Are Lawyers Optional in a Personal Injury Case?
Do you need a personal injury lawyer? Not every case requires an attorney, but you will want one if your injuries are more than minor or you're having trouble getting fair compensation.
From medical malpractice to a car accident case, to a dog bite or intentional tort, you generally have the legal right to recover compensation when you are injured as a result of someone else's careless action. This compensation can come by settling a claim outside of court, or through a formal court-based lawsuit. If you find yourself in a situation where you may need to make a personal injury claim, one of the most important decisions you will need to make is whether to hire a lawyer.
What Cases Can You Handle on Your Own?
Here are a few examples of cases that you may be able to handle without an attorney:
You Live in a No-Fault State. The no-fault rules do not allow you to sue unless your injuries rise to a certain level (determined either by the nature of the injuries or the cost of treating them, depending on where you live). Since you are limited to recovering damages from your own personal injury protection coverage in a no-fault claim, hiring a lawyer for minor injuries may not make sense here. However, if there is a possibility that your injuries might be "serious" enough to qualify you for stepping outside of the no-fault system, then hiring a lawyer becomes a good idea.
You're Already Receiving the Maximum Amount Available. Insurance companies will only pay out to their policy limits. This means if the defendant who injured you has a $100,000 maximum insurance policy and you've been offered a $100,000 settlement, even getting a larger verdict may not be useful to you. Any additional dollars over what the insurer is offering would have to be collected from the defendant directly. If the defendant has assets or money, then it may be worth it to try to collect additional damages if you believe you deserve them. However, if the defendant has little in the way of assets, then accepting the settlement is probably the best move. See Collecting Compensation Beyond Insurance Policy Limits.
What If Your Injuries are Minor?
Many people are reluctant to hire a lawyer for injuries that seem relatively minor. For example, if you get into a car accident and you bruise your arm and suffer a few scrapes, you may not feel it is worthwhile to hire a personally injury attorney. And if the other driver’s insurance company makes you an offer to pay your medical bills and give you a few hundred dollars extra on top of that, it may not be worth the hassle of finding legal representation.
But there are a few reasons why you might consider making a phone call or scheduling an initial consultation with a lawyer, even for seemingly minor injuries.
Minor Injuries May Turn into Major Ones. If your injuries turn out to be worse than you and your doctor thought, and you have already accepted a settlement offer, there will be nothing you can do about it since you must give up any and all future claims arising out of the accident when you settle. A good lawyer will advise you to wait until you know the full extent of your injuries, and would help you to determine the right time to accept an offer.
You’re Entitled to “Pain and Suffering” Damages. Pain and suffering and emotional distress damages would be considered by a jury if your case went to court, and so a settlement that doesn't include these types of damages might not be a complete one. Your lawyer can explain all damages you may be entitled to, even for injuries that seem minor, and will advocate on your behalf to make sure you receive a satisfactory settlement.
Small Cases vs. Serious Injuries
Whenever you suffer from serious injuries, you need to get an attorney. That’s because:
- Your lawyer can help you make sure you get the full spectrum of damages you’re entitled to.
- Lawyers are experts in negotiation and can maximize your recovery.
- The insurers and defendants may take your claim more seriously once you’re represented by an attorney.
What About My Insurance Company?
One reason many people cite for not hiring a lawyer of their own is that they have insurance, or that the other party has insurance. You may believe that insurance companies are there to look out for you. But in many cases, the insurance company’s interests are directly at odds with yours:
- You have a primary goal of getting as large of a damage award as possible to compensate you for all you went through.
- Insurance companies have a primary goal of paying out as little as possible so that they have more in the way of profits.
Affording a Lawyer: Contingency Fee Agreements
Another primary reason people may be reluctant to hire a lawyer is out of fear of paying legal fees. But almost all personal injury lawyers work on something called a contingency basis. This means that your personal injury lawyer will not be paid any money or legal fees unless you win your case or settle outside of court.
Contingency fee agreements work by allowing the lawyer to collect compensation right out of your settlement or damage award. It is common for the agreement to be structured based on a percentage of the amount of money you receive. For example, the agreement may stipulate that the lawyer gets 10 percent if you settle before a lawsuit is filed, 15 percent if you settle after the lawsuit is filed but during the discovery process, or 30 percent if the case actually goes to trial and damages are awarded by a jury.
Learn more about Lawyers’ Fees and Your Personal Injury Settlement.