Representing Clients Suffering From Chronic Pain
By J. Michael Conley
Representing clients who suffer from chronic pain presents a special challenge, requiring patience, understanding, and, above all, belief in our client.
Chronic pain can have a very negative impact on a person's quality of life and inevitably affects the patient's family and other relationships - including relationships with lawyers. It is common to encounter chronic pain sufferers who feel misunderstood by their lawyers - usually because they are. Without experience and understanding of insidious and painful conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome/reflex sympathetic dystrophy, trigeminal neuralgia, peripheral neuropathic pain, and phantom pain in amputees, it can be difficult to advocate for the client without reservation or doubt. Similarly, we have met many lawyers whose poor understanding of a client's condition (particularly less common or less well understood pain syndromes) consider the clients to be difficult people. Usually, such clients are just regular people dealing with unimaginably difficult life circumstances.
A lawyer accepting a case for a client suffering from severe intractable pain must do so with an understanding that we are now in this together, and bring to the relationship all of the understanding, forgiveness, fortitude and tenacity that we would hope for from the pain sufferer's family.
This requires more than legal or medical research. We must become familiar with what is likely happening in our client's life. We would encourage any attorney who represents a client suffering from a chronic pain condition to read an article entitled SURVIVING A LOVED ONE'S CHRONIC PAIN, A guide for family and friends of pain patients, By David Kannerstein, PhD and Sarah M. Whitman, MD. The article is a free download and is a helpful handout for clients' families as well to help them understand what their loved one is going through and encourage them to communicate with them and provide support.
Being involved in a litigation process - while often essential to a family's future survival - makes demands of the pain sufferer that are at odds with of the approaches that help manage chronic pain. For example, the American Chronic Pain Association advises, among other things, that you learn to distract yourself from thinking about your physical pain, and focus on the positive aspects of your life, and that you concentrate on what you can do. While, this is great and essential advice, the litigation process -- focusing on compensation for harms and losses inflicted by the carelessness of others -- repeatedly draws your focus back to the pain and limitations that are the subject of the case. In addition, by a mean quirk of psychology, it is common for pain sufferers to come to associate their pain with the litigation. It is then newly disheartening to face the reality that when the case ends - no matter how successfully -- the pain remains.
Over the years, we have learned much from our clients and their families how we can best integrate our efforts and needs in the process of seeking justice, with the challenges they face daily. Each client we have represented has left us better prepared to help the family we may meet tomorrow. We have also come to believe that the best source of information and support for pain sufferers and their families is one another. The availability of on-line support groups has been a great benefit for clients whose pain or injury inhibits their getting out and around.
See, for example:
American Chronic Pain Association
Families and Chronic Pain
American RSDHope Organization - For those suffering from CRPS or RSD.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association - For those suffering from CRPS or RSD.
Living With TN (Trigeminal Neuralgia)
We are learning from our clients every day and have come to understand that representing a client in chronic pain, requires much of what is required (albeit in much greater degree) of the client's family - understanding, commitment, and refusal to quit.
By J. Michael Conley
Kenney & Conley, P.C.