Here’s a little-known secret: much of the work that lawyers do in the early stages of a claim is work that you can do yourself. When you put your time and effort into it, you can create a demand for compensation that is as good as ours. No two personal injury cases are identical. They happen in different ways, create different injuries, and impact individuals’ lives differently. The good news is that you probably already know most of this information about your accident – how it occurred, what injuries you sustained, and how those injuries are keeping you from doing the things you enjoy. You don’t need a lawyer to tell you any of that information.
You just need to know what to do with it.
Not every claim can be successfully pursued without a lawyer’s help. If you’re wondering whether your case is something you can manage yourself, the first thing to consider is case value.
The Question of Case Value
Personal injury settlements range from a few hundred dollars to several million dollars, depending on the circumstances of the claim. Of course, your claim has a lot of value to you – it’s your money.
Objectively, though, some claims are simply worth more money than other claims. This may be because the injuries suffered in one accident require far more extensive (and expensive) medical intervention than other types of injuries. There’s also a chance that the insurance policy limits are on the lower end of the spectrum, meaning that there simply isn’t enough coverage to receive a huge settlement. You may have a case in which your injuries don’t meet the serious injury thresholds required by your state, but you do have wage loss and property damage expenses for which you deserve to compensation. We’ll talk about each of these situations in more detail in the future, but if you believe your case might fall into one of these categories, it’s likely the kind of case that makes sense for you to handle yourself.
For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll consider lesser-value personal injury cases to mean claims for which you would expect to receive $10,000 or less. You can certainly use the information we provide to handle a higher-value claim if you choose, but the claims with value that hovers around $10,000 are the ones for which it simply makes more sense to manage on your own than to try to find a lawyer to take over… which brings us to our next point, a simple way to tell whether your claim falls into the DIY category.
If you can’t find a lawyer to take your case, it’s a good indication that you should handle the claim yourself. The truth is that it costs a law firm valuable time, manpower, and resources to pursue any claim. For high-value claims, where the injuries and available insurance coverage make settlement amounts of hundreds of thousands of dollars a possibility, investing that time and money makes sense. For lesser-value claims, that investment may not be as wise. Often, it’s not in either your best interests or a lawyer’s best interests to take on a small claim. Lawyers know that they won’t get their money’s worth out of the work they put into winning your claim just as you know that it’s not worth paying attorney’s fees on your smaller settlement. That doesn’t mean that your case isn’t important or that your injuries and their effects on your life don’t matter. They do. Any injury that limits your ability to live the life you want to live matters, and you shouldn’t brush off your pain and damages just because a lawyer’s office isn’t jumping to take the case.
Think of the situation this way. You can wash and vacuum a car yourself, or you can pay a professional to do it for you. By doing the work yourself, you save money. However, while the professional auto detailer may want to clean your giant minivan or SUV, he or she is unlikely to want to take the job of washing your child’s tricycle. The task is a manageable job for you – and doing it yourself accomplishes your goals and costs you very little – but it probably won’t result in a reasonable payday for a professional.
If you consult a lawyer and they tell you they’re not willing to take your case, ask them why. They may be able to tell you if there’s a fatal flaw in your liability argument, or if it’s simply not a big enough case that it requires professional legal help. There’s no reason you can’t directly ask them if they believe it’s the kind of claim you can handle on your own.
What Lawyers Do That You Can Do
The first step after an accident is to notify (in writing) the proper parties, including insurance companies, of your intention to file a claim. While it may sound complicated, you don’t have to be a lawyer to tell an insurance company that you were in an accident. You also don’t have to be an attorney to set up your medical claim or to begin gathering evidence. Even when it comes to submitting a formal demand for compensation, there are no magic legal terms that make your letter “right.” An insurance company should respect your claim regardless of whether “Esq.” appears on the signature line.
What Advantages Lawyers Have That You Don’t
Even though you have as much right to make a claim on your own as a lawyer would have to pursue a claim on your behalf, attorneys have one major benefit that you don’t have: experience. Lawyers know the intangible factors that increase the “market value” of your claim. They know the tricks insurance adjusters use when trying to decrease the value of your claim, and they’re not afraid to pressure an adjuster into treating your claim with the appropriate amount of respect.
There’s no way to develop the same level of familiarity with the personal injury claims process overnight as the attorneys who have handled thousands of cases possess. To compensate, you’re going to have to use tips from the experts and be persistent in your interactions with the insurance company. Above all, staying organized and paying attention to details can mean the difference between recovering the settlement you deserve and failing to collect adequate evidence or craft a persuasive demand letter and ending up with less money than you deserve.
Don’t let the prospect of collecting and organizing evidence become overwhelming. Keep it simple by creating separate files or folders for medical bills, incident reports, witness testimony, your personal notes, and other types of evidence. Photo Credit: Pixabay (public domain).
When it’s a Good Idea to Hire a Lawyer
Obviously, I think attorneys have an important place in civil law proceedings. I wouldn’t do what I do otherwise. Whether or not a lawyer has a place in your personal injury claim is something you can decide for yourself. Here are some ways to tell.
- If your injury is so serious that it has radically changed your life in irreversible ways, hire a lawyer. Injuries like paralysis and severe brain damage – the kind of injuries that will prevent you from living independently for the rest of your life – entitle you to very high amounts of compensation. You will need all of the money you can get from the insurance company to afford your future care. An insurance company is unlikely to be willing to pay you the full amount of money you deserve without a fight.
- If you’re facing a long recovery process or have required extensive medical intervention, hiring a lawyer is a good idea. Lawyers typically recover significantly more money on behalf of their clients than an individual without legal experience can recover for himself or herself. In the case of a claim with a relatively small value, the amount of money you gain may not be worth the cost of paying attorney’s fees. In a case with very high amounts of damages, though, a lawyer can obtain so much more money for you that it is often worth paying the extra fees.
- If you follow all of the steps to getting the compensation you deserve but the insurance adjuster you are working with refuses to budge on the subject of giving you the compensation you deserve, it may be time to enlist a professional to fight on your side. This is another reason it benefits you to start working on your claim sooner rather than later – so that if you find yourself in a situation in which you do need a lawyer, it’s not too late.
Your claim is exactly that – yours. Only you can make the decision of whether you’re more comfortable managing a claim yourself or hiring an attorney to do it. All it really takes to settle a small-value claim is attention to detail, persistence, and good organizational skills. If you choose to handle your claim on your own, we’re here to guide you every step of the way.
Wondering how you should handle an accident? Check back soon for the next installment of How to Handle Your Own Personal Injury Claim.