Deciding if you need a personal injury attorney is an important choice. Here we explore the pros and cons of handling your own claim vs hiring a lawyer.
Millions of people are injured every year because someone else was careless or made a bad decision.
When you or a loved one are injured, you have the right to expect the at-fault party to compensate you for your damages.
An injury attorney has many skills that can help you get maximum compensation for your losses after an injury. But it’s also possible to handle an injury claim yourself.
Deciding to file your personal injury claim without a lawyer can be difficult. Every case is unique. Some claims are too severe or complicated to handle without legal representation. However, many types of claims can be handled without a lawyer, if you know how.
When You Can Settle a Claim Yourself
Most minor injury claims with clear liability can be settled directly with the insurance company, without hiring an attorney. Whether you were in a fender-bender, tripped on a walkway, or were bit by a neighbor’s dog, if you weren’t seriously injured, the claim process should be straightforward.
If you can answer “YES” to all of these questions, you probably don’t need an attorney:
- Are you fully recovered from minor injuries?
- Has the insurance company accepted liability for the at-fault person?
- Do you know what your claim is worth?
- Are you comfortable negotiating?
- Do you have a doctor’s note for missed workdays?
- Can you get proof of lost wages from your employer?
- Do you have medical bills and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses?
When You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer
More severe injury claims, or those with questionable liability, require hiring an experienced attorney to protect your interests. Cases involving spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries are high-dollar claims. There’s too much at stake in these kinds of cases to go it alone.
If you can answer “YES” to any of these questions, you need an attorney:
- Are your injuries severe, disabling, or permanent?
- Will you need surgery or other treatment in the future?
- Were multiple people injured?
- Is anyone blaming you for causing the accident?
- Do you have a pre-existing condition worsened by the incident?
- Is this a malpractice or product liability claim?
- Is the injury victim a minor child?
What’s Involved in Handling Your Own Claim
Relatively minor claims involve “soft tissue” injuries like bumps, bruises, whiplash, muscle or tendon sprains and strains, and minor cuts. It makes financial sense to settle uncomplicated injury claims on your own, rather than sharing a modest insurance payout with an attorney.
Be sure you’re completely recovered, even if the insurance adjuster is offering immediate settlement money. That lingering headache could indicate a traumatic brain injury, so be sure you and your doctor agree that you have no further medical issues before you consider settling.
Make sure the insurance company has accepted liability in writing. It may be perfectly clear to you that the guy who rear-ended you in a car accident is completely to blame, but he may be telling a different story to his insurer.
When the insurance company accepts 100 percent liability for their insured, and you’ve completely recovered from minor injuries, the only remaining issue is to negotiate the amount of the settlement.
Do You Have the Time and Energy Required?
You don’t have to be an expert in personal injury law, but you’ll have to be diligent and organized.
Be prepared to acquire evidence like 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.
Can You Gather and Organize Evidence?
Clear and strong evidence is critical to any injury claim. Gathering good evidence begins as soon as you get hurt. Evidence proves to the insurance company that you were injured and their insured was at fault.
- Photographs and Video: At the scene of your injury, take as many photographs as you can of the location and 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. You will need to request copies of your medical bills and get receipts for out-of-pocket expenses.
- Lost Wages: Ask your employer for a written statement of lost wages. The statement should include lost overtime, and the number of vacation or sick days you used while recovering from your injury.
Are You Comfortable Negotiating a Settlement?
Handling an accident claim without a lawyer can still be done professionally, starting with your demand for compensation.
It starts by calculating a fair settlement amount. A rough estimate is the total cost of your medical bills, related out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and any other costs related to the injury. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
You will then write a demand letter and send it to the insurance company, along with copies of your medical bills and records, receipts, witness statements, and other evidence.
After sending your demand letter, the adjuster will usually respond with a much lower counteroffer. This is followed by back-and-forth bartering until you agree to a settlement.
If the insurance adjuster is making unreasonable demands 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 lawyer at any time in the negotiation process, so long as you haven’t signed a settlement agreement.
The Cost of Legal Representation
Most accident lawyers offer a free consultation to discuss your personal injury case.
There are no up-front costs for accident victims, since attorneys handle these cases on a contingency fee basis. That means your attorney’s fees won’t be paid unless your case is settled or you win in court. The normal contingency fee is 33.3 percent of a settlement, up to 40 percent of a court award.
If you’ve already done work on your claim, such as gathering evidence and sending a demand letter, you may be able to negotiate your attorney’s fee.
You’ll also want to make sure your attorney is keeping you up to date on your claim’s progress. Here’s a quick guide and log to monitor your case status.
When You Should Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
It takes a skilled personal injury lawyer to navigate the legal process for complicated, high-dollar injury claims. This includes any type of serious injury or liability dispute.
High-dollar claims include:
- Severe motor vehicle accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Dangerous drugs
- Wrongful death
- Asbestos and other toxic poisonings
- Injuries to children
- Product liability claims
For complex litigation, you need an established personal injury law firm that can advance the funds to pay for expert witnesses, independent product testing, actuarial accountants, and other evidence needed to prepare for trial.
Insurance companies often pay claimants more when they’re represented by an attorney. These companies know that an attorney will fight hard for a higher settlement and go to trial if necessary. It’s unlikely a layperson will pursue a lawsuit on their own, so the deterrent isn’t the same as with an attorney.
Sometimes all it takes is hiring an attorney to file a personal injury lawsuit for the insurance company to bring reasonable money to the table.
Let Your Attorney Handle Complications
Every serious injury claim has the potential for complications that are best handled by an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Legal complications in injury claims can include:
- Shared Blame: In most states, you can lose your right to compensation if you are equally or more to blame for causing 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 unfairly assign you a greater share of blame than you deserve.
- 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. Your attorney can often negotiate down the lien amount, so you get to keep more of your settlement money.
- Interpleaders: When several injured people are demanding compensation from the same insurance policy, 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 you.
Reputable personal injury attorneys don’t charge for an initial case evaluation, where you can get personalized legal advice.
You deserve fair compensation for your injuries. Don’t settle for less. It costs nothing to get an initial consultation to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.
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