You don’t always need a lawyer for personal injury claims. Get the basics on negotiating a claim on your own, and when you’ll need legal help to get fair compensation.
Millions of people are injured every year because someone else was careless or made a bad decision.
When you’ve been injured, you have the right to expect the at-fault person or business owner to compensate you for your damages.
Deciding whether to hire an attorney or represent yourself in a personal injury claim can be a tough decision. Every case is unique. Some injury claims are too severe or complicated to handle on your own. However, many types of claims can be handled without a lawyer if you know how.
Here’s where we unpack how to successfully negotiate a fair settlement on your own, and when it makes financial sense to hire an experienced attorney.
When You Can Represent Yourself
Whether you’ve been in a fender-bender, slipped on an icy walk, or were nipped by a neighbor’s dog, most minor injury claims are pretty straightforward. You probably won’t need an attorney to get a fair settlement if you can say “Yes” to these three questions:
1. Have You Completely Recovered from a Minor Injury?
Most injury claims involve “soft tissue” injuries like bumps, bruises, whiplash, muscle or tendon sprains and strains, and minor cuts. If you’ve completely recovered from a few days or weeks of treatment and rest, you’re ready to think about settling your injury claim.
Be sure you are completely recovered, even if the insurance adjuster is offering you immediate settlement money. That stiff neck could turn out to be a herniated disc, so be sure you and your doctor agree that you have no further medical issues before you consider settling.
2. Has the Insurance Company Accepted Full Liability?
When the insurance company accepts 100 percent liability for their insured, and you’ve completely recovered from minor injuries, the only remaining issue is the amount of the settlement.
Make sure the insurance company has accepted liability in writing. Don’t assume.
It may be perfectly clear to you that the guy who rear-ended your car is completely to blame, but he may be telling a different story to his insurance company.
3. Do You Have the Time and Energy to Handle Your Claim?
Handling a personal injury claim can be a lot of work. Coping with your pain, doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions may be all you can handle. You may just not feel well enough to pursue your claim effectively.
If you are well enough, be prepared to put in the work required. You’ll have to acquire medical records and police reports, speak with witnesses, negotiate with the insurance adjuster, and more. Some negotiations are cordial and resolve quickly; others are unpleasant and can take months.
If you sustained minor injuries from a car wreck in a No-Fault Insurance state, you must turn to your own insurance company to pay for your medical expenses and lost wages, no matter who was at fault.
What’s Involved in Handling Your Own Claim
If you’ve completely recovered from soft-tissue injuries like bumps and bruises, you probably won’t need an attorney to negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company.
The amount of compensation that you can expect for your situation will depend heavily on the amount of your damages.
Injury claim damages typically include:
- Medical and therapy bills
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses, like medications, bandages, or crutches
- The cost of ruined personal items like clothing or eyeglasses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
Gathering Evidence to Support Your Claim
Clear and strong evidence is very important to your injury claim. Gathering good evidence begins as soon as you get hurt. Evidence proves you were injured to the insurance company and that their insured was at fault.
Photographs and Video: At the scene of your injury, try to take as many photographs as you can of the location, the people involved, with close-up pictures or video of the main cause of your injury.
Medical Records: Without medical records and bills to verify the cause and extent of your injuries, your insurance claim won’t get very far. Tell every medical provider who treats you exactly when, where, and how you came to be injured.
You will need to request copies of your medical bills and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses like medications, crutches, and transportation costs for medical appointments.
Medical bills and expenses are used to calculate the value of your claim. However, insurance companies are only obligated to pay reasonable medical expenses. Be wary of “accident doctors” who run up big bills for repeated tests or weeks of questionable treatments. You may be on the hook for those big bills if the insurance company won’t pay.
Lost Wages: Ask your employer for a written statement of lost wages. The statement should include lost overtime, and how many vacation or sick days you used while recovering from your injury.
Asking for Fair Compensation
Handling an accident claim without a lawyer can still be done professionally, starting with your demand for compensation.
You can calculate a reasonable compensation amount by totaling the cost of your medical bills and expenses, the cost of ruined clothing, and your lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Send a written demand for compensation. Enclose copies of your medical bills and records, receipts, witness statements, and other evidence.
Look like a pro with our sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.
Negotiating Your Settlement
Insurance adjusters rarely respond to a demand letter by writing a check for the amount you requested. After the insurance adjuster reviews your letter and your evidence, then the negotiation process gets underway.
With minor injury claims, the basic negotiation steps after your demand letter include the adjuster’s response to your letter, usually with a much lower counteroffer, followed by back-and-forth bartering until you agree to a settlement.
Negotiating a minor injury claim takes persistence and patience but shouldn’t drag on too long. If the insurance adjuster is making unreasonable demand for additional information or won’t come off a low-ball settlement offer, you may need help.
You have the right to consult a personal injury attorney at any time in the negotiation process, so long as you haven’t signed a settlement agreement.
When You Need an Attorney
When you’ve been seriously injured, you’ll need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of money you deserve for your injuries, pain and suffering.
No matter what kind of insurance company is involved, they all have one thing in common. Insurance companies will pull out all the stops to avoid paying expensive claims, no matter how badly you are hurt.
You will need a skilled personal injury attorney to win financial compensation for complicated, high-dollar injury claims such as:
- Severe Vehicle Accidents
- Medical Malpractice
- Dangerous Drug Injuries
- Wrongful Death Claims
- Asbestos Injuries and other Toxic Poisoning
- Injuries to Children
- Product Liability Claims
For complex litigation, look for an attorney who can advance the funds needed to pay for medical experts, independent product testing, actuarial accountants, and other evidence needed to prepare for trial.
Injury Claim Complications
Every serious injury claim has the potential for complications that are best handled by an attorney. Legal complications in injury claims can include:
Shared Blame: In most states, you can lose your right to compensation if you are equally to blame (called the 50% rule) or more to blame (called the 51% rule) for the circumstances of your injuries. In a few states, you can lose everything if you share any blame for your injury.
Your attorney won’t let the insurance company have the last word, even when you share some blame for your injuries.
Medical Liens: When you receive compensation for an injury claim, Medicaid, Medicare, health insurance companies, and others have the right to recover what they paid on your behalf from any settlement you collect from the negligent party.
Your attorney can often negotiate for the medical lien to be satisfied for less than is owed, so you get to keep more of your settlement.
Interpleaders: When several injured people are demanding compensation from the same insurance policy limits, there may not be enough money to go around. The insurance company may file an interpleader, which means they are asking the court to decide how to divvy up the money.
Your attorney will negotiate a reasonable share of the available funds for your compensation.
There’s Too Much at Stake
You can often settle minor personal injury claims without a lawyer. But when your injury is severe, or becomes complicated, there’s too much at stake.
You don’t have to face the insurance company alone and you won’t have to pay upfront for help.
Reputable personal injury attorneys don’t charge for an initial consultation and represent clients like you on a contingency fee basis. That means your attorney’s fees won’t be paid unless your case is settled or you win a verdict in court.
Don’t settle for less. You deserve fair compensation for your injuries. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.
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