Legally, any person can file a personal injury claim without a lawyer...
It may make sense to do this if you've suffered only mild injuries and have the time and energy to research the claims process and handle the legal work yourself. If your claim is relatively minor and not expected to result in much money, avoiding legal fees makes financial sense.
On the other hand, if your situation is a little more serious or complex, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help protect your rights against big insurance companies, their expert adjusters and their teams of lawyers.
A good attorney will know the applicable laws, local court rules and all legal procedures so that they can efficiently advocate for you. They will shield you from the stress of the claims process so you can focus on healing, while ensuring that you get a fair settlement.
Here are some thoughts and concerns you might have:
You aren’t even sure you have a case.
Don’t personal injury lawyers only handle million dollar cases? If my case is too small, will I get stuck with an inexperienced lawyer?
You’re a capable person.
But do I have the time, expertise & negotiation experience to handle this on my own?
Someone else injured you, and it feels unfair.
But would I really be comfortable suing someone?
This situation is frustrating!
There are so many personal injury lawyers - how would I even choose one?
So let's explore these questions in detail, including what it will really take to build and win a personal injury claim, (with or without a lawyer.)
Click on any question to jump to a more detailed discussion.
Is there money to pay for your injuries? This may be a question for your lawyer if you end up hiring one, but it doesn’t hurt to find out ASAP if there is any money (likely in the form of insurance coverage) available to compensate you for your injuries.
How complicated is your case? Do you have complex injuries? Maybe you have a pre-existing injury or condition that was worsened in the accident? Were multiple people injured in the accident, or were multiple parties responsible for it? Were you found partially responsible for the accident?
Are you willing to go to court? Although not all personal injury cases have to go through the court system (and only about 3% of them go to an actual trial) you will want to ask yourself this question up front, because you will need to be prepared for the possibility.
Do you want to get a fair settlement for your case? Of course you do. Unfortunately, insurance adjusters are skilled at saving money for their multi-billion-dollar companies by paying less than what’s fair.
Are personal injury lawyers worth it? There is a fine balance to knowing when paying out a third (or sometimes more) of your settlement is likely to be worth it. Hiring a good attorney can be the right move in many cases, but, it may not be worth it in others.
[BONUS QUESTION] If I DO need a personal injury lawyer, how do I choose the best? If you’ve decided that the best move for you and your case is to hire a personal injury attorney, how do you choose the best one?
If you think you may need to make a personal injury claim, one of the most important decisions you will need to make is whether you need to hire a lawyer. First though, you’ll need to determine if you were even in a “personal injury” accident that entitles you to make a claim for financial compensation. If you weren’t in a personal injury accident, then you won’t need a personal injury lawyer.
There are two factors that will determine whether or not you were in a personal injury accident:
Under the law, you have the right to recover monetary compensation when you are injured as a result of someone else's negligent action or inaction - that is what makes an accident a “personal injury” accident. You can obtain this compensation through an insurance settlement by filing an insurance claim, or you may have to file a lawsuit and obtain compensation in court.
An example of a personal injury accident would be if another driver hit you on the freeway as they blindly changed lanes and you suffered a broken leg. It would not be a personal injury accident if you drove your own car off the road and broke your leg because you were texting.
Just because you were in an accident caused by another person or entity, doesn’t necessarily mean you were in a “personal injury” accident and need a personal injury lawyer. To make a valid personal injury claim you have to have suffered some sort of actual physical injury as a result of the accident. If you were not injured at all in the accident, and after confirming this with a doctor, you likely don’t need a personal injury attorney. However, if you did suffer injury, you should continue to the next question…
Almost everyone who is involved in a personal injury accident will consider their injuries serious. It makes sense - traffic accidents can be pretty traumatic and should be taken seriously.
However, legally (and objectively) injuries are really only considered “serious” if they require immediate medical treatment and will affect you for longer than just the week or two after the accident.
In general, if you were not injured seriously there is usually not a whole lot of paperwork involved in making a personal injury claim. So, you might be able to settle the case pretty quickly and simply without the use of a personal injury lawyer. And the value of your case might be so humble that having a lawyer take a percentage of your settlement just isn’t worth it.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what sort of injuries might require you to hire a personal injury lawyer.
If you had three chiropractic visits and feel fine, and the insurance company offered you five hundred dollars, you probably want to take it, because the accident is not that complicated. This is an example of “minor” injuries. Some attorneys will take cases where only minor injuries were suffered, but typically if it is something where you only had a couple of doctor visits, you probably do not need a personal injury lawyer. However, if you are still hurting after a couple of treatments, you may want to seek a free consultation from an injury lawyer to learn your rights.
However, if you were rushed from the scene of the accident by ambulance, were treated at the ER, then maybe even had surgeries and appointments with orthopedic doctors and physical therapists, these would be considered “serious” injuries.
Because these are more complicated medical treatments, they are going to have to be set out in detail for the insurance company to evaluate.
For you to handle that on your own (while you are going through the injury and treatment) can be difficult. As the injuries get more serious and more complicated it’s more likely you’re going to need an attorney to help make a solid personal injury claim.
Also, serious injuries are accompanied by a lot of pain, inconvenience, and suffering. Not to mention, time away from your favorite activities and your work, and inability to do your basic household chores. All of these items are compensable, meaning you can get money for the fact that you could barely get out of bed and couldn’t walk the dog for two months because your leg was in a cast. Some expertise is required to build a claim for these items. You will likely want to hire an expert to argue those things for you so you get the maximum settlement possible.
How much your personal injury claim is worth is mainly determined by how serious your injuries are. How serious your personal injuries are depends on the:
The more serious your injuries, the higher the potential compensation you might receive for your personal injury claim. Further, the more serious the injuries, the more complex the settlement negotiations become, because there is a much wider range of settlement amounts you could receive. You will want to ensure you have the leverage you need to get a settlement at the top of that range. Hiring a personal injury lawyer is the best way to get this leverage.
You should really consider hiring a personal injury attorney if you have any of the following types of serious personal injuries.
Many personal injury accidents result in injuries that can significantly affect your ability to use your body normally for a long time. As a result of your injuries, you might be disabled or restricted for a year or more. This is what is called a long-term injury, and it will significantly interfere with your ability to work and live your normal life.
These types of injuries don’t have a simple price tag on them. There is no cut and dry dollar amount for you to ask for. You’ll need to calculate how much the actual injury itself is worth.
Further, the injuries you suffered in your accident may cause you to be disabled or restricted forever. This is a permanent injury, and it will be with you for life.
Determining the value of permanent injuries is not a simple task. You will need to evaluate the lifetime effects of the injuries and place a value on them. And, you will need to evaluate if there is any scarring or disfigurement.
For both long-term and permanent injuries you have to determine what the pain and suffering associated with the injury is worth and the cost of how the injury has and will continue to interfere with your ability to work, earn a living and live your life.
As such, figuring out how much these types of injuries are worth requires the legal expertise of a personal injury attorney and often the recruitment of paid medical and vocational experts. So if you have suffered long-term or permanent injuries from your accident, you’ll most likely need an experienced lawyer to help you obtain a fair settlement.
In summary, when you suffer serious personal injuries, you really do need to get an attorney because:
Later, we’ll list more of the benefits of having a personal injury lawyer in a serious personal injury case, but for now, let’s turn to the next question you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to hire a personal injury attorney.
You can only have a personal injury claim when someone else is at fault for your injuries. Here, we go into a little more detail so you can assess whether you have a personal injury case and whether you might need a lawyer to help you make a claim.
Clear liability is when the other party has accepted full responsibility for causing the accident. This usually happens when they make an official statement to the police or their insurance carrier saying the accident was all their fault. Other times, clear liability is established by a police report that comes out in your favor or by independent witness statements that the other party was clearly at fault.
If you in any way contributed to the cause of your accident, this is called shared liability. If you share liability for the accident, you could be subject to insurance claims from the other party. This, in turn, could decrease your settlement, or it could even bar your recovery completely, depending on your proportional fault for the accident.
(Note that if you live in a “contributory negligence” state - unlike California - shared liability can be a complete bar.)
You should always consult with a personal injury lawyer if you have suffered injuries in an accident for which you may partially be at-fault. Your lawyer can help protect you against counterclaims and cross-claims by the other parties, and protect your settlement.
The same goes for cases where multiple parties other than yourself share in the cause of the accident. These cases can get complicated fast, and having a lawyer in your court may be the best way to go.
Even if you firmly believe the other party is 100% at fault for the accident, they or their insurance company can dispute liability for the accident. They may claim that their policyholder is not at fault at all. Or, even if their insured is at fault, the carrier can claim you don’t have enough evidence to prove their insured is completely at fault.
Therefore, the insurance carrier will deny part or all of your claim and you will be left paying your own damages.
If you find yourself in a shared or disputed liability situation, you will probably need to hire a personal injury lawyer unless you:
Note that if you agree that you were 100% at-fault for the accident, you do not need a personal injury lawyer.
Now that you’ve answered the question about who is at fault for your injuries, let’s look at whether the case is simple enough to handle on your own, or whether it might get complicated and required the assistance of an experienced attorney.
As mentioned previously, if you have minor injuries and a straightforward accident, you may not need a personal injury attorney. But if you suffered serious injuries like those described above, you will definitely want an experienced personal injury attorney on your case.
Also discussed previously is the issue of liability or fault for the accident. If liability is cut-and-dry, that is one factor that makes your case less likely to need a lawyer. But if your injuries are serious and/or there are multiple parties involved in the accident, having a personal injury lawyer will be key to your success.
When there are multiple parties involved in an accident, whether they may have caused the accident or been injured in the accident, the insurance coverage issues and how available monies are divided can get complicated.
If you were injured in an accident where multiple parties are potentially liable for causing your injuries, you really should contact an injury lawyer. If multiple parties potentially caused the accident, several insurance companies and policies will be involved in the claim.
You will likely want someone who can help you navigate the various coverages, exclusions and communications with the insurance carriers so that you are in the strongest position possible when negotiating a settlement.
If multiple people were injured in the accident, there will be several claims made on the available insurance policies, which means there may be less settlement money available to compensate you for your injuries.
Those other injured people will probably have lawyers fighting for them, so you definitely want someone experienced in your camp to ensure that you get the fullest and fairest settlement possible.
If you have determined that you have serious injuries and that your case might be a little complicated, before you go running out to hire a personal injury lawyer, you’ll want to answer the next question.
Because almost all injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, it really doesn’t make any sense to hire a lawyer if there is no source of money for you (and for your lawyer, for that matter) to get paid.
The possible sources of money from which you can recover compensation for your injuries include:
If none of the above are present in your case, you probably don’t need a personal injury attorney, because the whole point of a personal injury case is to collect money to compensate you for your injuries.
However, you should still get a free consultation from an attorney, just to make sure that there is no viable source of funds from which you can recover.
If you aren’t sure about what insurance policies carried by whom provide these coverages, here is a breakdown of what to look for.
The “third party” is the person who caused the accident, assuming it wasn’t you. You will probably know immediately if the person who injured you has insurance coverage because carrying proof of insurance is required by state law. So you will likely know at the scene of the accident if they are covered or not. However, if you were seriously injured, you were probably being carted off the scene by an ambulance, not exchanging insurance information with the third party.
The police should record the third party’s insurance information in the police report, but it will probably take at least a week for you to get the report. Further, once you get the insurance policy information, the amount of insurance coverage will remain a mystery until you can confirm it with the insurance company.
As a side note, you will want to confirm whether or not the third party was working at the time of the accident. If they were, their employer may be on the hook for the accident, and that means a commercial insurance policy applies, which is almost always better (higher coverage limits) than a personal auto policy.
If the third party’s insurance coverage is not enough to cover all of your damages, your own insurance may be helpful. Depending on your coverages, you may have health insurance, med-pay and underinsured motorist insurance on your auto policy, or even some sort of homeowner's or umbrella insurance that may kick in.
You should pull up the “declarations page” on your own auto insurance policy to find out what coverages you have. Or, call your insurance agent ASAP to find out. If you do get a lawyer, this is one of the first things they’ll ask for.
If the two above sources of funds are unavailable or tapped out, you will want to investigate whether the person or entity who injured you has assets (money or property) that could help pay for your damages. This information isn’t always readily available and will require the use of investigative tools and people to find out.
Typically, you will know what your own insurance coverages are (although not always), but determining what coverage or assets the third party has will take time. These are things an experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to investigate.
Note that any injury attorney you consult with will likely have lots of questions about this area of your case, as it may not be worth it for them or you to hire them if there is no insurance money available.
However, if they can determine that there is indeed good insurance coverage and/or assets that will cover your damages, this will make your accident (depending on other various factors) a much more viable personal injury case.
Asking yourself when your accident happened is a crucial step in determining if and when you should get to hiring a lawyer. Here are some helpful tips to determine if now is the time, or if you should wait to hire your personal injury lawyer.
There is no specific time when you absolutely must hire an attorney - you will always have the option of going it alone.
However, if you are considering hiring a lawyer, there are certainly more opportune time-frames within which hiring one will be most effective for your case.
For instance, you may not need to hire an attorney from the scene of the accident or even when you are at the hospital, but you don’t want to wait too long, or things could get messy.
That’s why it is very important to consult with a lawyer as soon after the accident as possible, so you can find out what your rights are. You’ll also want to find out right away, by getting a professional opinion, if you even have a personal injury claim worth pursuing. If you do, you’ll want to know your next steps. If you don’t, then you can focus your energy elsewhere.
Almost all personal injury attorneys offer free consultations (phone, online, email, in-person, etc.) to help evaluate your case and let you know your options.
The time limit you have to file a personal injury claim is called the statute of limitations (check for your state’s specific statute.) In California personal injury cases, the time frame you have to file a claim is two years. However, if your claim is against a governmental entity, you have only six months after your accident to file a claim. Also, minors have different time limits on when they have to file, to protect their rights.
If you try to bring your personal injury claim after the applicable statute of limitations has run out, you will likely be barred from recovering compensation for your injuries, so you definitely want to hire a personal injury lawyer well before the statute runs out, unless you plan to handle your claim alone.
Yes, you can wait until after all of your medical treatment in your personal injury case is done before pursuing the case or hiring a personal injury attorney.
However, you can also get an attorney early to work with you throughout your treatment and recovery. That way, they can help guide you through your injury claim and make sure you are getting the best medical treatment for your injuries and for the case.
The advantage of working with an attorney up front is that you are sure to be “on the right track” as far as the case is concerned, and will be ready to start negotiations once you are released from all medical care.
If you wait until after you are done with all your treatment to hire an attorney, you will be going it alone. Be warned: there are various problems that can arise over the course of your medical treatment. These can include:
Insurance companies can be tricky. They can approach you in a friendly manner, but only to extract crucial information from you about the case - often times well before you know or understand the gravity of your injuries. With an attorney on your side, you can control the information disclosed (or not) in your case.
A personal injury lawyer can help guide you on the proper language to use when communicating with your medical providers. Often without legal guidance, personal injury patients can sound very “litigious” and overly concerned with their legal case (more than their injuries or treatment), which medical professionals loathe, and this can hurt your case. An experienced attorney can help you avoid this.
You are only entitled to repayment for medical treatment that is considered both “reasonable" and "necessary.” If you are not getting the proper and most effective treatment for your injuries, you might not be compensated for that treatment in your case.
Though not a medical professional, a solid personal injury attorney can “audit” your medical treatment to make sure you are sticking to things that are likely to be covered by a settlement.
Having an attorney can be very helpful in making sure your medical bills do not go to collections, and that you don't have to pay for treatment out of your own pocket.
Your lawyer (if you hire one with great customer service) can help get some of your medical bills covered by health insurance, med-pay coverage or other benefits, or they can set up liens, payment plans or put the accounts on hold so that you don’t have to worry about medical bills until after you receive a settlement.
BONUS: An experienced personal injury attorney can also help get you “discounts” on some of your medical bills, so you end up paying less than if you just paid them up front.
If you do not keep to a regimented treatment plan, or if you have significant time periods without any treatment, this can lead the insurance carrier to discount or eliminate certain medical bills from your claim. Having a lawyer early in your case can help to ensure that you stay on the right track with your medical treatment.
Examples include failing to gather informational witness statements, photos of the scene of the accident, vehicles and injuries, traffic or accident scene video footage, etc. about the facts of the case when it is fresh and relevant. Having a personal injury attorney on board early in the case can eliminate this problem.
Most insurance carriers set a “reserve” for each claim. This is a certain amount of money they set aside for the claim. This reserve amount is based upon information conveyed to them about your case early in the claims process. If the reserve is not set high enough, it can be an uphill battle to get the carrier to increase that reserve. Hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer early in the case will ensure that the carrier sets the reserve high as early as possible.
The longer you wait to pursue your case, the more time the defendant has to “disappear” or move. If this happens, it will be much more difficult, time-consuming and costly to resolve your case. Your lawyer can keep track of this person and has the resources to locate them if they go missing.
There is even a possibility that other claims can be made on the policy. If the 3rd party insurance carrier doesn’t know about your claim, they could pay the other claimants all the money available in the case, leaving you with nothing.
Or, you may get busy with life and forget to file a lawsuit before the expiration of the statute of limitations and lose your right to any compensation. It is your personal injury lawyer’s job to assert and protect your claim right away so you get your fair share of any available insurance proceeds.
People who try to go it alone in anything other than the simplest of claims tend to disclose too much information to the insurance company, say the wrong things, fail to provide the right documentation, get the wrong medical treatment and not build the case as solidly as possible. These are all pitfalls that can be avoided if you have a good attorney on your side early in the process.
Sometimes an injured person will keep going and going through the personal injury process until they make a crucial mistake, or they hit a wall and come to the realization that managing their case is much more difficult than they anticipated.
Unfortunately for individuals in this situation, most reputable personal injury attorneys don’t like to take on these cases “late in the game”, because there are a lot of steps that need to be completed early on in the case to build the strongest case possible.
An experienced lawyer likely won't want to risk being stuck with a poor settlement because the work wasn’t done up-front. If you find yourself in this situation, you might end up with an inexperienced lawyer who is willing to take a case that hasn’t been set up properly. Or, you might get extremely lucky and find a “miracle worker” who can save your case.
Although you might want to “save a buck” by not hiring a personal injury attorney, you could end up with far less money and far more stress than if you had qualified legal representation from the start.
If you are seriously considering handling your own personal injury claim instead of hiring a lawyer, this is probably one of the most important questions to ask yourself.
Do you have the “bandwidth” (time, energy and skill) to manage your own personal injury case? As you will notice from the discussion below, it all comes down to a balance of your bandwidth vs. the complexity of your case.
Let’s look at what skills and the amount of time and energy that go into handling a personal injury claim, to help you decide whether you need a personal injury attorney or can handle this yourself.
If you have already finished your medical treatment, are not in any pain and are back to work, maybe you have the time to handle your own personal injury claim.
If there are only a couple of calls and emails to make to resolve the claim, it’s probably manageable. But, if you need to start digging in, investigating and drafting legal documents, you may simply not have the time for that.
If you are still healing from your injuries, you may have some free time, since you may be laid up and off work. But maybe your time is best spent focusing on healing from your injuries (attending medical appointments, doing your physical therapy, resting, etc.) rather than delving into the totally new set of skills required to act as your own personal injury lawyer.
Handling anything more than the most basic personal injury case can be very time-consuming and stressful. It requires constant attention, daily phone calls, sending and receiving emails, faxes, legal documents, medical records and billing, dealing with nasty bill collectors, cantankerous insurance adjusters, tense negotiations and much more.
All of these things pull your attention away from recovering from your injuries and cause further stress to your mind and body. If this is how you are feeling, you might want to let an experienced attorney take on that stress instead.
On the flip side, a simple, minor injury personal injury claim can be settled with a few emails and phone calls that may only take you a few hours altogether. So evaluating early-on how complex your case is will be is important to determining whether you have the time to go it alone.
You may have the energy - or at least motivation to handle your own personal injury claim. You're steamed! Someone injured you and you deserve compensation, so of course you are motivated to get your claim going.
On the other hand, your physical injuries can take a toll on your emotional and mental energy level. Is your motivation enough to fuel you through this process?
After an accident, you are vulnerable. You are recovering from injuries, you may have to juggle medical appointments, family obligations, work stress, headaches, all over body pain, and you may even be having trouble getting around.
In this kind of situation, it can be very valuable to have an expert by your side to help you with the logistics of bringing a personal injury claim.
Unless they are trying to quickly settle your claim for less than it’s probably worth, insurance companies will typically either refuse to make a fair settlement offer, or refuse to make any offer at all.
There is a process they must follow to pay out claims, and they will do everything they can to pay you as little as possible. So you have to jump through several hoops and carefully document your claim to get paid.
You’ll have to provide piles of evidence, recorded statements, witness declarations, etc. All of this can take a lot of energy, so it's essential to weigh the balance of your energy vs. the complexity of your injuries and the legal issues in your case.
When you hire a reputable personal injury law firm, you are getting a whole team on your side - not just one lawyer. Most personal injury law firms have personnel on staff that can:
Although a very basic injury claim may best be handled alone, personal injury cases often quickly snowball into an overwhelming situation.
You may not be a personal injury lawyer, but you are smart and very capable. You can make calls, reply to emails and even negotiate pretty well. But if your claim is complex at all, you may need more specific expertise to handle your claim properly to get a full and fair settlement. Here are some of the skills you’ll need to successfully advocate on your own behalf.
To adequately prove your case, you'll need to investigate the facts of your case and collect documentary evidence. You will need to:
Depending on your case and the various issues and elements of damages, there are likely several more investigative steps and pieces of evidence that will need collecting. However, if the list above is much longer than the list of items needed to prove your particular case, maybe you do not need a personal injury lawyer to assist.
Once you've done all the investigative legwork to gather the evidence you'll need, the next step of the personal injury claim process is writing a persuasive demand letter.
This important letter is your chance to tell your story to the insurance carrier and persuade them to pay you a fair settlement. You will need to itemize your losses and to ask for a lump sum settlement amount. In your demand, you must detail (and include documentary proof of):
This letter should not just be a one-page cover letter sent along with your medical records. It should be several pages long (some run upwards of 20+ pages) and should detail every aspect of your accident, how it has affected you, and what you will accept as a full and fair settlement.
Even before they respond to your demand letter, you will be dealing with insurance companies. In these dealings, you have to be a fierce negotiator. They do this for a living, so they know what they are doing. This may all be new territory for you. Don't ever accept the first offer they give you. This is not the amount that they are actually willing to pay. It most certainly is not what your injuries are really worth.
This is not to say that the negotiation process will be terrible. In fact, most simple personal injury insurance claims can be settled with a few emails or phone calls back and forth. However, keep in mind that you need to:
You may find that you do indeed have the bandwidth to handle your own personal injury claim. And, sometimes settling a small personal injury claim without a lawyer is the best option.
However, if things are more complicated, you may need to hire a personal injury lawyer who has a full team of people to work for you and who know the “tricks of the trade” used by insurance companies, so they can fight for the settlement you deserve.
Most traffic-related personal injury claims are settled during the negotiation process that precedes actually filing a lawsuit and going to court. However, you need to position your case for a successful settlement in order to avoid ending up in court. This essentially means preparing your case for a trial it will most likely never end up in.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit requires expertise in personal injury law and in-depth knowledge of the local court system where suit will be filed. You really should never file a personal injury lawsuit without a lawyer (unless it’s a small claims action where lawyers are not permitted) or else you could end up creating a worse situation than your accident itself.
Court, and specifically trial, cannot always be avoided. So, you have to be prepared for and willing to go to court to get the compensation you deserve.
Since even for a fair settlement, you will need to prepare your case for trial, let’s discuss what this entails.
At trial, you will need to prove your case. To do that, you will most likely need to call on expert witnesses to testify as to how the accident occurred and how your injuries were treated.
You will need to present documentary evidence of your injuries, medical expenses and other financial losses. You will need to understand the Rules of Evidence, present motions, examine witnesses (both friendly and hostile), make evidentiary objections and communicate with the judge and jury.
Whether or not all this sounds overwhelming to you, the insurance companies will assume that it is. If you are unrepresented, the insurance carrier will try to take advantage of you during negotiations.
They will assume that you won’t be able to effectively take the case to trial without a lawyer, so they will not have any incentive to offer you a fair pre-trial settlement. They know that without a lawyer, trial isn’t really an option unless you want another full-time job.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but hiring a lawyer early will make it less likely that you’ll end up in court, let alone trial. An experienced personal injury lawyer who knows how to increase the value of your claim up front and negotiate a full and fair settlement will greatly reduce your chances of pushing up against the statute of limitations, having to file a lawsuit, or ending up in trial.
As we've discussed, most simple injury claims can probably be handled by you if you have the bandwidth to be your own lawyer.
However, if you have more than a modest personal injury case, you will likely need to “go to battle” to get a fair settlement. Insurance adjusters will use all kinds of tricks to keep you from getting the settlement you deserve. They are experts at convincing you that what they are offering is fair, even when it is far less than what they know is reasonable compensation.
The only way to fix this power imbalance is to work with an experienced personal injury lawyer. When they see an attorney on the other side, insurance companies know the stakes are higher. They know there is more of a chance the case will go to court or even trial if the insurance company doesn’t take it seriously and start offering “real” money. They can’t “bully” a lawyer like they can someone who is representing themselves.
Here are some reasons why you may need an attorney to even the playing field:
For more reasons why hiring a personal injury attorney may be the right decision, keep reading.
If you have answered the preceding questions and you are still reading, chances are you’ve already concluded that you probably do need a personal injury lawyer. However, there are more questions to ask yourself to be 100% sure hiring an injury attorney is worth it.
Sometimes it is quite clear that having a personal injury lawyer is NOT worth it - like when you have a very minor case worth a few hundred dollars.
Other times, having a lawyer may be the only smart way to go, because the case is so complex that you probably wouldn’t even know where to begin.
However, most cases fall somewhere in between these two extremes. If you are reading this article, yours most likely does too. So assuming your case is not tiny or huge, are personal injury lawyers worth it?
Regardless of how modest you think your case is, or whether you think you can handle it on your own, you should probably at least consult with a qualified personal injury lawyer just to find out whether you have a viable personal injury case.
Typically, this initial consultation is going to be free, so you have nothing to lose by finding out if you have a case. Then you can decide whether or not you need an attorney to help you.
If you consult with a lawyer who is a straight-shooter (not one that you found on a billboard) they’ll let you know if you have a case you can handle on your own or not.
One of the main reasons some people are hesitant to hire a lawyer is that they don’t want to get stuck with a huge bill for legal fees. Not to worry - almost all personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis.
This means they do not collect any legal fees up front and you do not have to pay them out of your own pocket. The attorney receives their fee from the judgment or settlement proceeds received at the end of your case - and only if you win your case. If there is no recovery, there is no fee.
It is common for the attorneys’ fees to be based on a percentage of the amount of money you receive and how far they have to take your case to get a settlement or judgment. For example, the lawyer may get 35 percent if you settle your case before a lawsuit is filed, 40 percent if you settle after the lawsuit is filed but before a trial, or 45 percent if the case is resolved at a trial.
A reputable personal injury attorney will use their experience and skills to negotiate a much better settlement in your case than you could do on your own. Your attorney will earn their own fee, meaning they will almost always increase the value of your case (through their skills, reputation, efforts, experience and established systems) so that you end up with more money, even after paying legal fees, than you would have if you had handled the case on your own.
And they will take on the stress, work, and time-consumption of such an endeavor, so it won't rest on your already burdened shoulders.
An attorney will generally get you more
The Insurance Research Council found that:
People who have an attorney receive an average of 3.5 times more for their settlement than unrepresented folks
Being involved in an accident can have a significant impact on your financial condition. You may be forced out of work for a period of time, you may be facing medical bills, co-pays, increased transportation costs, etc. Having a personal injury attorney handle your case will at least alleviate the legal costs associated with building your case.
Most injury lawyers front the case costs (costs of ordering copies of records, hiring investigators, medical experts and expert witnesses, court filing fees, etc.) for your case. Be sure to check with any lawyer you consider hiring, as this is not always the case.
Most people who are injured and suffering financially will not want to come out of pocket to build a case. That brings us to the final reason why hiring a personal injury attorney for your case may be worth it.
Again, make sure to get a free consultation from at least one reputable injury lawyer before deciding whether you really need a personal injury lawyer.
You probably don’t need a personal injury lawyer if:
It might make the most sense to act as your own attorney if you have a tiny case involving a very minor injury. In such instances, you can likely handle the process without getting a lawyer involved.
Let’s say you were in a minor car accident that gave you some pain. You go to your primary care doctor once for a check-up and then are fine. You can probably handle that type of simple traffic injury case on your own.
It’s a minor situation, and you may receive a few hundred or a thousand dollars and move on. (Although there are some personal injury attorneys out there who will take on very small cases.)
This is definitely not a case that most small to medium personal injury law firms would handle, as it doesn’t make financial sense. However, if you have a small injury case, you can probably find a large injury law firm (like the kind that advertise on billboard and busses) that take a high volume of these fender-bender (or what are called in the industry “soft tissue injury” or “minor injury”) cases.
If you’d rather not hire one of these high-volume law firms, you could always handle your own personal injury claim.
Some cautious in this regard is advisable, however, because sometimes injuries don’t reveal themselves until a few days after an accident. So be sure that you wait a reasonable amount of time - and get checked out by your doctor to make sure all is clear - before you enter into any kind of settlement with the insurance company. Once you sign a settlement release with them, your rights to pursue further settlement are terminated.
The person who injured you should carry liability insurance that will cover some or all of your damages. When you make a personal injury claim, their insurance company will only pay you from the available insurance policy limits.
This means that if your damages (medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering) are more than the insurance limits, you will likely be out of luck.
So if the insurance company offers you the full policy limits (e.g. if the person who injured you has a $15,000 insurance policy and you've been offered the full $15,000 to settle), hiring a lawyer to take your case to trial to get a larger verdict may be futile.
That is because anything over the $15,000 insurance policy limits you may be awarded will have to be collected directly from the individual who hurt you. Unless they have substantial assets (real property, businesses, large savings accounts, etc.) you likely won’t see a penny over what was originally offered by the insurance company.
So hiring a personal injury lawyer probably won’t help you get anything more than the policy limits that are already being offered to you, but you should consult with an accident lawyer to see if there are any other avenues for you to collect additional funds.
Perhaps there are other insurance policies that apply, a governmental entity that comes into play, or the other driver was working at the time of the accident and his employer could be liable.
In California, for example, all drivers are required to have a minimum of $5,000 in coverage for property damage (to repair your vehicle), $15,000 in bodily injury coverage per person (to cover your medical costs, lost earnings, pain and suffering, etc.), and $30,000 in bodily injury coverage per accident (when multiple are injured in the accident, this is the total that is split among all of them).
The no-fault rules of certain states do not allow you to make a claim against the other driver unless your injuries are “serious.” This is determined by the severity of your injuries or the cost of your medical care, depending on the state where the accident took place.
In these no-fault states, you are limited to recovery from your own personal injury protection (or “PIP”) coverage for costs related to your accident, so hiring a lawyer in these situations wouldn't make sense.
If your injuries end up being more serious (make sure to get checked out by a professional who will run the proper diagnostics like x-rays, MRI’s and CT scans to determine the full scope of your injuries) you may then fall outside the “no-fault” system and there will then likely be substantial advantages to having a good personal injury lawyer on your side.
There are hundreds legal specialties, from corporate law to divorce and probate to employment. When choosing your personal injury lawyer, make sure they focus solely on personal injury accidents.
Then take it one step further, and make sure they devote most (if not all) of their time and attention on your particular type of personal injury case.
For example, not all personal injury attorneys specialize in traffic accident cases. Some focus on medical malpractice, slip-and-fall accidents or work-related injuries. So if you were injured in a traffic accident, make sure any attorney you are considering works with people specifically injured in traffic accidents.
It’s easy to check out an attorney’s reputation with a quick Google search. Be sure to check for genuine client reviews, not paid-for “badges” that appear on most injury lawyers’ websites.
These reviews should give you a good idea about what the client experience with that lawyer is like - not just what awards or achievements the lawyer has on their wall. If you are going to trust this person with your case, you want to know they are going to take care of you, not just their own ego.
When interviewing attorneys, among other questions to ask a potential personal injury lawyer, ask them what their current “caseload” (number of pending cases) looks like.
Some law firms have a business model of taking on hundreds of small cases (with non-lawyers handling the bulk of the cases), while others focus on larger cases, but keep the numbers down.
Either way, you’ll want to be sure the lawyer or law firm has the time and resources to give you and your case what it deserves.
The biggest complaint made by clients is that their lawyer never returns their calls (or emails or texts.)
When you are doing your research, check the details of past client reviews for specific comments on how responsive the lawyer was to their inquiries. Were past clients kept apprised of developments in their cases, or were they left in the dark? Make sure you choose a personal injury lawyer who will stay in touch with you throughout your case.
The bottom line is that you want to hire an attorney whom you trust. How did you feel when you first saw their website, or talked to them, or saw one of their videos? Do their statements resonate with your values? Do they seem like someone you can trust with your medical history and personal details? Because that’s what you’ll need to share with your lawyer in order to get fair compensation for your case.
At this point, you should have a pretty clear sense of the kind of personal injury case that will probably be best handled by an attorney, and whether you are ready to hire one.
You need to focus on recovering from your injuries.
You need the leverage a lawyer can give you.
Don’t get caught taking the blame for the accident
You don’t have time to manage your own injury case