Personal injury claims cover a wide variety of situations and different types of accidents. You may have been injured in a car accident, by slipping and falling on someone's property, or bitten by a neighbor's dog. All these things are considered personal injury and the level of your injury can make big a difference in processing your claim.
In some situations, you may be capable of handling a claim through insurance or Small Claims Court against the other party on your own. Other times, you may want to seek the advice and assistance of a qualified legal professional. It all depends on the severity of your injuries and the legal elements of the accident.
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. If you are unsure about what to do or how to handle a claim, you may consider contacting an attorney immediately after your injury for a consultation to find out if a lawyer is worth the cost.
Here are a few examples of cases that you may be able to handle without an attorney:
One of the most common types of case involves injuries caused in auto accidents. Someone might rear-end you at a low speed and cause minor damage to your vehicle. The injuries to yourself or your passengers might result in a few visits to the doctor's office. Filing a claim with your insurance, or the other person's, will often be efficient and enough compensation to cover the costs of the repair to your car and the medical expenses incurred because of the accident. If this is the case, and you are satisfied with the coverage and service you receive from the insurance claim, there could be no need to call an attorney or seek further legal advice.
(See When to Lawyer Up After a Car Accident)
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.
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.
You wouldn't necessarily need to seek a lawyer's advice if you are confident and comfortable enough to negotiate with the insurance agent on your own to reach a settlement amount which you consider fair. In the case that your situation is something where you decide to take the other party to Small Claims Court, you can represent yourself if you feel confident in the evidence you have gathered and your knowledge of the legal process.
If you come across obstacles along the way, a lot of information can be found in AllLaw's Personal Injury and Car Accident sections. Make sure you learn about the most important issues, including fault and legal liability, state laws that affect your case, and compensation available for different types of damages.
This can involve a lot of time and research in order to understand the particulars of the law. Many people do not have the energy to put into this research and there are professionals who have already undergone that training and have intimate knowledge of the law: attorneys. If you find yourself spending more time than it's worth, and getting frustrated by the complications of the details, it could be time to consider consulting a legal professional.
The insurance company you are making the claim against will have attorneys representing and fighting for them. Lawyers are professionals who spend years and countless hours studying the particulars of the law and gathering knowledge to represent their clients to the best of their abilities. If the insurance company or the party you are taking to Small Claims Court has legal representation, it may be something for you to consider as well.
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.
Whenever you suffer from serious injuries, you need to get an attorney. That's because:
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:
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 30 percent if you settle before a lawsuit is filed, one-third if you settle after the lawsuit is filed but during the discovery process, or 40 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.
Based on a 1999 study by the Insurance Research Council, the average person receives a settlement 3 ½ times larger with legal assistance than without it. In a personal injury settlement this can make a huge difference. The particulars of the law depending on your situation can become complicated.
In these few quick examples and questions you can see how easily it might be that a personal injury claim gets complicated. Any time you are injured and are dealing with an insurance company or another private party directly for your claim, you have the right to consult an attorney and have one represent you if you choose.