In our nationwide FTCA medical malpractice work, we frequently represent terminally ill individuals. The usual case is a delay in diagnosing cancer - a not uncommon scenario in the VA healthcare system.
Often, when dealing with clients, the dire prognosis is the elephant in the room. You still have to address it. On the best days, such conversations are hard ones. No one likes to talk about death. I’ve always found that being direct is the best practice, difficult though it is at times.
A typical discussion is who gets the money from any recovery. These clients want to take care of those they care about. Sometimes, there are those they do not want enriched.
Perversely, more than once such a situation has led to me being a matchmaker.
In most states, wrongful death recoveries can only go to spouses, children and relatives. You may have been together years, but unless you are in one of the few states that recognize common law marriage, your significant other is likely to be left empty handed.
A few years ago we had an FTCA client who had been living with a woman for over 20 years. He adored her. Early in their lives they were married and then got divorced. After a few years, they remarried - and then got divorced, again. It’s easy to understand why they were wary of marriage.
Regardless, this veteran’s time was short.
I had a blunt discussion with both. If they weren’t married, the woman he loved would get nothing after he died. To my surprise, they both laughed. The proposal was made and accepted on the spot.
The couple got married a week or two later. They sent me a picture. Not long afterwards, the veteran passed.
Yes, we eventually got a decent recovery for the widow.
As trial lawyers, we are more than mere technicians of the law or hired guns. As my Virginia law license states, we are attorneys AND counselors at law. it’s easy to overlook the counselor part.
The reality is that as a trial lawyer the scope of what you do goes well beyond the facts and law of a particular case. Comfortably or otherwise, you become a part of the clients’ lives. You have to advise them accordingly.
Embrace the role. It goes with the territory.