After you've been in an accident, it's not always clear whether or not you need a lawyer. The key is to figure out which cases you can settle on your own and which ones require an attorney. To help you decide, consider these five questions:
Does the At-Fault Party Admit that They Caused the Accident?
To explain why this matters, we'll look at an example. Let's say Bill is driving when he rear-ends Sue. Bill admits that he was tailgating and apologizes for causing the accident. They file a claim through Bill's insurance and the case is settled without a lawyer.
But what happens if Bill denies fault? What if Bill blames Sue, saying she swerved in front of his car and that's why he wrecked into her?
Now there's a dispute, which complicates things. When neither party wants to admit fault, it's up to Sue to prove that Bill caused the wreck. If Sue can't prove it, she'll recover nothing.
At this point, most people choose to hire an attorney. Proving negligence and providing evidence is tricky business, and there's often a lot at stake - medical bills, missed work days, pain, suffering, damage to the car, long-term disability and the like. People in Sue's position know that it's not worth risking "going it alone." If the other side won't cooperate, you need an attorney's help.
How Much Money Is The Accident Costing You?
Look at things like your medical bills (past and future), lost income and so fourth. How much money will this accident cost you? And how much money are you comfortable handling? Some people feel confidant handling claims that are $500, $2,000 or even $5,000 on their own. However, when doctor's bills, hospital fees and other costs continue to mount, lots of people turn to a personal injury attorney for help.
You have to decide at what level your case becomes too big to handle yourself, and how much money you're willing to risk losing should the claim not go in your favor.
How Seriously Were You Hurt?
This is a big one. If you were seriously hurt in an accident, especially if you're looking at months or even years of recovery, you should consult with a lawyer to represent your professionally.
As a general rule, the more seriously you're injured, the more money you'll need to cover medical costs. Of course, the more money you need, the more the insurance company will try to fight and deny your claim. Insurance companies do their best to minimize the amount of money they have to pay out in claims - it's the only way they'll remain profitable. And while there's nothing wrong with profits, it comes at your expense.
Sometimes, simply having a lawyer on your side will deter an insurance adjuster from offering you an unfair settlement or denying certain aspects of your claim. Even if the insurance company does try to pull some of their "tricks," a lawyer will understand how to handle them. Remember, insurance companies do this for a living, but so do lawyers. Having one on your side is your best bet if you've been seriously hurt and want a fair outcome.
Is the Insurance Company Treating You Fairly?
One of the most common reasons my clients choose to hire me is because the insurance company was treating them unfairly. Insurance adjusters are in the business of making money, and while there's nothing wrong with that, the more money they pay you the less their company gets to keep. This creates some skewed incentives.
A few of the most common complaints I hear regarding insurance companies include:
- The adjuster has refused to authorize a rental car, even though the accident is clearly their insured's fault.
- You received an extremely unfair offer on your car's repairs.
- The insurance company won't accept full responsibility for the accident.
- The adjuster is arguing that because you delayed medical treatment, you "aren't that hurt."
- The insurance company won't advance you money for your medical bills or missed wages.
- No one will return your calls.
- The adjuster is arguing that your injuries were pre-existing.
If you're struggling to get the insurance company to cooperate, it could be time to consult an attorney.
How Much Time Do You Have to Spare?
Settling a claim takes time - lots and lots of it. There's paperwork to be completed and decisions to be made, not to mention the time you'll spend learning about the claims process and preparing your case.
You can probably learn all you'll need to know about settling a routine claim in a few hours. After that, settling your own claim is doable and typically profitable, assuming you're successful. Lawyers typically charge a legal fee equal to one-third of your recovery, so if you settle your own case for $1,000, you can keep that $300 fee. Of course, the bigger the case, however, the more time and energy you'll need to commit, and the greater chance that the other side will try to fight you. If your case is too serious, turn it over to a lawyer. One-third is a small price to pay when the alternative is nothing!
At my firm, something my clients appreciate the most is the time, energy and stress we were able to take off their shoulders. Though clients hire me to win them compensation for accidents that weren't their fault, what they appreciate more is the peace of mind I give them. Having an attorney allows my clients to focus on what really matters - recovering.