One of the most commonly asked questions we hear as a personal injury law firm is whether or not claimants can file a personal injury claim independently. Though you are not required to work with an attorney, it is in your best interest to pursue a personal injury claim with the help of a professional that knows how to navigate the legal system and fight for your rights.
Read on for more information about the difficulties individuals encounter when handling their personal injury claim alone and some good reasons you should not have to. An experienced personal injury attorney can give you more information about the legal process and their team’s services.
The Difficulties of Handling Your Personal Injury Claim
People who decide to represent themselves in a legal matter are called pro se, a Latin term that means “for oneself or on one’s own behalf.”
A big difference between criminal matters and civil matters pertains to the burden of proof. In criminal cases, the prosecutor, an attorney trained to handle such matters, bears the burden of proving the claim. A civil matter places the burden of proof on the claimant. That means that you must your claim, even if you have not had any legal training or experience.
Understanding the Legal Process
Personal injury lawyers generally spend about seven years obtaining undergraduate and law degrees. After earning their degrees, they must prove what they have learned through testing, which allows them to practice law.
From there, many go on to join firms and play supporting roles in cases as they build the experience needed to lead a case and represent the best interests of their clients. It should be noted that the legal counsel for the at-fault party’s insurance provider has gained comparable education and experience to represent the best interest of their clients.
In other words, if you represent yourself in a personal injury claim and you have not had years of training and experience in the law, you will be up against people with far more understanding of the process. You must learn this process in a short time (the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in most states is between two and four years). You will not get extra time to prepare due to your lack of understanding of the process.
As mentioned, the burden of proof in a personal injury claim is on the claimant. You will be required to prove not only who was liable for causing the accident that resulted in your injury but also to prove the financial and psychological costs you have incurred through your injury. This requires you to understand what evidence proves your claim, where to get that evidence from, and when.
Generally, after filing a personal injury claim, the discovery process begins. This is when the claimant can obtain evidence from the defense and depose witnesses. The defense can quickly lose evidence, meaning time is not on your side when gathering it.
Depositions are a form of out-of-court sworn testimony that can assist you in determining new types of evidence to seek. However, testimony from depositions is only admissible in court in limited circumstances. Additionally, the defense will likely be interested in deposing you and will want information from you even as you attempt to figure out the types of information you need from them.
About 95 to 96 percent of personal injury claims settle outside of court in advance of litigation. Insurance companies like dealing with claimants who do not have an attorney because they are less likely to understand how to value their claim or understand whether a settlement offer constitutes fair compensation. This means that the insurance adjuster can make a low-ball offer, perhaps even state that this is the only amount of compensation available for the claim, and the claimant will likely accept the offer.
Accepting a low-ball settlement offer is dangerous because it is final. You cannot go back later and ask for more money if you discover that the amount you agreed to settle the claim for was insufficient to cover your expenses.
While most personal injury claims resolve by settlement, some go to court. Often, a pro se claimant will start a case by downloading a legal complaint form from an online source and file a lawsuit without understanding whom to file the claim against or the process.
Do you know what an interrogatory entails? How about a request for admission?
There are enough formalities, terminologies unique to the legal arena, and other complexities about a civil court claim that no claimants representing themselves can navigate, particularly in light of their emotional stake in the process.
Reasons for Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
As outlined above, however, there are many reasons why pro se representation puts a claimant at a distinct advantage during the legal process. Here are some reasons for hiring an attorney to assist with your claim.
#1. Training and Experience
As mentioned, personal injury lawyers spend many years learning all they can about the law to serve your best interests with your claim. They also understand the medical issues facing individuals with injuries like yours and a network of medical professionals other experts they can rely on for testimony to help prove your claim if needed.
#2. Valuing Your Claim
One of the essential services a personal injury lawyer provides is helping to determine a potential value for the claim.
This value is based on:
- The amount of insurance the at-fault party has. This is because insurance pays most personal injury settlements and awards.
- The severity of your injury. More severe injuries often result in higher medical expenses, more time away from work, a higher likelihood of permanent disabilities that can result in a loss of future earning capacity, increased pain and suffering, and other psychological impacts.
- The amount of income you earned before the accident determines wage loss and loss of earning capacity.
- The presence of physical disabilities that may result in more expenses and impacts. Some injuries, such as spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries, have many associated complications that can impact an individual financially and emotionally for the duration of their life.
- Issues of extreme recklessness exhibited by the at-fault party, which can give rise in certain circumstances to the collection of punitive damages. Punitive damages involve compensation that is not related to the claimant’s injury but awarded to financially punish a defendant for egregious behavior.
While personal injury attorneys have the training and experience to understand the process and their role in it, the decisions made in your personal injury claim are yours to make, even if you have an attorney. This includes the decision to accept a settlement offer or even when to file your personal injury lawsuit.
Your attorney’s part is to tell you in their experience what generally happens when you make a decision. This ensures that you make informed decisions.
#4. Protection Against Insurance Tactics
In addition to offering low settlements to claimants who are not represented by an attorney, insurance adjusters often resort to other tactics to reduce or eliminate payouts on claims.
Additional common insurance company tactics include:
- Convincing you to release your medical records to them, which they use to find pre-existing conditions that they can blame for your current condition.
- Asking you the same questions repeatedly, only worded slightly differently, to catch you making statements that differ from the information you gave before.
- Checking your social media accounts for photos or information that would suggest that you are not as injured as you say or that something else caused your injuries.
- Convincing you that you cannot claim non-economic damages, such as physical pain and suffering.
Having an attorney representing your claim means you do not have to deal with the insurance adjuster or their tactics to reduce claims. Your attorney will not only handle this communication but negotiate with the insurance provider to garner a higher settlement offer on your behalf.
#5. The Team
Personal injury attorneys do not generally work alone but rather as part of a team of legal professionals who are adding their experience, time, and expertise toward the goal of protecting your right to compensation. The defense also has a legal team to help with the investigative legwork. Claimants who choose to represent themselves are usually deprived of the experience and assistance provided by a team and often become overwhelmed by the burden of the workload
#6. Contingent Fee Billing
One of the most common reasons people become interested in representing themselves in a personal injury claim is because they believe they cannot hire a lawyer. Many potential clients ask us what our retainer is or how much we charge by the hour. However, personal injury attorneys do not require retainers, and most of us do not bill by the hour either. Instead, we use a contingent fee billing method.
How this works is that when you decide to hire your attorney, they will ask you to enter into a contingent fee agreement with the firm. This is a legally binding agreement where they are responsible for providing representation and services to assist you with resolving your claim, and you agree to allow them to collect a set percentage of your settlement or award as payment for those services.
In other words: you do not have to pay for your attorney’s services until there is a positive resolution to your claim through a negotiated settlement or a court award. In the meantime, your legal team can begin working on your claim immediately, without waiting for an upfront investment from you.
Hurt in a Preventable Accident? A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help You
You need a personal injury attorney with a reputation for painstaking preparation and attention to detail. You deserve representation from someone who knows how to serve the best interest of their clients and obtain positive case results.
If an accident injured you and you are on the fence about whether you need an attorney, contact a personal injury lawyer for a no-obligation case evaluation.