the law says you “forfeited” your arguments, which is what happened to P.S.

One case yielded compensation in the seven-figures. The other yielded nothing for the injured passenger. As you can see from above, the cases had many similarities. Do you know what one of the differences was? The plaintiff in the Fresno case was represented by a skilled attorney, while the Santa Monica passenger had no legal representation at all. The attorney in the Fresno case knew how to do what it took to persuade the city to settle and pay his client a seven-figure sum.

The Santa Monica passenger ended up getting his case slammed shut once and for all based, not on the lack of merit of his arguments, but on his failure to satisfy a requirement of the rules of procedure.

An old adage commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln says that the person who represents himself “has a fool for a client.” Regardless of who said it originally, it is generally a good way of thinking. Your well-being and your injury case’s ability to enhance that well-being are far too important to put at risk. Protect yourself and your family by contacting the skilled San Mateo auto accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos and put the power of our office on your side. To set up a free consultation with one of our helpful attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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