Having an attorney represent you can be an advantage when pursuing injury compensation, but it’s not always required. You can settle your own claim without representation, possibly for as much as an attorney can.
That’s not true in every case of course. Personal injury attorneys often do get higher settlements, but after their fees and costs are deducted, the client can end up with less money than if she’d handled the claim herself. For that reason, it’s helpful to understand what a personal injury attorney brings to the table.
Most injury attorneys’ fees are set between 33.3 and 40 percent of the final settlement or court award. After fees and other costs are deducted, the client may get only half (or less) of the total amount of the settlement.
Advantages to Hiring an Attorney
Attorneys have experience.
Most injury attorneys have spent years negotiating claims with insurance companies. They know what your injuries are worth, and won’t be fooled or coerced into accepting unfair settlement offers.
If you’re not sure whether to hire an attorney or handle the claim yourself, get a free consultation before deciding. Most law firms won’t charge for an initial office visit to review your case. Just be honest and tell the attorney you’re not sure whether to handle the claim yourself or hire him to represent you.
If an attorney accepts your case, it’s probably a good case.
You can be sure, if an attorney reviews the facts and decides to accept, you have a good case. Attorneys are experienced enough to know which cases are winnable and which aren’t.
The attorney may point out some information about your case you hadn’t considered. If so, retaining him might result in a much higher net settlement. If not, at least you had an independent and highly trained professional review your case for free.
Attorneys use a contingency fee structure.
When hiring an attorney, you’ll be required to sign a contingency fee retainer agreement. The agreement basically says the attorney will put up all the costs of preparing your case. If he’s successful, he’ll subtract his fee and other costs from the gross amount of your settlement or court award.
Costs can include document copying and reproduction, court filing fees, deposition and court reporter costs, expert testimony fees, and more.
If the attorney is unsuccessful and can’t settle your case, or loses at trial, you owe him nothing. You don’t pay any of the fees or costs to prepare your case. Of course, you don’t get any compensation for your damages either.
When to Hire an Attorney
Some case types require an attorney. Class actions, medical malpractice, and toxic exposure cases require a lot of time and money. Malpractice cases are rarely settled. Doctors and hospitals are represented by high-powered attorneys, skilled in complex and prolonged litigation.
If you’ve been served process for any court higher than small claims, you need to hire an attorney immediately. Lawsuits involve pre-trial discovery, depositions, interrogatories, and possibly even a trial, all of which requires advanced legal training.
You definitely need an attorney if:
- You are sued, or multiple parties share liability
- You’re the victim of medical malpractice or toxic exposure
- Your injury involved a defective product related to a class action
- A death, permanent disability, or permanent scarring occurred
Handling Your Own Case
Most minor personal injury claims are straightforward. Often, a claim can be settled with a few telephone calls and letters. Claims adjusters aren’t lawyers, so your discussions won’t include complex legal terms or concepts. By using your own gifts of persuasion and a little common sense, you should be able to negotiate a fair settlement.
Claims adjusters follow a structured process set out by the company they work for. If you’re prepared, and know what your injuries are worth, you may be able to settle for as much as an attorney could – without having to pay his fees.
Preparing a claim is work. When representing yourself, you are responsible for gathering evidence such as police reports, witness statements, medical records, photographs, repair estimates, and more. You have to set aside time to prepare your claim. If you’re not willing or able to put in the time and work necessary, you shouldn’t be handling your own claim.
Also, negotiating is a skill. You may have several back-and-forth exchanges with the insurance adjuster throughout the settlement process. In daily life, most people regularly make deals and agreements with others. You can take those everyday negotiating skills and apply them to your claim. Remember, no one knows your case better than you.
You can handle your own claim if:
- Your injuries are clear and straightforward, such as whiplash, strained or torn muscles and knee cartilage, simple fractures, minor burns without scarring, etc.
- The at-fault driver’s (or property owner’s) negligence is clear and uncontested.
- You have no permanent disabilities or disfigurement.
- Your medical bills, medication costs, and lost wages are easily quantifiable.
- Your injuries are not related to a previous injury, but instead are new and clearly defined.
Types of cases you can handle on your own:
- Car, motorcycle, or bicycle accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Minor injuries that occur on private, public, or commercially-owned property
- Some minor defective product accidents
If you are thinking about handling your own claim, this site can help you through the entire process. This is serious business, so read, think, and be ready to put in some time to prepare. You’ll be glad you did.
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