Do-it-yourself in court and you may be in for a shock. Even a fool wouldn’t perform their own dental work with a handy man’s drill. Yet, every day, people represent themselves in court, often with disastrous results. Especially in personal injury claims.
Here’s an actual case:
“Buyers”, we’ll call them, bought a manufactured home from the “Sellers”. Buyers could have done a home inspection, standard in such transactions, but never did.
After moving in, Buyers claimed they fell ill from mold in the home. They blamed it on a leaky roof.
Buyers hired an attorney who sued the Sellers. Sellers hired me, and told me they’d lived in the home for years, raised two children, and no one was sick other than colds and similar ills.
Usually my office represents injured people, plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit. But this time, the sellers, a hard working couple raising a family, came to me for help. I agreed to defend them.
They explained the roof never leaked. Photos showed a solid metal roof with no defects, perhaps a bit of old caulking around a pipe that could be fixed on any sunny day with hardware store materials.
For whatever reason, Buyers fired their attorney. They no longer had guidance from legal counsel to properly prepare for trial. Plaintiffs always have the burden of proof, and a trial lawyer knows the legal requirements.
Do-it-yourself Approach in Court
At trial, Buyers told their story. They attempted to present medical documents showing their conditions. Medical testimony generally requires a live expert witness in the courtroom, so that the other side can cross examine. Expert testimony also requires advance notice. Without legal representation, and failing to do their own research, they didn’t know.
Buyers brought articles about mold to court. But, they offered no admissible expert testimony. The articles were excluded as hearsay.
The Buyers testified as to their knowledge about “mold.” But, as I pointed out, various types of mold exist everywhere. People eat mold in bread. Proving harmful consequences requires expert testimony. There was none.
Buyers lost. Had they kept their attorney they would have known how to prove their case.
Instead, they proved that anyone can go to court. But, with what result?
Buyers might have presented a valid case had they offered evidence correctly. Part of our case was that Buyers waived their complaints by failing to do their due diligence with a home inspection. But, we never got that far because a proper case was never offered at trial.
Legal matters appear like ‘just paperwork’ to the uninitiated. But, that does not mean it’s wise to march into court not knowing the rules of court, rules of evidence, statutes, case law and other tools trial lawyers master before going to court.
For those who say they ‘just want to settle out of court’, no insurance company will pay a dime unless they see a valid legal claim.
The bottom line is that the do-it-yourself approach is the plan of the fool.[Attorneys owe their clients absolute confidentiality. But, once a case is filed and tried in open court, it is a public matter. My clients also consented to a write up on this scenario.]