Most people understand that being sued is an incredibly stressful event. But fewer people understand that being a plaintiff in a personal injury case can be equally taxing on your mind and emotional state.
Psychologists have used the terms “critogenesis” and “litigation response syndrome” to describe emotional injuries caused by litigation. This article explains why being a plaintiff can be so stressful and how you can limit the toll that litigation takes.
What impact does litigation have on a plaintiff?
Psychologists have found that the following symptoms are commonly associated with litigation:
- Difficulties in concentration
- Loss of motivation
- Loss of social involvement
- Loss of enjoyment and pleasure in life
- Aches and pains
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Exaggerated startle response
- Recurring thoughts related to litigation
What’s more, when the litigation concerns a personal injury, additional common symptoms include:
- Problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Dizziness and headaches
- Appetite disturbances
- Low energy
- Disruptions of attention and concentration
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Distressing dreams
Why is litigation so stressful?
Plaintiffs generally don’t anticipate the emotional stress they may experience during litigation. After all, if your claim is justified, shouldn't the defendant be the only person who’s stressed out?
There are a number of things that make litigation stressful even for plaintiffs with justified claims, including:
The accident that caused your injury was almost certainly traumatic. Whether it was a catastrophic truck accident or a serious injury sustained at work, you’re likely still trying to heal emotionally by the time you decide to file a lawsuit.
Unfortunately, litigation may force you to relive your accident, as you might be required to describe the incident in detail, listen to witnesses describe the incident, and examine photographs or video footage of the incident.
The law is adversarial. Though most plaintiffs understand this, many are surprised at just how aggressively the defendant’s attorney attacks the credibility of their claims.
Lack of privacy
Many personal injury lawsuits come down to how much money the defendant should pay to compensate the plaintiff for their physical injuries. As a result, your medical records will probably be scrutinized by the defendant’s attorney to determine whether your injuries were actually caused by the accident and whether you could have done anything differently to minimize your injuries.
What’s more, you may have to discuss other personal aspects of your life with your attorney, the defendant’s attorney, and even the judge or jury.
For example, most discovery requests (discovery is the process of civil litigation in which the parties are required to turn over information to each other) include questions about the plaintiff’s finances, litigation history, and employment history.
Uncertainty and delay
The law moves slowly.
What’s more, there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive the compensation you deserve at the end of your lawsuit. The combination of uncertainty and delay can take its toll on a plaintiff.
In addition to being slow, litigation can be expensive. In most personal injury cases, attorneys work on a contingency basis (meaning the attorney doesn’t collect money from you unless they recover money).
Nonetheless, some attorneys will expect you to front certain costs (such as the cost to file your lawsuit), and the mere knowledge that a portion of your judgment will have to go to your attorney can lead to stress and anxiety.
The complicated legal process
The legal process can be confusing. Lawyers have to attend 3 years of law school just to understand the basics. Even with a good attorney who’s able to explain the process to you, the complex nature of the law can be stressful.
Psychologists have found that litigation can delay the healing process. Rather than moving on from the accident, plaintiffs involved in litigation often feel like they can’t begin the process of moving forward until the lawsuit is settled.
How can you limit the negative impacts of litigation?
While it’s impossible to avoid the negative impacts of litigation completely, there are ways to limit the impact. Here are a few things you can do:
Find the right attorney
The attorney-client relationship is like any other type of relationship when it comes to what’s needed for the relationship to be successful. A successful attorney-client relationship requires:
- Good communication
- Mutual respect
- Common goals
The best way to ensure that you hire the right attorney is to interview several attorneys.
Tell the truth
When you’re involved in a lawsuit, honesty is the best policy. Telling your attorney the truth (no matter how uncomfortable) will help ensure that the litigation process moves as swiftly as possible and that your attorney doesn’t encounter any unwelcome surprises.
In addition to the important strategic reasons for telling the truth (your attorney can prepare to address the weaknesses of your case) and the legal reasons for telling the truth (you can be convicted of perjury if you lie under oath), telling the truth helps avoid the anxiety associated with lying.
Don’t forget about the other parts of your life
At times, your lawsuit will feel all-consuming. But you shouldn’t let your lawsuit define you. Continue doing some of the things you enjoyed before you filed your lawsuit (exercise, read, meet with friends, etc.).
It might help to think about your case like a job. While it’s important to take it seriously, it’s unhealthy not to maintain a healthy work-life balance. In fact, focusing on other aspects of your life can help you feel re-energized and re-focused when you return to your case.
Litigation isn’t a lot of fun, but there are steps you can take to minimize the stress associated with litigation. Find an attorney in your area and I’ll see you on the other side!