Should I hire an attorney for a car accident injury or represent myself?
If you’ve been injured in a car, truck, or other vehicle accident, or in any other situation, you may be wondering whether you should retain an attorney to represent you, or whether you should try to settle your case yourself.
In most situations, a person will be far better off from a financial standpoint retaining an attorney than representing themself.
Here’s why –
Unless you are an attorney or have significant legal knowledge, in most cases a self-represented person will be “out-matched” in terms of legal expertise
In the case of an auto accident where the other driver has insurance, the other driver will have an insurance company behind them, and the insurance company in turn will hire a law firm to represent the driver (and the insurance company’s interests) as a matter of course. The insurance company will not choose not to hire a law firm because you have chosen not to hire a lawyer.
In these situations, the driver (and their insurance company) are clearly at a significant advantage. They are free to employ any legal tactics whatsoever to avoid or minimize liability. They can try to be friendly to the injured person and try to delay a lawsuit to run out what is known as the statute of limitations so that the injured person will lose their right to sue.
If a lawsuit is filed, usually the injured person will not have the legal knowledge to know how to effectively represent their interests. Additionally, the time required to adequately represent their interests through court filings and motions can be substantial, as these matters are complex.
In the litigation process, the opposing party will also be free to employ tactics that will work against the injured person, such as getting the other person to inadvertently make statements that will be used at trial to weaken their case. A good attorney will be able to protect their client to the extent possible against tactics that may otherwise be used against an injury victim.
Do I Have to Give a Statement to the Other Insurance Company?
When an accident occurs, one of the first things likely to happen is that you will be contacted by the other insurance company and asked to give a recorded statement. You do not (and should not) give a recorded statement other than saying that you are in the process of seeking legal representation. If we are retained as your attorneys, we will represent you in all aspects of your matter, including communications with representatives of the driver who hit you.
When a representative for the insurance company calls, what they are really trying to do is to get you to make a statement against your own interest. Did you call it an “accident” (which can imply that no one is to blame)? Insurance company representatives are adept and being friendly and asking leading questions designed to elicit responses in which an injured person will say things that indicate that they may be at fault. Without legal representation, it’s easy to fall into this trap.
I Use the Same Insurance Company as the Driver Who Hit Me – Can’t I Just Get My Insurance Company to Work it Out?
While this is a reasonable question, the reality is that the insurance company will not “work it out,” even though your insurance company may be the same as the company of the driver who hit you.
Instead, the insurance company will keep a “wall” between those who represent you and those who represent the other driver. The insurance company representatives who represent the driver will do everything they can to avoid paying your damages, including hiring lawyers to defeat your claim.
On the other side, if your insurance policy requires that they pay you to replace your vehicle or cover your medical expenses, the insurance company will be making such payments. If you then recover damages in a lawsuit, the insurance company will both pay you damages on behalf of the negligent driver, and also seek to recover the amounts that it paid you under the lien that they will have (as discussed below).
What Damages am I Entitled to in a Car Crash Case?
If the other driver is at fault, you will be entitled to all damages to “make you whole.” For instance, medical expenses, lost wages, damage to your vehicle, and pain and suffering are all damages that are typically recoverable.
What about future damages for lost wages and pain and suffering? Will you be entitled damages for matters such as loss of enjoyment if you can’t participate in certain activities with your family?
In an injury case, we are thorough in not only identifying all damages to which our clients are entitled, but also in identifying all those responsible for their damages. By seeking full compensation for all damages from all those responsible, we maximize the damages available. Often those who are injured and represent themself are not aware of the full extent of damages to which they may be entitled.
How Much is Your Pain and Suffering Worth?
Personal injury attorneys are skilled at knowing how to best present the cases of their clients in a way that will resonate with juries. Typically, evidence and witnesses may be presented, in addition to having an injured person testify.
Pain and suffering is often the largest component of a settlement or damage award. As a personal injury law firm, our principal attorney Jim Dore has decades of experience in helping clients recover full compensation for pain and suffering, both through settlements and at trial.
What About Future Damages and Compensation?
Often, in severe injuries, damages (including pain and suffering) will last well beyond the date of a trial. You may not be able to do the same type of work that you previously could do, which can lead to future lost wages. You may need future surgeries, or be left with lingering pain that won’t go away.
Additionally, experts typically will be needed to testify as to the amount and scope of future damages. Physicians or other medical experts may be required to talk about the costs and physical suffering that will be associated with future surgeries and medical treatment. Economic experts will be required to calculate lost wages. Physical therapists may be required to discuss ongoing pain and suffering.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will also be able to present your case to a jury and make an argument for all future damages to which you may be entitled.
What Happens at Trial?
Trials are fast-moving experiences, even for experienced trial attorneys. They require meticulous preparation. The other side may make motions, and you will need to respond immediately. If not responded to appropriately, such motions could even lead to dismissal of your case.
The Leverage that Defendants Have Over a Self-Represented Plaintiff
The reality is that when an injured person is self-represented, the defendants and their lawyers will have a huge advantage (assuming that the injured person is not a lawyer). They know with a high degree of certainty that the injured plaintiff will not take their case to trial and try to represent themself (and that in the slim chance that the person actually does go to trial, the person likely won’t be able to represent themself effectively). As a result, the defendant (through their lawyers) are usually likely to offer only a nominal settlement value, as they see the victim as not having any other option than to accept their settlement offer if they are not willing to take their case to trial.
This is where having a lawyer is a huge advantage.
We take cases to trial and have won significant verdicts for our clients.
When we demand full compensation on behalf of our clients, we mean it. If a defendant is unwilling to pay compensation, we will not hesitate in letting a jury determine fault and damages at trial. Defendants understand that if a case goes to trial, they will often stand to lose far more than if they paid a fair settlement, which increases the pressure on them to settle for full and fair compensation instead of taking their chances at trial.
What Liens May Exist on Your Case?
Before agreeing to a settlement, it is important to understand the liens that an insurance company may have on the injured person’s settlement. These liens often relate to medical care and expenses, as well as money that may have been paid for damage to a vehicle.
Insurance companies that make such payments will have a lien against the proceeds that an injured person may receive. Without proper legal representation, an injured person may inadvertently agree upon a settlement without realizing that all of the settlement will need to be paid to the insurance company.
In the course of our representation, we commonly work with insurance companies in seeking to have them reduce their lien on settlement and award proceeds, which means that the person injured will be entitled to keep more of the settlement and the insurance company will get less money.
Are There Circumstances in Which a Lawyer is Not Needed for a Car Crash?
Many car crashes are minor, such as a small accident in a parking lot. In these cases, often no one is injured, and the insurance company of one (or sometimes both) of the drivers will quickly pay for all damage.
If you’ve been in a car that has been hit by someone else and the only damages are to your vehicle, and the other insurance company is willing to pay you for your vehicle damages, then you likely won’t need to retain a lawyer. However, if you are receiving a payment from another insurance company and are being required to “sign away” your rights, it’s important to realize that you will not be able to sue the other driver, even if you later realize that you were injured.
What Should You Do? Call Us for a Free Consultation.
If you’ve been injured, call our firm. We will talk to you for a no-obligation, free consultation. If we can help you, we can explain about your options, and how we will work tirelessly in seeking to obtain full and fair compensation for you for all of the damages that you suffered.
We accept cases on a contingency fee basis, and typically advance all costs of litigation. We will only be entitled to a fee if we are successful in obtain compensation for you.