Can I Make a Personal Injury Claim Without a Lawyer?
Thanks for visiting the Sally Morin Law Personal Injury attorney website. As a practicing personal injury attorney for the last 20 years, I've heard that question a lot.
In this article, we're going to dive a little deeper into this topic and answer all of your questions about filing, fighting for, and winning a personal injury claim without a lawyer.
Do You Really Need a Lawyer after You've Been Injured in a Traffic Accident?
The vast majority of traffic accidents in California result in fairly minor injuries. The most common are:
- Soft tissue injuries
Even if you hired a lawyer and pursued these small claims as far as you could (and received the maximum compensation available to you) you might end up with next-to-nothing after that long hard fight. Unfortunately, the insurance and accident compensation systems in The United States rely on specific dollar figures associated with each individual injury. For minor injuries those payouts are often a lot smaller than the victim realizes.
Because most car accidents in California result in minor injuries, most personal injury claims are settled during the negotiation process that precedes actually filing a lawsuit and going to court. Why? Insurance companies know that if your case goes to court, it's going to cost them more money (in legal fees) and they will likely be ordered to pay out a settlement or significant financial award anyway. It's almost always in their best interest to settle with you, the victim, before actually stepping foot in a court room.
And if you've been injured in a traffic accident, that's good news for you too!
Why Settling Personal Injury Claims without a Lawyer Could Be Good for YOU
While no insurance company really has your best interest at heart, a quick settlement in a personal injury case involving relatively minor injuries may just be the best option for you.
When you settle a personal injury claims without a lawyer you often:
- Streamline the recovery process
- Get your settlement money faster
- Limit the amount of back-and-forth negotiation that goes on
- Shorten the whole experience so you can get back to "normal life" as quickly as possible
However, if you have serious injuries (like broken bones, injuries requiring surgery or serious brain injury) and you make a personal injury claim without a lawyer, you will likely never get compensated as much as you likely could have with an attorney at your side.
Why Making a Personal Injury Claim without a Lawyer May End Poorly
It's important to keep in mind that going it alone without professional legal help can end badly too.
It Shows your Hand
Whenever you approach an insurance company or at fault party without a personal injury attorney by your side, they immediately know that you're trying to save money. While that's not a bad thing in itself, that appearance leads insurance adjusters to make snap conclusions about you like:
- You're in dire straits financially
- You're likely "desperate" to get any payout they offer you
- They can likely "lowball" you and offer far less than your injuries are actually worth
While none of those assumptions may be true, insurance companies are corporations which have often settled hundreds of thousands of claims very similar to yours. In essence, you become a number to them and the smaller they can make that number, the better it is for them.
In fact, most insurance adjusters play sneaky tricks on accident victims to decrease payout amounts.
In addition, understanding all the legal ins-and-outs of making a personal injury claim isn't easy. Even the smartest individuals have trouble with the "legalese" used in most official insurance documentation. Add in the stress of your physical recovery and the hurt your accident has placed on your household finances, and you may be tempted to take the first offer laid before you.
It May Make Getting Legal Help Later Next-to Impossible
Once you've started negotiating your personal injury claim without a lawyer, it's almost impossible to get an insurance company to reconsider your claim after you've hired a lawyer.
The insurance adjuster will take any statement, any evidence, and any concession you've given them and use it against you. This makes elevating the status (or financial award) associated with your claim to the next level unlikely.
Further, many attorneys loathe picking up a case after the client has tried (and failed) on his or her own to secure a solid settlement. Injury lawyers each have their own system on how they prefer to build and present a successful case. If that system has been circumvented or ignored by the client's own attempts to settle the case, that reduces the lawyer's chances of increasing the value of your personal injury claim.
How to Decide if Making a Personal Injury Claim without a Lawyer is The Best Option for You
There are a number of factors you must consider when you're deciding whether or not you can successfully make a personal injury claim without a lawyer. Let's take a look at each in depth.
Proof of the Other Driver's Fault
This should go without saying but you can't make a personal injury claim without a lawyer unless you can prove the party against which you're pursuing a claim was actually at fault. That means you have to:
- Understand the complexities of California traffic law
- Have an unbiased picture of the events which led up to the crash
- Have sufficient evidence to prove that fault (such as eyewitness testimony or video camera footage)
The Seriousness of Your Injuries
Most car accidents in California result in relatively minor injuries. Some result in life-threatening or life-altering injuries. You have to consider how badly you were hurt when deciding whether or not having a lawyer fighting for you is the smartest option during your financial recovery.
- If you've simply suffered some bruising, a few scrapes and some whiplash you may be better off dealing with the insurance company yourself.
- If you've been hospitalized, need surgery (or multiple procedures), require extensive therapy after your accident, or will be out of work for an extended period of time, your injuries (and the pain and suffering you're enduring) are likely worth a considerable amount. Getting such large settlement isn't often easy without the assistance of a personal injury attorney.
The Extent of Property Damage
If there is next-to-no property damage associated with your car accident, making a claim without a lawyer may be the smart way to go. However, you should always calculate the exact figure of the property damage associated with your crash before you make that decision. The price tag associated with fixing all of the damage may shock you.
Even something as simple as replacing a bumper on a moderately priced sedan can cost well over $3,000.
(Confused about what damages you can recover after an accident? Don't be.)
Whether Your Evidence is Powerful Enough
In order to prove your case to the insurance company and get what you deserve, you'll need to collect evidence. Never rely on anyone else (other than your personal injury attorney) to do this for you. You don't want to press your case only to have it fall apart when a crucial piece of proof falls through the cracks.
So what will you need to do?
- Obtain medical records from the hospital and/or your doctor
- Get a copy of the police report
- Gather wage loss information from your employer
- Collect eyewitness statements from anyone and everyone who may have actually seen the accident or the immediate aftermath
- Gather estimates for repair/replacement of any personal property damaged in the crash
- Take photos of your injuries immediately after the crash and as they heal
(Need a little help collecting evidence and/or witness testimony? Learn the 4 ways social media can actually help with your accident claim.)
Once you've considered all the aspects of your case, it's time to make a decision—one that shouldn't be taken lightly. Do you hire a lawyer to help during your recovery or do you go it alone?
If you do choose to make a personal injury claim without a lawyer, how do you go about it? Read on for some helpful hints that could save you thousands of dollars and a ton of stress.
How to Make a Personal Injury Claim Without a Lawyer
Once you've done all the preliminary legwork to gather the necessary information, documentation, and evidence you'll need, the first actual step of the personal injury claim process is crafting an impactful demand letter.
This important document is essentially your claim laid out by the numbers. It tells the insurance company:
- How the accident happened (according to you)
- What injuries you suffered
- What financial impact those injuries have had on you and your household
- What emotional/mental impact those injuries and the recovery process have burden your family with
- What evidence you have to support this claim
- And how much money you are willing to accept to resolve your claim
And this isn't just a little note that jots down the facts. This letter should be at least 4 pages long (some run upwards of 20 pages) and should detail every aspect of your accident, how it has affected you, and what you intend to do about it.
You Need to Back Up Your Claim
Crafting an impactful demand letter isn't easy in itself. But if you write a letter without having the necessary evidence to back it up, you may as well not bother. The key to "impressing" and insurance company's adjuster is overwhelming them with evidence.
I mentioned what evidence you'll need to collect above. Now is the time to use that evidence to its full effect. Every little bit of proof, every witness testimonial, every x-ray or medical record builds your case like bricks in a wall. It's your goal to lay all of this evidence out in the most impactful manner possible in order to show the insurance company that you're not just a desperate individual looking for a quick payout. They need to understand that you understand exactly what your injuries are worth and that you won't back down during the negotiation process.
Negotiation is a Must
Don't ever accept the first offer that an insurance company gives you. It's not the amount that they're actually willing to pay and it's not even likely what your injuries are actually worth. Insurance companies are in the business of making money so every penny they can save on personal injury claims is profit for them.
The negotiation process doesn't have to be terrible. In fact, most simple insurance claims can be settled with a few letters or phone calls back and forth but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Never let the insurance adjuster know your "bottom line." If they know the minimum you're willing to take, they'll simply offer you that and be done.
- Be aggressive but realistic. You're injuries may not actually be worth what you think they should be. It's important to press for as much as you think you need to recover but be realistic with those figures and don't expect massive settlements from a minor accident.
- Always calculate your "break even" point—that point at which fighting for a few extra dollars becomes more effort than it's actually worth. Your number one goal should be getting your life back to normal as quickly as possible, not fighting with the insurance company for months.
Chances are, if you've got the evidence to back up your claim, even a hard-nosed insurance adjuster will offer you a fair settlement. It may not be as large as you actually could have received with the help of an attorney but sometimes settling a personal injury claim without a lawyer is the best option for victims of relatively minor car accidents.
When You Need a little More Help
Any personal injury attorney worth their salt should offer potential clients a free case evaluation. During this process the attorney will examine the facts of your case, take into account the evidence you already have available, and calculate the likelihood of your case warranting a reasonable settlement or financial award. They will then give you this information and help you decide if hiring a personal injury attorney is the best option or if getting adequate compensation is something you could do on your own.
Getting this professional opinion is something every accident victim should do because making a personal injury claim without a lawyer—no matter how small the claim—is not a simple process.
I hope that this information about whether you should (and how you can) make a personal injury claim without a lawyer was helpful.
Sally Morin Law is committed to helping accident victims recover as quickly as possible and put their lives back together after traffic accidents in California.
If that means the best option for you is to make a claim yourself, we want you to have all the information you need to do so. And if you need professional legal help, we're here for that too. Get a FREE case evaluation online here now.