October 29, 2014 • Legal Terminology
There are many times in a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit in New York where the defending lawyer knows, and perhaps even admits, to his client’s fault in the events that caused the plaintiff to file a case. And yet, many defending lawyers are wary of admitting liability outright and discussing damages and compensation in court. What is it that makes defendants and their lawyers so scared of admitting guilt?
The Reasons to not Accept Liability
There can be many reasons why a defending lawyer may not want to admit liability, and plaintiffs should not expect an easy win in personal injury cases either. The facts may be as clear as day, but sometimes lawyers may think that they have a better chance of cutting down the compensation claims by proving before the jury that the defendant’s mistake was not intentional. In this scenario they may decide to have a full-fledged trial where the issue of liability and guilt will be discussed over and over.
Sometimes, it may be the defendant who himself asks his lawyer to go for a full blown trial instead of talking damages. Perhaps because the idea of admitting to one’s mistake in front of a courtroom full of questioning strangers is akin to admitting defeat for some people. On the other hand, it may be because they think that once they have accepted liability there will be no way that they can squirm their way out of a huge settlement.
As a lawyer, it takes a lot to convince your client to lay down the sword. No one, repeat no one, likes to go into a battle admitting they have lost and this psychological factor can work havoc in a lawsuit if your client is not ready to understand the consequences of his insistence on a full trial. In cases with significant exposure, and where the facts clearly point to your client’s culpability accepting liability can indeed be the best strategy that you can use. Convincing your client of the same may be slightly tough though.
The Benefits of Accepting Your Guilt
The greatest benefit that you can have from admitting liability is that you immediately gain credibility with the jury. When the facts are strongly against your client, taking the high road will only increase your standing in the court. If you decide to contest on shaky grounds, you will only invite skepticism for your defense. So if you want the jurors to listen to your defense arguments seriously, earn their trust first by accepting your client’s mistakes.
In many personal injury cases, it is important to show causation before damages can be claimed. The defendant may have made a mistake, but was this the only cause for the plaintiff’s injuries? By admitting liability you can turn the argument towards the topics that are more important than the blame game―causation and damages. You can also choose to focus on co-defendants, if any, so that your client is judged only on his share of the guilt and not made the sole recipient of the juror’s anger.