Can You Settle Your Own Claim or Do You Need an Attorney?



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Personal injury cases involve a wide range of causes and situations. Since there are so many forms of negligence, it's impossible to set precise guidelines for when you can settle your own claim.

Most minor personal injury claims can be settled without a lawyer. Serious injury cases are more complicated, and need extensive preparation. These cases almost always require an attorney's skill and experience.

Handling Your Own Case

Most negligence cases are handled directly by the at-fault party's insurance company. If the evidence against their insured is clear, settling the case will simply be a matter of negotiating the total amount of the settlement.

Hiring a personal injury attorney may result in a higher gross settlement amount, but that doesn't always mean more money for you. Don't make the mistake of being greedy. After deducting an attorney's legal fees and costs, the net amount you end up with may be lower than if you'd handled the case yourself.

Insurance adjusters have a set formula they use to calculate payments for basic personal injury claims. It applies to the smaller claims, which are the majority of those they handle. Lawyers handle the bigger claims.

Although adjusters have some discretion, settlement amounts are based on reasonable medical and chiropractic costs, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Discretion comes into play when negotiating pain and suffering compensation. That amount can be anywhere from 1.5 - 4 times the total medical bills.

Keep in mind, if you start out handling the claim yourself, but get overwhelmed, or can't get a fair settlement offer, you can always hire an attorney later. At any point up until you sign the release form, you can get a lawyer to step in. If you did all the initial legwork and collected all the evidence to support your case, your attorney might even agree to reduce his fee.

Minor injury cases that may not require an attorney include:

  • Vehicle accidents, for the driver or passenger, and for claims against someone else's insurance policy or your own

  • Slip and fall accidents on anyone's property, whether it's residential, commercial, or public/government property

  • Restaurant injury cases, such as minor burns, foreign objects in food, or food poisoning

  • Assault cases, such as bar fights or public altercations

  • Some cases involving defective products, such as tires, appliances, children's toys, and personal products

  • Nursing home mistakes and some minor neglect of residents

  • Injuries to children at school

When You Need an Attorney

You need an attorney for any serious injury case, or any case requiring specialized legal expertise or advanced funding. Attorneys have years of experience negotiating settlements, and can file a lawsuit if necessary. They can devote the large amounts of money and time needed to bring a case to trial.

Advance costs in a lawsuit can include hiring expert witnesses and private investigators, paying for court reporters and depositions, and much more. Most complex cases, especially against large corporations, cost many thousands of dollars to prepare.

Cases that normally do require an attorney include:

  • Extreme ("threshold") injury cases, such as wrongful death, dismemberment, major disfigurement or scarring, compound fractures, permanent loss of use of body organs, paralysis, permanent illness, long-term disability, and toxic exposure

  • Medical malpractice, with complex medical testimony and evidence

  • Class action lawsuits, including drug cases against pharmaceutical companies

  • Police brutality

  • Complex evaluations of pain and suffering

  • Cases that require large amounts of money to prepare

  • Questions of law, creating and filing of legal briefs and memorandum

  • Hiring expert witnesses

  • Other cases involving very complex and prolonged evidence

Making a Decision

Every case is different. If the evidence is clear, handling your own case may result in a higher net settlement, but not always. Nothing can guarantee a successful outcome. The decision to settle your own claim or hire an attorney rests mostly on the severity of your injuries.

You may think your case is very strong, but the insurance company may disagree. Rather than getting a small settlement, or worse, none at all, your best bet might be to hire a personal injury attorney. Regardless, it's always a good idea to get a free initial consultation.

Again, serious injury cases need an attorney. But if you're willing to invest the time and effort, there's really no reason why you can't handle a minor personal injury case yourself. You'll find the tools on this website, the rest is up to you.

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