Personal Injuries are… Well… Personal
by A. Troy Hunter, Panelist, Pacific ADR Consulting
In my career as a trial attorney I have defended against hundreds of personal injury claims and have represented personal injury plaintiffs in cases ranging from relatively minor car accidents to multi-million-dollar medical malpractice cases. But I have never been a personal injury plaintiff- until this year. I was the victim of a motor vehicle accident that resulted in both severed tendons in my right wrist that required surgical repair and a ruptured left biceps tendon. I spent several weeks with both arms in casts, making it very difficult to do, well, anything. I filed a lawsuit and was deposed for the first time in my life. I also participated in several hours of mediation. This experience had a profound impact on me.
One of the things that I came to realize is that personal injuries are extremely personal. It is difficult in a deposition or mediation setting to talk openly and frankly about the impacts that the accident, the injuries, and the treatment, have had on you, on your life, and on your friends, family, and co-workers. It is very emotional, far more so than I realized before sitting in the deposition chair. You tend to minimize the impacts and the difficulties and to under report and down play. Your knee-jerk response to, “How are you doing?” is to say “Fine,” even when you are not. You choke back the tears that suddenly and unexpectedly rise. This is one of the many places where the attorney, as advocate for his or her client, needs to step in and make the record on behalf of the client when the client is unable to do so.
I found this experience to be an incredibly important lesson for attorneys and mediators in the mediation process. For the most part, the mediation is the very first time the plaintiff and the mediator meet. They are total strangers to each other and in a short time must become comfortable with each other and trust each other. Only by building this trust can they engage in the highly sensitive and extremely personal conversation about what the impacts are of the accident, injuries, and treatment on the plaintiff and his or her life. Getting to the heart of this reality for the plaintiff is important for the effectiveness of the mediator, who must communicate with both sides of the dispute.
Having a clear understanding of what the plaintiff is going through and being able to communicate that information is key to both sides being able to properly analyze the value and risks of the case and being able to negotiate an acceptable resolution of the dispute at mediation. In order to accomplish this, the mediator and the attorneys involved must, at all times, be patient and understanding of just how deeply personal, personal injuries can be.
Troy Hunter is a mediator with Pacific ADR Consulting. He began his mediation career at the University of Washington School of Law, where he worked to resolve small claims litigation and community disputes through UW’s Mediation Clinic. He went on to win a Moot Court International Award of Excellence for skills in Mediation and Negotiation. As a civil litigator, he has successfully negotiated the mutually satisfactory resolution of hundreds of cases on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants. He lends his success to being creative, listening closely to what is being said and, as an avid poker player, being able to read people to get a sense what is not being said. He received his mediator certification from the internationally recognized program at the Straus School for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University, School of Law, in Malibu, CA.
In his legal career, Troy had the honor of working for three years with the preeminent plaintiff’s personal injury attorney, Tom Chambers, before Mr. Chambers joined the justices on the Washington State Supreme Court. He went on to work 14 years in insurance defense litigation as a partner in a Seattle firm before opening his own firm: Issaquah Law Group, where Troy continues to litigate disputes on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants. In his years as a civil trial attorney he has successfully litigated or mediated a diverse array of complex cases, including personal injury/wrongful death, sexual abuse/ misconduct, school/municipality liability, construction/ contractor liability, product liability and catastrophic fire/explosion losses. Troy develops long-lasting relationships with his clients who value his patience and compassion, as well as his dedication and perseverance. He is licensed to practice in Washington and Alaska.