The VA’s poor care cost a veteran one of his eyes. Literally, he lost his eye and now has a prosthetic one, as glass eyes are now euphemistically called. To its credit, at the time of the incident the VA acknowledged there were problems with its care and they even told the veteran about the tort claim process. They didn’t tell him to hire a lawyer, however. The veteran filed his claim without one. Eventually, the VA made a settlement offer of $300,000, which was characterized as final. Frankly, that was not an awful valuation. The veteran did not have any economic losses. He could still drive and do most of what he could do before losing an eye.
Before accepting the offer, something prompted this veteran to seek out legal advice. My partner, Glen Sturtevant, handled the contact from the client. On his advice, we offered a retainer and Glen took over negotiating with the VA. With some back and forth, a settlement of $575,000 was reached – almost double the "final” amount the VA had put on the table before Glen got involved.
Actually, our client in this case was one of the lucky ones. The VA actually made a reasonable effort to settle the case with the veteran before he got a lawyer. Frequently, we see situations where people attempt to handle claims on their own. They either get no offer or a patently poor one. They then come to us. Sometimes we can help them. More often we can’t. The reasons we can’t help are multiple, but the common denominator is that the process presumes some degree of legal knowledge and sophistication on the part of the person making a claim. And that is the standard by which a claim is considered. You don’t get a break just because you’re not using a lawyer. The deck is stacked against anyone trying to prosecute an FTCA claim without a lawyer. Unfair? Probably, but it is a basic fact of this business.
I am glad we could help this veteran. With Glen’s help, he got a great settlement and even after the fee he will net a lot more than he would have gotten on his own. I wish we had more “happy ending” tales like this one. There is an old expression that he who represents himself has a fool for a client. There is some truth in that. If you think you have a potential medical malpractice claim, you need a lawyer who knows what they are doing. It’s not the stuff of a DIY project.