Sometimes it’s a challenge to decide whether or if you should hire a personal injury lawyer. A car accident that’s a minor fender-bender and involves no medical issues probably doesn’t need a lawyer. However, if you do sustain an injury from a fall, car crash, bike or motorcycle accident, dog bite, or other incident—and visit the ER, hospital, or your doctor, it’s often within your best interest to hire an attorney.
Ask yourself these questions to help assess whether to retain the services of a lawyer:
What’s the severity of my injury?
If it’s minor and you can complete the legal and insurance claims on your own, you can probably settle the claim without hiring an expert. However, if your injury resulted in hospitalization, physical therapy, extended care, additional doctor’s visits, cosmetic surgery, chiropractic care, or rehabilitation, make the time to consult with an injury lawyer who will evaluate your case. Good legal representation will increase the value of a claim that includes substantial past and projected future medical expenses.
Was my injury caused by someone else?
If you were injured as the result of someone else’s negligence or actions, consult with a personal injury lawyer. Lawyers know what evidence to collect and preserve, and they know what questions to ask in order to prove fault.
Was my injury caused by multiple people—or is the liability unclear?
If you’re involved in a multi-car collision, for example, determining liability becomes tricky. Several people may have sustained injuries, and so the insurance coverage may not be enough to fully compensate everyone that was injured. A personal injury lawyer is an invaluable resource in this type of situation.
Have I been contacted by an insurance company representative?
The function of adjusters and claims representatives is to reduce the financial losses of the insurance companies for which they work. The most effective way to do so is to minimize injury claims payouts. If you’re contacted by an insurance company representative, don’t give them any information, especially if they’re requesting medical records, releases, or recorded statements. Instead, tell them that you’re working with an attorney, if you’ve hired one. An attorney can review a release before giving the ok to sign it, especially since those releases often give insurance companies cart blanche to access your entire medical history—and if they find something they can blame as a prior condition that has caused your current injury (instead of the incident itself), the value of your claim can shrink dramatically. If you haven’t spoken with an attorney yet, it is better not to speak with anyone from the other driver’s insurance company.
Insurance companies tend to have claims adjusters and representatives contact you when they think your claim is valid. They want to gather all the information they can to achieve their goal of minimizing the payout—don’t make it easy for them.
Has the insurance company refused to pay my claim or is offering a very low amount?
Personal injury attorneys know all about the tricks that insurance companies use to avoid paying claims from injured parties—unreasonable delays in the process, refusal to pay, and lowball offers are common.
Am I comfortable with the settlement process?
You’ll want a savvy negotiator and have familiarity with the laws associated with your claim—as well as solid knowledge of statutory laws and case law, especially if your injury case is complex. An auto accident might require reconstruction of the scene. An injury resulting from a defective product or medical negligence may need expert testimony. If you’re not comfortable with the details and minutiae that could potentially be associated with your claim, or you’re not sure if you can accurately calculate your economic and noneconomic losses (like pain and suffering) that a claim takes into account, hiring an attorney makes a lot of sense.
Has the insurance company disputed the liability of the insured party (the other person)?
Insurance companies sometimes dispute the liability of their insured—even when the accident is clearly the other party’s fault. It’s a tactic used to convince people that their claims are invalid or worth less than they are. A lawyer, however, can gather the evidence that’s needed to conclusively prove the liability so that you can move forward with the settlement or trial.
How to hire a personal injury lawyer
If you’ve determined that it’s in your best interest to hire a lawyer, you should research attorneys and hire someone who you are comfortable with and who you feel is competent. Generally, a lawyer or law firm will offer a free consultation.
They’ll have a series of questions to ask, and your answers tend to determine whether they feel it’s financially feasible to take your case. Make sure that you’re armed with organized records and details of the incident, medical records, and anything else you think is important for your claim.
The consultation’s a two-way street, and you should ask the following questions as you identify the lawyer with whom you’re planning to work:
- What’s your experience working with my type of case?
- What do you think my odds are in winning my case?
- Who will do the bulk of the work on my case?
- What is the fee you charge?
- Do you work under a contingent fee agreement?
- Who pays the costs associated with my case?
- If you think it’s possible that my case might go to trial, what is your courtroom experience?
The benefits of hiring a personal injury lawyer
One would certainly hope that the injury you’ve sustained is a one-time occurrence. As such, though, you’re likely to not have much experience with the claims process, which is the best argument for why hiring a lawyer who specializes in personal injury makes sense.
Let’s face it – these lawyers have experience with similar claims, and that knowledge of the laws, insurance company tactics, and previous case histories can help you. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingent fee basis, which means if you don’t win the case, it won’t cost you money. If you do win, the fees are taken from the settlement—so you’re not faced with any up-front payment or expense.
The amount of time needed to request (and decipher) medical records is not insubstantial. The same goes for reviewing police reports, communicating with insurance adjusters, and talking to anyone else involved with the incident. Attorneys have many more resources at their disposal.