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Do You Need to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer? [Quick Reference Guide]

January 30 2018 | Blog
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    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there are 39.5 million medically attended injuries and poisoning episodes every year, resulting in 30.6 million emergency room visits for accidental injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reported that 37,461 people were killed in accidents on US Roadways in 2016, an increase of 5.6 percent over the previous year. Those killed outside the vehicle (such as pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.) rose to a high of 33 percent of those accidents.

    Forbes also says that an estimated 200,000 people are killed in medical accidents each year.

    With these sort of stats, it’s no wonder that victims are looking to get compensation for their medical costs, treatment for their injuries and to make up for the impact an accident has had on their professional and personal lives. Unfortunately, the system does not always work in their favor.

    So, many victims turn to personal injury lawyers. But, do you really need a personal injury lawyer? The simple answer to that question is that it depends. In this blog, we’ll answer 9 of the most common questions surrounding that topic so that you can make a clear decision whether to hire one or not.

    Do I Need to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?

     

    Short Answer: That’s a complex question that depends entirely on the case itself.

     

    The Details: In many situations, victims do not need to hire a lawyer to care for small accidents or incidents that don’t involve injury. For example, if a car accident only caused property damage

    that you want insurance to cover and the amount is fairly low, hiring a lawyer isn’t a good idea. You might get the money you need to cover the cost of the accident, but then part of that goes to the lawyer in their fees.

    “Such accidents are often called ‘fender benders,’” said Lee Coleman, attorney at Hughes & Coleman. “But, auto accidents that involve physical injury, fatality or other significant damages will

    require a lawyer to cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and car repairs.”

    This is because it’s in the insurance company’s best interest to either delay payment, only pay for part of the claim, or deny the claim altogether.

    “The 60 million U.S. homeowners who pay more than $50 billion a year in insurance premiums are often disappointed when they discover insurers won’t pay the full cost of rebuilding their damaged or destroyed homes,” wrote Bloomberg news magazine following the exposé of insurance companies refusing Hurricane Katrina victims payment on their claims. “Property insurers systemically deny and reduce their policyholders’ claims, according to court records in California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Tennessee.”

    Insurance companies are also trillion-dollar institutions that not only use their insurance premiums to pay out settlements for claims. They also invest that money aggressively. So, it’s in their best interest to keep that money.

    The complexity of the case is another thing to consider. The main thing you need to do to receive compensation for an accident is to be able to define and prove the extent of the loss and the fault of the other party. This involves gathering evidence, witness statements, police reports, medical and treatment reports, negotiating with an adjuster and understanding your rights. So, it’s important to consider if you have the time, abilities, and schedule flexibility to file a claim on your own.

     

    What Does a Personal Injury Lawyer Do?

     

    Short Answer: A personal injury lawyer represents your interests in all legal matters if you have been injured because of another person’s direct actions or negligence.

    The Details: The types of accidents and injuries that can result in cases that a lawyer can help you with vary but include:

     

    • Auto Accidents
    • Slip and Fall Accidents
    • Premises Liability (getting hurt on someone’s property)
    • Medical Malpractice
    • Product Defects
    • Construction Accidents
    • Birth Injuries

     

    A lot of work is involved in developing a case for trial or even in just getting a settlement. These require time and dedication. A personal injury attorney’s job is to handle the bulk of this work for you. This can be a great relief of pressure when you have an injury to recover from and are likely overwhelmed with managing your life while healing from your injuries.

    Specifically, a personal injury lawyer may perform the following when preparing your case:

    • Obtain police reports and police statements
    • Interview witnesses
    • Engage experts to help with accident reconstruction
    • Collect and analyze medical records
    • Work with insurance adjusters
    • Negotiate on your behalf
    • Collect factual information from the other parties involved in the accident

     

    Personal injury lawyers deal with insurance companies every single day, and most have years of experience negotiating with them. This puts them at an advantage to know what to look for, what to present when to present it, and what steps to take to get the highest value settlement that they can. Their experience also means that they know what not to do and can advise you on what not to say or do that could potentially jeopardize your case.

    Usually, building your case means that your attorney will have to prove negligence on the part of the person that caused the accident. While this might be a daunting task for a sole person with little or no experience, a personal injury lawyer not only has the needed experience, but he typically works with a team of other experienced attorneys and staff members who lend their efforts to prove the injury claim.

    If the insurance company and the victim cannot agree on a settlement, the claim may go to court as a lawsuit or litigation. Your lawyer will be responsible for representing you in court, perhaps in front of a jury, to build a legal case for compensation.

     

     

    When Should You Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?

     

    Short Answer: As soon as possible after the accident.

     

    The Details: Timing is critical when it comes to hiring a personal injury lawyer. The adage “time is money” is true in this case. If you allow too much time to pass before filing a claim, it

    can mean getting little to no money for what would otherwise have been a legitimate claim. Some victims will start the claims process on their own, and then when they get stuck or feel they have been mistreated will contact a lawyer. However, this can make the situation more difficult.

     

    Recent studies have shown that witness testimony is faulty as more time goes by or other details are presented after the fact. People start to forget key facts, can confuse and even add in faulty memories (such as the direction a car was coming or going), and can be unreliable if questioned by an insurance adjuster or another lawyer. In cases where there are no witnesses, it can be impossible to prove a claim of negligence if the at-fault person has since fixed the issue that caused the accident in the first place. Sometimes, victims contact a lawyer after they’ve already signed something with the insurance company.

    “If the insurance company wants you to sign any paperwork, see a lawyer,” said Coleman. “You may sign something and then down the line, the lawyer can’t undo it.”

    While time is of the essence when hiring a PI lawyer, it’s also important not to rush into things and hire the first attorney you find in the yellow pages.

    Think of hiring an attorney as hiring an employee. Take into consideration their experience, their track record, fee structure, and reputation. If the state they are from allows a testimonials page, look to see what clients have said about them.

    Each state is different when it comes to the Statute of Limitations or the window of time in which a case be filed before it is too late. Securing the services of a qualified personal injury lawyer as early in the process as possible is your best chance for a positive outcome.

     

    Is It Better to Hire a Local Attorney?

    Short Answer: Yes.

     

    The Details: There are significant reasons to hire an attorney who is local to you. Location can be big deal for three reasons.

    First, particularly with slip and fall, vehicular accidents, and other types of cases that have regional legal differences, the victim will want someone who is familiar with the local legal system, the laws, and the courts.

    Second, there is the additional cost of having an out of town lawyer. If their office is located further away, meetings with the attorney will involve travel.

    Third, it’s often the case that local attorneys advertise and support other local businesses, which means they are invested in the community that they work in and may have more of an incentive in the case.

    Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to hire locally or not.

     

    Can I Represent Myself in a Personal Injury Case?

     

    Short Answer: Yes, you can. Everyone has the option to represent himself in a personal injury claim with the insurance adjuster or in court if the case goes to trial.

     

    The Details:

    In legal terms, this is called “Pro Se”, meaning “for oneself”.

    Self-representation is your right if you so choose. However, as we’ve discussed above, there is a lot of work that goes into handling an insurance claim and possibly a court case if it goes that far.

    “You have a right to represent yourself in all legal cases. That said, self-representation is not

    always a good idea,” says the book Self-Litigant Guide in Kentucky – Your Day in Court. “Some things to consider before deciding to represent yourself: Do you need legal advice? Is it unlikely that you will work well with the other party in the case? Do you have a complicated case? Are you having a difficult time understanding the papers you received from the other party or from the court? Do you want to appeal the decision of the court? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you should seriously consider consulting an attorney.”

    Additionally, court officers are not allowed to provide legal advice, so anyone serving Pro Se will be treated like any other attorney in court and will be held to the same rules.

    If a victim chooses to represent themselves, most states have published guides to assist in understanding the process. Kentucky and Tennessee both have guides and include helpful tips.

    “Attempting to handle a claim on your own only to hire a lawyer later may complicate the claim process, so it’s important to understand what you’re capable of and what’s at stake if you mishandle your case,” warns online legal advice blog NOLO.It is similar to trying to treat a medical condition on your own before you go to the doctor – actions you think might help the injury or illness could actually make things worse, and it may be a more difficult recovery once you finally seek medical treatment.”

     

    Do I Need An Attorney If I Have Insurance?

    Short Answer: As discussed above, it is never required that you hire an attorney. However, even if you have good insurance, it may be extremely helpful to have an attorney on your side.

     

    The Details: Many people cite the fact that they have insurance or that the other party has insurance as the reason they don’t consult a lawyer. This is faulty reasoning for a few reasons.

    First, all insurance policies have limits on what the company will pay, and this depends on what their client has purchased through premiums. This means if the party who injured you has a $100,000 maximum insurance policy and you’ve been offered a $100,000 settlement, that may be the largest amount you’ll be able to collect from the insurance company. If damages and costs are higher than that, however, the victim can potentially collect additional damages from the person at fault through a lawsuit.

    Second, it’s important to remember that insurance companies are a business.

    “Most insurance companies we deal with all have systems where they go in and they put a range where an insurance adjuster can pay on a case,” explained Coleman. “If that adjuster pays too much or even if they pay to the top end of the range, then they are going to be in line for a performance review from their boss. And those bosses have bosses, and it goes all the way up to the top.”

     

    Can’t I Trust the Insurance Adjuster?

     Short Answer: Not really. The insurance adjuster is not coming to help you, the victim. He’s an employee of a business and is there in the interest of his company first and foremost.

     

    The Details: Lee Coleman offers this advice, “A lot of the insurance adjusters out there that are successful at their jobs are very friendly. You’re going to like talking to them on the phone. They’re doing a good job, the best they can, but all those adjusters have bosses. They have somebody looking over their work and the number one thing they look at is ‘do they pay too much?’”

    It’s important to have everything ready for the adjuster, with or without an attorney. It all comes down to being able to prove loss or injury.

    “A lot of people are so raw and so vulnerable they think the insurance company adjuster is going to be their savior and make everything right,” said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, in an article by US News and World Report. “Their relationship with the adjuster is not what you see on TV. They may be friendly, but they’re not your friends. It’s a business relationship.”

    In preparation for the adjuster’s visit, take photographic and video inventory of the losses and damage to the property or vehicle. It would also help if you have a photographic and video inventory from before the accident. This also applies to having documentation of any medical treatment from after the accident, even if you think the injuries are minor.

    “Understand that the insurance adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you,” added Coleman. “Doesn’t mean they’re lying to you. Doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything wrong to you. But understand that you are dealing with an adverse party and treat them accordingly.”

     

    Will Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer Get Me More Money?

    Short Answer: Usually, but it depends on your case. A qualified attorney will let you know if it’s in your best interests financially before they decide to take your case on.

     

    The Details: A recent study by the Insurance Research Council suggested that hiring an attorney meant settlements for victims that were 3.5 times higher than those that didn’t have attorneys in similar cases. That’s the difference between a $10,000 settlement and $35,000 settlement.

    The biggest reason for this is the personal injury lawyer’s knowledge of what is coverable, what can be claimed, and when to do certain things. For example, if someone is experiencing some back pain as a result of the accident, they may feel it’s just minor. But, three months, four months, six months, or even a year go by and the pain is still there. It’s clearly become a permanent condition. If the victim signed a release after the accident when they thought they had just minor pain, there are no options to go after further compensation later on down the road.

    An experienced personal injury lawyer would be able to give legal counsel to be sure things like that don’t happen. They’d also know the right questions to ask to be able to provide the proof necessary to the insurance company. This could potentially mean a larger payout.

    However, it depends on the accident itself, the extent of the damage and injury.

     

    Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer, Even If I Don’t Want to Sue? 

    Short Answer: No, you have the option to work with the insurance adjuster on your own. But this is not always a good idea.

    The Details: As discussed above, working on your own with the insurance adjuster can make you vulnerable to being taken advantage of, to having your injuries minimized, and ultimately to collecting a far smaller settlement.

    Most personal injury claims are settled with the insurance carrier before going to court. It only ever goes to court if the victim, their lawyer, and the insurance company can’t reach an agreeable settlement.

    “While the statistics vary depending on the study, it is clear that at least 80 percent and possibly over 90 percent of all personal injury cases are settled before trial,” said NOLO.

     If it does go to court, a study by the Federal Bureau of Justice, a division of the Department of Justice, found that 73 percent of personal injury cases were settled without a jury verdict. Only 3 percent of the cases were decided by a trial verdict.

     

    How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?

    Short Answer: The amount is usually dependent on the final settlement from the insurance company or on the winnings in court if the case goes to trial.

    The Details: Most lawyers provide a free initial consultation wherein they will ask questions and get all the information they can about the case. During this discussion, you will be advised whether it is financially in your best interests to work with an attorney. If he/she believes that the final amount you can win with his/her help, even after attorney fees is greater than the amount you could win self-representing, he/she will tell you so. The majority of PI lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning they don’t get paid unless the victim does, thereby assuming all of the risk themselves. The final fee in a contingency arrangement is an agreed upon percentage of the final settlement or winnings.

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