In April, 2021 the Washington State legislature passed and Governor Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5046. The primary effect…
Hello my name is Attorney Spencer Parr. I’m a worker’s compensation attorney in the State of Washington. I’m a 16-year workers compensation attorney, co-founder of Washington Law Center, one of the biggest workers compensation firms in the state. Today I want to talk to you about Pro Se Claimant Litigation.
What does it mean to be a Pro Se Claimant?
What does it mean to be Pro Se? Well, it means that you’re representing yourself. There’s an old saying that the person who represents themselves, they have a fool for a client. The reason attorneys say that, the reason judges say that, the reason that’s the saying in the profession, is that honestly, if you don’t know how the process works, how the court rules work, how everything has to go, you’re going to be at a very significant disadvantage to the people on the other side who have an attorney who knows all of those things.
The System Is Not On Your Side
You may have at first felt a little bit comfortable because you met your judge, he or she is a very decent person, you have it in your mind that well if I just tell my story then everything will work out- that’s how it’s supposed to go. I’ve believed in the system of justice since, you know I was a child and my parents told me that we have a system of justice that will take care of me. Wrong! That’s not how it works. You see, the judge is limited in what they can do to assist you. If the other side believes that the judge has crossed the border between just nearly asking the basic questions that need to be asked and going into some kind of detail where there is an error persuasion, the other side has a right to a mistrial. They will make a motion to mis-try your case and you’ll have to start all over again and it’s just no good.
What To Know If You’re A Pro Se Claimant
If you’re a Pro Se Claimant the first thing you need to know is, get an attorney, immediately. If you can’t get an attorney, then pay attention to the following tips. There are certain court rules that are going to play larger than others when you’re going to go forward.
The unfortunate thing about our workers compensation system in Washington State, is we haven’t made it easy to navigate like they have in some other states. It’s very simple to relax the rules of evidence and procedure- they’ve done it in New York, they’ve done it in other states, but they haven’t done it here in Washington because they want you, as an injured worker, to have less power than your employer does. That’s an issue you should take to the legislature right away.
Go see our legislative initiatives, our legislative priorities pages here on our website because we think that’s a disgusting arrangement that should be changed. Until it is, you’re subject to the notion that the other side gets to use very practiced, very polished attorneys to come in and dominate you and prevent you from speaking in the way you normally would. Because guess what, the court rules are all about preventing you from speaking the way you would like to.
For example, most people will say, “I went to my doctor and she said”… you can’t say that in court. It turns out that violates something called the Hearsay Rule. What is hearsay? Hearsay is an out-of-course statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted therein. It doesn’t matter if it’s a document.. “Here judge please read this document it’s from my doctor. My good doctor was kind enough to write you a narrative and tell you what was going on with my case”. No, I’m sorry the other side is going to object hearsay your honor, and the court must respectfully decline to look at your evidence.
If you say, “I went to the doctor and the doctor said”, you’re reporting the out-of-course statement made by the doctor. You’re trying to report it for the truth of what you understand the doctor to have said and therefore it’s within that definition of hearsay an out-of-course statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted there in. You can’t say it.
How can you talk if you can’t use normal speech patterns that we all use in our everyday speech? You’ve got to talk through implication. What I mean by that is you got to say, “Okay so, I got injured at work, and then I knew I was injured, so I went to the doctor. We talked about things , and I went over everything that I was feeling and the doctor did examinations. After I went from the doctor, I scheduled surgery.” We not discuss the fact that your doctor recommended surgery for your work related injury, because it turns out you can’t say it. But, if you just fill in all of the information around what happened, the rest of us, we know. Because, in the normal course of things your doctor won’t send you off to surgery unless they recommend surgery. That’s one of the ways we work with the court rules.
You can’t say “he said, she said, they said”. You could talk about what “I” said. If your employer is in the room and they’re a party you can talk about what the employer said because that comes within an exception to the hearsay rule. There are other exceptions to the hearsay rule, and it turns out that all of those exceptions are available to you if you go to Google and you should spend a lot of time on Google or any other search engine that you prefer. Try to learn the court rules as best as you can. Try to have an idea what those mean and if you can’t find an attorney you know, I very often take my evening hours and I dedicate those to Pro Se Claimants who are not able to obtain counsel for whatever reason.
Sometimes they have very very legitimate claims, for example, but they just unfortunately won’t, for whatever reason, won’t justify the amount of time and expense the attorney needs to expend on that matter its hugely important to the injured worker. The attorney can’t make the economics work, so their law firm won’t weigh in on a given problem. That’s very often why people end up Pro Se.
Are you a Pro Se Claimant Who Needs Assistance?
If you have that problem, give us a call. I may be able to give you some time in the evening or on a weekend. I’ll talk to you on my cell phone. I’ll try to help coach you through these things. I’ll do the best that we can do on that because unfortunately, we can’t represent everybody. We’re one of the largest law firms in the State of Washington, certainly that deals with workers compensation, and even we can’t help everyone. If you’re a Pro Se Claimant give us a call, let us try to help. Keep trying to find an attorney, study the rules, and we do wish you the very best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Spencer Parr is a litigation and trial attorney at Washington Law Center focused primarily in the areas of Labor & Industries claims and injury pension benefits. Before co-founding Washington Law Center, Spencer served in the U.S. Army. He has litigated major issues in the law, represented clients from coast to coast, and dedicated his professional life to assisting the injured and disabled. Click here to learn more about Spencer. View More Labor & Industries and Work Injury Resources.