If you ask any lawyer whether you really need a lawyer to handle your accident, you will hear consistently that you do!
Do you really? It is highly likely, but it actually may depend on the individual facts of the case.
There is only one reason not to retain a lawyer: you do not want to pay the lawyer’s fees. It is a good reason! The standard retainer agreement for personal injury cases in California is 33 1/3% of the total recovery and sometimes more, it can be a significant amount of money. If your case goes past a certain point in litigation the attorneys’ fee usually goes up to 40%. Again this is the standard agreement for contingency services and there are many reasons for this fee.
Attorneys are taking risks and spending their own money, which can sometimes be in the tens to hundreds of thousands to prosecute your case. And, in spite of what many lawyers will tell you, there certainly are personal injury cases where the client would have been better served by not having a lawyer in the first place.
First, before we talk about why you might not need a lawyer, let’s discuss why, in most cases, you are better served by having a lawyer, even if your ultimate goal is to settle the case. There are a number of reasons for this. First, an experienced personal injury lawyer can evaluate the offer for you so that you can know whether you are getting fair compensation. The insurance companies’ goal is not to mete out justice but to pay you as little as possible. Without knowledge of what the fair value of the case is, you are in the dark as to what the settlement and trial value is of cases similar to yours. Is $400,000 a fair value for your case? It sure is a lot of money. But is it what your case is worth? Unless you have seen hundreds of these cases and have had the opportunity to take similar cases to a jury, you really have no idea if you are hitting a home run or if the insurance company is taking advantage of you. Insurance companies are more likely to settle your case for a bargain when you represent yourself because they know you do not know the value of the case.
Second, when you are not represented by an attorney, the insurance companies also know that you do not have a hammer in the event that your case does not settle. They understand that you do not know many important rules, ones as simple as what a statute of limitations is on a particular case. The leverage a personal injury lawyer has, particularly a lawyer who has a proven track record with the insurance companies, is that a lawsuit will be the response to an unreasonable offer. Insurance companies know who the serious lawyers are who are willing to try cases; they also know which lawyers settle almost all of their cases. Your settlement offer typically reflects this.
Third, more work often needs to be done to be able to put your personal injury case in the position to receive a reasonable offer. Many cases require additional work to prepare a demand package beyond the collection of the medical bills. You might need, just to name a few examples, an additional report from a doctor with respect to the scope of your injuries or future required medical care, an economist’s report to calculate your real damages, or a vocational rehabilitation expert to assist in determining your economic loss. A personal injury lawyer can provide the expertise to figure out what you need and how to go about getting it.
The fourth reason to hire a personal injury lawyer is that a lawyer that is a skilled advocate and negotiator can often make a meaningful impact on your case. You need someone to explain why your case deserves more money than the insurance company thinks it is worth. The insurance companies are going to construe every fact where reasonable minds could differ against you unless you have someone to argue your case on your behalf.
You might think you can advocate your own case to the insurance company. Who is more qualified than you to discuss your own injuries? In some ways, you will be able to advocate your own case better than anyone because you actually experienced the pain and suffering that you are discussing with the claims adjuster. The biggest problem with doing this is that you often say things that end up hurting your case when you handle your own claim. Rusty Garvin wrote a blog on this subject (which can be read by clicking on the following link fresnoinjuryblog.com) and described the process as walking through a minefield without a guide.
This leads to the final major problem with handling your own case: that you will screw it up. So many people handling their own personal injury cases miss a filing deadline, fail to understand all of their rights, say something to the insurance company that they should not have said, have no idea about the rules of evidence and all of these components you lack knowledge in relation to become the downfall of your case.
Okay, so it is clearly the safer play to hire a lawyer for any case. And this is not by any means an exhaustive list of why hiring a lawyer is - generally speaking - the smartest thing to do. But if you loathe the idea of paying attorneys’ fees and don’t mind taking a risk of doing something to destroy or harm your case, there are some cases where there is less risk than others.
In my opinion, the only type of case an accident victim should try and handle on their own is a case where the only damage is related to your property and even in these cases, you will get lowballed. However, there are extensive resources out there to supply you with a valuation of your vehicle and a body shop can assess your damage. A couple other scenarios that you may be able to handle on your own is one where your medical bills do not exceed $1,000 and you have fully recovered. These are often cases that you can handle in small claims court if you believe the adjuster has undervalued your case.
The value a lawyer can add to your case increases exponentially with the degree of injury. The reason for this is that smaller cases are less likely to be the highs and lows you get with jury awards. If you ask 15 attorneys what the value of a crushed ankle or a fractured leg for a 23-year-old construction worker, you are going to get 15 different answers. This is where retention of a quality law firm and attorney matter to you.
We would rather that you hire a lawyer to handle your personal injury case. But some people are going to ignore that advice. If you are one of these people, you can get our thoughts on what you should do to maximize the value of your case throughout the website. If instead you want to talk to a an experienced lawyer, call Tryk Law – Accident Injury Attorneys in Fresno at (559) 840-3240 or get a free case evaluation online by clicking here.