Can I handle my personal injury case myself?
It is not against the law to handle your own personal injury claim. But there are a lot of reasons why hiring an experienced attorney, especially one who is a personal injury attorney, is the best thing you could do to have a good chance to win your case or help you reach a substantial settlement. There could be thousands or even millions of dollars on the line for your case, and it’s genuinely worth it to have an attorney who knows how the law works and is working for you. In the end, it’s going to be your best bet to get the settlement or judgment you’re hoping for.
For instance, no car accident is ever cut and dried — there are always parts of what happened that the other side can use against you, or just make it seem like it is good for their case. If the other driver was insured, their insurance company is going to do absolutely everything they possibly can to prove their driver isn’t the one who caused the accident.
Once their insurance adjuster has looked at every little detail of the situation, they’ll decide whether they think they can prove you’re at fault. If they think you are, you’ll end up in court. If it seems to them like there’s a chance they won’t win the case in court, they’ll try to give you the littlest amount they can as a settlement offer. Their job is to save money for their company, not to give money to you.
In fact, insurance lawyers really love it when people handle their own cases. The big insurance company lawyers have years of experience in fighting personal injury cases. They know very well that, if you hire a lawyer, they could be paying out more than four times as much to you as if you represent yourself, so they’re really hoping you handle your own case and present your own evidence.
If you’re still trying to decide whether you should, here are just a few of the things you will need to have ready to show to the judge if you handle your own personal injury case.
If you don’t agree upfront to a settlement from the insurance company, you will need to do your own phone calls and in some cases, visit organizations that are reluctant to send electronic copies without receiving physical signatures for their release. Here are just a few of the items you may need to fill out, dig up, or get copies of in order to handle your personal injury case:
Authorization forms for medical records and medical bills from:
Emergency room physicians if they bill separately
If surgery was necessary:
Operating room charges
Any hospital charges if you were hospitalized
Prescriptions for injuries related to the accident
Any follow-up appointments (and bills) from specialists or physical therapists or chiropractors
Any follow-up appointments (and bills) from your own primary care doctor regarding the accident.
You will also need written and signed confirmation from your employer if you lost wages due to the accident. Don’t forget that you’re also going to need all the following. According to where you’re getting the copies from, there will be fees for many of them:
Any witness statements to the accident
A copy of the police report
Clear photographs of the damage to your vehicle
Copies of any bills you received to repair the car
Copies of any bills you received to repair property damage that happened in the accident to any items within the car.
This is not a complete list — every jurisdiction is different in what a court case will require. One piece of paper can make the difference between winning and losing your case. If you are still determined to represent yourself in your personal injury case, there are a lot of other things you will need to know between now and when you stand in front of a judge.
What is the statute of limitations in your state?
A “statute of limitations” is the amount of time you have to file your personal injury case through the legal system. Every state has its own statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits to be filed. These can range from one year in some states to as long as six years in others. The length of time you will have in any state may change according to what kind of personal injury is involved, and when exactly they start the clock. Each state has its own time when that statute clock starts ticking.
What that means to your case is that you want to file your case as soon as possible if you are representing yourself, or talk to a lawyer very quickly. You need to make sure you have plenty of time to put together your legal case, and make sure it’s airtight before you present it to a judge. An overwhelming amount of evidence supporting your claim may well convince an insurance company to go ahead and settle with you out of court.
What is “pain and suffering” in legal terms?
Every state is different in what, exactly, falls under the definition of “pain and suffering.” Awards for pain and suffering (called compensatory awards) are always open to interpretation. You might want to figure out things like how much that insurance company has been penalized in past cases that are like yours.
While cases that went all the way to a judge or jury are part of public records, past settlement agreement amounts are often harder to find out. Most of these agreements have wording that keeps the plaintiff from disclosing the amount that was offered or settled. This means that finding out the dollar amounts the insurance company has offered to settle cases in the past is nearly impossible to find. Because you are representing yourself, you’re going to have few options to find out.
Should I talk to a lawyer instead?
Sorting out a personal injury settlement or court case takes an enormous amount of time on your part — and may not be something you’re able to give if you’ve already gone back to work. If personal injury cases aren’t settled upfront, they can drag on for more than a year, and you will have to take time off work in order to make sure that everything gets done with your case.
The vast majority of personal injury lawyers don’t charge for your initial consultation with them — and most individual lawyers or firms work on contingency. That means, if they don’t win your settlement or case for you, they don’t get paid. Hiring a lawyer also means that instead of spending hours, days, weeks, or even months of your time chasing down everything necessary for a successful case or completed settlement, the attorneys you hire will make sure all those things happen for you.
If you were injured through no fault of your own, reach out to talk to a personal injury attorney. These highly educated, experienced men and women are able to give you the expert guidance you need to help you fight for the compensation you deserve.