Depending on the nature of your case you may or may not want to settle without hiring a lawyer. There are unquestionably some instances where you can tackle it yourself, and there are other instances where it would be in your best interest to employ an attorney.
One big advantage of using an attorney is that they have experience in dealing with insurance companies and are better equipped to obtain a full settlement from either the insurance company or other defendants. This includes evaluating the worth of your claim. The disadvantage is that up to half of your settlement amount may go to the attorney’s fee and other costs.
Settling your claim without an attorney
In simple cases where the injuries are minor and it is clear who is to blame it is often possible to settle your claim without requiring an attorney. If you have a strong case and the insurance company hesitates in settling, you can usually get a good outcome by filing your claim in small claims court as the insurance company’s cost of going to court may be higher that the settlement amount.
On the other hand, if your case involves serious injuries, medical malpractice, or an accident resulting in death you should always consult a lawyer. He or she can assess the value of your case and let the other side know that you are serious about perusing a fair settlement.
Sometimes people will attempt to settle their case without seeking legal consultation. This can be a big mistake because they may not end up with a fair settlement or any settlement at all and the emotional cost can be more than the attorney’s fees.
Insurance companies offer less to non represented litigants
It’s a pipe dream to believe that an insurance company will offer the same amount of settlement to a person not represented by a lawyer as they would to the same person who has retained a competent attorney with a reputation of winning cases for their clients.
It is impossible for someone not experienced in personal injury law to determine the real value of a personal injury case. These values are established by years of experience in dealing with jury verdicts and insurance settlements.
It’s like David and Goliath. The insurance companies are armed with well paid, experienced lawyers who have superior knowledge and bargaining power. They will most certainly use all of this to their advantage and your disadvantage.
Offer the minimum
Insurance companies will pay only what they think they can get away with or, in other words, what a jury will allow. An experienced personal injury lawyer on your side sends a message to the insurance company that you mean business and they will pay far more when they believe an experienced attorney will be fighting for their client.
Insurance companies will not be in awe of someone unrepresented by a personal injury attorney. It would be as if you had a pea shooter going against a modern army.
The insurance company’s legal staff is well aware that even if you have a strong, slam dunk case your inexperience with legal procedures may result in your losing the case on a legal technicality. Even though the courts are somewhat lenient for those who are not represented by an attorney, you can’t be sure that this will apply in your case. It is very difficult for some not trained in legal procedures to cover all the details in an injury lawsuit.
If your case involves only property damage you may well be able to settle it without hiring an attorney saving you the expense involved. There’s plenty of publications that deal with the value of personal property such as an automobile. These are the same sources used by the insurance companies to assess property value. There are not, however, any established guidelines pertaining to the value of pain and suffering associated with a personal injury case and this is why you need an experienced lawyer for these more complex cases.
Handling your claim
The only non-lawyer permitted to handle your case is you. Even if your best friend says he took a couple of legal courses and offers to represent you, it is not allowed by law. This referred to as the unauthorized practice of law. Your pal is free to offer all the advise you want off the record but if you decide to go it without retaining a licensed attorney you must personally appear in court and sign all the documents yourself. Furthermore, if you take this route you are personally responsible for collecting all the information you’ll need to reach a settlement.
Information you’ll need
Accident Events – the advise concerning the events that occurred immediately after the accident.
Police Report – In the case of an auto accident you must always obtain a police report. The police will more readily provide this to the accident victim than to a lawyer. This report is vital because it includes the names, addresses, and phone numbers of witnesses plus the insurance information of the person causing the accident, license numbers, a diagram of the accident, other important information.
Photographs – Make sure you get copies of any photo that the police may have taken of the accident and take your own pictures of the vehicles if the damage was more than minor. Photos of the scene must always be taken if there is any doubt about who was responsible for the accident. If your accident is the result of slipping and falling you absolutely must take pictures as soon as you can. This is especially true if you slipped on the ice as the evidence may disappear when it melts.
Rescue Report – If it was necessary to take an ambulance to the hospital be sure to obtain a rescue report as this may also provide valuable information by the rescue team.
Witnesses – Always contact the witnesses as soon as possible after the accident as memories will not be as clear if to much time has elapsed. In addition, the defendant’s insurance company will also try to contact any witnesses in an attempt to convince them that their view of what happened may not be in your favor. If the witness is in your camp be sure to get a signed statement as to their account of what happened. If you are not planning to hire an attorney tell the witness that you will be representing yourself as they may be more comfortable in dealing with directly with you rather than an attorney.
Private Investigator – Every capable personal injury attorney has a private investigator of whom the rely to collect written statements and take professional photographs of the accident. It may be in your best interest to hire such a person when you are litigating your case.