Why should I get a personal injury attorney now if I have two years to resolve my case?
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 now to work with you throughout your treatment, recovery and case to guide you and make sure you are getting the best medical treatment for your injuries and for the case.
I think 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, keep in mind there are various problems that can come up over the course of your medical treatment. These can include:
- Saying things or disclosing information to the 3rd party insurance carrier that may damage the case. 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, you can control the information in your personal injury case.
- Saying things to your medical providers that may damage the case. A personal injury attorney can guide you in 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 bodes poorly on the case.
- Getting treatment that may not be the most suitable or effective for healing your injuries. 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.
- Letting your medical bills go to collections or even damage your credit. Having an attorney can be very helpful in making sure your medical bills do not go to collections, as your lawyer can set up liens, payment plans or put the accounts on hold.
- Paying medical bills unnecessarily. A lawyer can help get some of your medical bills covered with health insurance, med-pay coverage or other benefits, or they can put the bills on hold or a lien so they don’t have to be paid until your case is resolved.
- Having “gaps” in treatment. If you do not keep to a regimented treatment plan (which can be reviewed and guided by your attorney and medical providers) and have significant time periods without any treatment, this can lead the insurance carrier to discount or eliminate certain medical bills from your claim.
- Failing to properly document or preserve evidence on certain elements of damages to build your case. Examples include failing to gather information 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.
- Leaving the 3rd party insurance carrier “in the dark” about the case, so they don’t know to set their “reserves” at the appropriate level. Most insurance carriers set a “reserve” (certain amount of money allocated to the case) for each case based upon information conveyed to them by the attorney early in the case. If the reserve is not set high enough, it can be rather difficult to get the carrier to increase that reserve. So, you want to be sure the reserve is set high as early as possible.
- Losing track of the 3rd party (defendant). 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.
- Missing the boat completely. There is even a possibility that other claims can be made on the policy, and if the 3rd party insurance carrier doesn’t know about your claim, the can pay other claimants all the money available in the case, leaving you with nothing. Your personal injury lawyer will notify the carrier of your claim right away to be sure you get your fair share of any available insurance proceeds.
As you can see, I think it is a much better option to get the case going now, even though you have two years to file the lawsuit to preserve your legal rights under California’s two year personal injury statute of limitations. Keep in mind that staring an insurance claim is much different than filing a lawsuit, and you may be able to resolve your case at the claims stage and not even have to file a lawsuit (as long as you resolve it before the 2 year mark.)