purchase, george & murphey.

purchase, george & murphey.


An Erie Pennsylvania Hunting Lawyers Metaphor

December 3, 2011

December 4, 2011, ERIE, PA — This weekend my 12 year old son, Sam, and I went hunting for deer. I don’t ordinarily report the stories of our Pennsylvania hunting adventures in my injury and accident law blog but deer hunting gives a guy a lot of time to think. This particular trip gave me cause to think about the similarities between my hunt and personal injury litigation. You can judge whether the metaphor is worthwhile or just the product of way too much time on my hands sitting in the cold at the top of a mountain. Here’s the story.

The Plan

We went to a friend’s camp in West Hickory Friday night. There was much discussion about the mountain we would hunt the next day and how one group (those of us with pre-teen sons) would climb to the top and wait while another group (adult men) would drive the deer, presumably towards those of us waiting.

What we didn’t discuss, or what I failed to comprehend, is that the group going to the top of the mountain would NOT be taking the trail. My friend and host felt that the trail route would drive the deer away from our positions. And so, when we arrived at the foot of the mountain, we did not take the relatively easy marked trail up the mountain (which was just feet away from where we parked). Instead, we scaled right up the face of that brambly Pennsylvania mount.

Now, here’s the thing about Pennsylvania mountains. In terms of difficulty, they really don’t compare with many of this great nation’s more challenging mountain ranges. In fact, I’ve heard people out west scoff at the Alleghenies as a “hill range.” But the ease with which they can be had tempts a man to go at them without too much preparation, particularly a guy who’s grown accustomed to using trails. And so it was that I began my walk up the mountain with bib overalls that were way too heavy; an over-laden pack; my rifle; and, most importantly, my favorite field boots, a pair of L.L. Bean hunting boots that are light, waterproof and perfect for a stroll in the woods…but which are almost completely devoid of tread.

The Climb

Our climb began with a descent into a ditch by the side of the road and then the mountain rose sharply before us. Loaded with brambles, slippery with frost and crazily steep, I thought to myself that it was a difficult start but would likely grow easier as we progressed.

The group moved up the side of that mountain, our boys doing exceptionally well. Yours truly, however, lagged behind. Admittedly more than a little out of shape, I struggled. Still, this wasn’t my first climb as an out-of-shape, middle-aged man. Being last up the mountain, drenched in sweat and out of breath was exactly what I expected.

What I didn’t expect was the slime. Perhaps churned to a mix of mud and frozen leaves by those who went before me, certainly aggravated by boots that had the classic Bean “Chain Tread” worn to a smooth finish, the mountainside proved almost impossible for me to climb. I found myself on all fours, desperately reaching for saplings, roots and vines (which more often than not were thorned), my feet slipping fruitlessly behind me. The rifle slung on my shoulder slipped off time and again and eventually found its way into my hands, where I reluctantly began using it as a walking stick (a no-no, by the way).

I didn’t know the mountain. I didn’t know how far up I was but I knew I still had a long way to go. Panting, slipping, moving only inches at a time, I was ready to give up and said as much (profanity in front of my son was also involved, but I don’t feel compelled to publish the details of every one of my many failings as a father here and so I will leave the precise language to be repeated by the others in our group who, in the camp later, would repeat my comments with great amusement).

The Advice and Guidance of a Good Friend

My friend encouraged me, sort of. “Take your time,” he said. “It’s dark and foggy at the top. We’re in no hurry,” he observed. “We’ve still got 3/4 of the mountain to go and it only gets worse from here. We don’t want any heart attacks, at least not in the morning,” he offered. (My friend’s kind of a jerk, did I mention?). Still, I put my head down and began again.

Things We do for Family

Churning my way up the mountain, whipped in the face by brambles, I grimly resolved to just make it happen. I stopped caring if my gloves and overalls were soaked in mud. If my careful preparations for a day sitting motionless in the cold were undone by moisture, so be it. I wasn’t going to ruin my son’s hunt.

Some time later (it seemed like forever), my progress seemed almost too small to measure. Not yet out-of-breath but completely disheartened I said to my son, “I’m sorry, buddy. I don’t think I’m going to make it. Let’s go back down and I’ll take you somewhere else.” He looked at me and said, “That’s O.K., dad.” Sheesh. That boy really knows how to get to me.

Again we began to climb. My son and my friend worked ahead of me. Of course, they had their struggles, too. They slipped and fell. They struggled through the same thorny patches. For the most part, though, they patiently waited for me as I moved slowly up the hill.

I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My pace and the gains I was making were so small that I felt I would spend the rest of the day there. But I couldn’t give up in front of my son. I reached some sort of weird mental place where I decided I wasn’t going to quit but had no expectation of success.

The Turning Point

As fate would have it, things got better. I couldn’t tell you when but somewhere along that mountainside we began to encounter rocks embedded in the earth that were about a foot or so long and, except when they came loose under my feet, I was able to use them to gain purchase. It wasn’t sudden, exactly, and it didn’t become easy, but I went from making almost no progress to making some progress.

At that point, I was gassed. I had to stop and catch my breath more than once. Still, everything had changed. There was an end in sight and it was within reach.

We made it to the top, of course. Our group spread out along the ridge line from where we had a spectacular view of the mountain below us. Sam and I set up on a ledge just big enough for the two of us to lie prone and wait for our game to present itself. We stayed there through mid-afternoon, occasionally noshing on the sandwiches (for me), pop-tarts (for him) and apples (for both of us) I’d hauled up the mountainside. We whispered about movement in the distant brush that might be a big buck (it wasn’t). We tried not to move. Sam took a nap (there are few things better than an outdoor nap, if you ask me). Later, we hiked to some clear cuts and drove them, but this was not to be a day we would see deer. We came off that mountain (down the trail) just before dark, tired but happy. I think I would have been happy with the day even if we’d walked up the trail but I’m certain the end of the day was better, at least a little, as a consequence of the difficulty of its start.

The Connection to Pennsylvania Injury Litigation

So, why write about this hunt in my Pennsylvania injury lawyer’s blog? Well, here is what I thought about while Sam was taking his nap. It occurred to me that my climb up that mountain was not so different from what my clients endure in Pennsylvania personal injury litigation. Like me on that mountain, they don’t know from personal experience what to expect. They’ve met with me and they’ve been told what to expect and they’ve made efforts to prepare themselves for it, of course. But I met with my friend the night before that hike and I was told what to expect and I’d made plans. I nevertheless discovered that being told what to expect and making plans is entirely different from having personal experience.

Litigation Takes a Long Time

Like me on that mountain, my Pennsylvania accident clients sometimes experience despair. Injury litigation can seem endless. I can tell clients that they’ll get there, that they just need to take it one step at a time, but they sometimes find it difficult to see that progress is being made and my exhortations must sometimes ring hollow to them.

Good Lawyers Tell the Truth (Even When Clients Don’t Want to Hear It)

Like me on that mountain, my personal injury clients must hear the truth, even when it is hard to hear and even when it deepens their conviction that there is no end in sight. I don’t take the same pleasure in delivering the truth as my friend did when he warned me that my heart attack would ruin his hunt but I nevertheless have to tell them that there is still a long way to go and that it can get more difficult yet.

We Do a Lot for Family

Like me on that mountainside, my Pennsylvania injury clients are frequently motivated by their concern for their family. A Pennsylvania accident victim is acutely aware of how an injury causes failures, including failures associated with inability to work; to help around the home; or just to maintain a pleasant and optimistic demeanor in the face of permanently altered physical capacities. More often than not, I’ve observed my clients continue on in litigation out of a sense of responsibility for the others who depend upon them.

Yeah, Yeah. I know Nothing Lasts Forever, but this is Taking Forever!

The dissonance between intellectual certainty and emotional conviction, too, is an element common to my time on that mountain and personal injury plaintiffs. Both of us know, intellectually, that there is an end. No mountain goes on forever just like no case goes on forever. Still, there must be moments when personal injury plaintiffs really don’t feel that they will get to the end. How they handle the conflict between intellect and emotion often drives the outcome of their case.

How Will I Know if We’ve Won?

Finally, there is the question of success. How will it be defined? Will it be achieved? Like me on that mountain, a personal injury client must decide how they will know if they have been successful. On that mountain Saturday, I might have defined success as getting to the top (or shooting a deer). If I had defined success that way, then I might not have made it. In fact, if getting a deer was my definition of success then the day was a failure despite getting to the top. Instead, I took my definition of success in parts (after I realized I needed to define success). First, I defined success as “I will not give up.” That was entirely achievable because it was entirely within my control. Second, I defined success as “I will hunt carefully and responsibly and I will enjoy the day with my son.” Again, the definition was limited to elements entirely within my control and, thankfully, was something we achieved this weekend.

For personal injury clients, defining success can be tricky. Some want to define success as something like, “getting my old life back.” I wish that were something I could offer as a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer but, unfortunately, it is not a realistic expectation of litigation and, in any event, is dependent upon too many factors outside of our control. Others might define success as, “getting enough money to make up for my harms and losses.” That one isn’t bad. Money damages are certainly something that can be achieved in litigation. Still, though, getting money (or getting enough money) necessarily depends on others. Either the defendants or their insurers must offer it in settlement or a jury must award it after trial.

Better, I’ll suggest, is a definition of success that is taken in parts. First, “I will do my best to get better by complying with what my doctors and physical therapists recommend.” Second, “I will select the best Pennsylvania injury attorney I can find for my case.” Third, “I will carefully record my experiences, document my losses and communicate those things to my lawyer.” Fourth, “I will be patient but I will expect my lawyer to communicate with me what is happening in my case.” Fifth, “When presented with options created by my lawyer, I will carefully consider and weigh the risks and benefits and make the best decision for me and my case.”

One Last Overly Wordy Message

Our website advisors caution me all the time that my blogs run too long and this one has gone far past anything they’d ever approve and so I’ll wrap it up now by saying to prospective Pennsylvania injury clients this, “I know personal injury litigation is foreign to you but you should be prepared for it to be difficult, lengthy and uncertain. No, really, you’re thinking you’re prepared but you’re not. It’s going to take longer and you’re going to have more challenges than you think. Stick with me (or the personal injury lawyer of your choice). Make good choices. You’re going to get through this. I don’t know, with certainty, what we’re going to find but I’ve been up this mountain before and I think it’s worth it for you to make the journey. Let’s get started.”

Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. Can Help

If you have a Pennsylvania injury, wrongful death or medical malpractice case, we’ll be glad to give you a free, no-strings attached consult with one of our experienced Erie injury lawyers. Call us today and we’ll schedule a conference at your convenience. If your injuries keep you from traveling, let us know and we’ll come to you. Call 814-273-2010 or toll free 814-273-2010.