After you suffer an injury in a car accident, you should focus on your injuries and physical recovery. You may juggle medical appointments, procedures, and rehabilitation. However, you cannot take your eye off the legal process, even when you have other pressing things in your life.
One of your major concerns is whether you can get financial compensation for your car accident injuries and how much you can get. After all, you need this money to pay your medical bills.
The first major decision you need to make after your car accident is whether to hire an attorney. In reality, this should not be a difficult decision for you to make. In practice, you have far too much going on to deal with the insurance company and the legal process on your own. You will fare far worse without a lawyer.
Plaintiffs generally end up with more money, even after paying a lawyer’s fee, than they would if they represented themselves in their claim. In addition to receiving less money in a settlement, the plaintiff will also need to go through the stress of navigating the legal process, where they are in unfamiliar territory. This is difficult to do even when you are in the best of health and can be overwhelming if you are dealing with a serious injury from your car accident.
Getting Money After a Car Accident Is Not a Foregone Conclusion
People talk about car accident settlements after a crash as if they are a given, but nothing is a given in the legal process. People and companies have an interest in their bottom lines, and they can care less about your situation.
It does not matter to them if you cannot pay your mortgage or rent or put food on the table. If something gets in the way of their profits, they are dead set against it. This includes fair compensation for your car accident injuries. While most car accident claims will eventually settle, a denied claim will force you to file a lawsuit.
Legal Rights Do Not Mean that the System Works for You
Right away, you should understand that, while you have legal rights after a car accident, the legal system is not necessarily in your favor.
On your own, there are companies out there that are far more powerful than you. They have invested a lot of money developing their infrastructure to skew things to their advantage. We are talking primarily about the insurance company. We will detail how they work against you shortly, but first, we will say that they are far from your friend when you file a claim.
The insurance company is usually a vast corporation. They have a balance sheet that stretches into the billions of dollars. They did not build this balance sheet by paying out claims. Their infrastructure consists of adjusters, actuaries, and lawyers working for the same common purpose; to boost the company’s bottom line.
This is who you are up against when you file a car accident claim. We use the words “up against” because the claims process is often contentious. The insurance company views it as a zero-sum game. Money that goes into your pocket is money that comes out of theirs.
What You Need to Do to Get a Settlement Check
To understand why you need a lawyer in a car accident case, let’s talk about the legal process.
There are two parts of any car accident settlement process:
- Proving that you are legally entitled to a settlement
- Negotiating the right amount of money to fully pay you for your damages
Why Representing Yourself May Not Be Helpful
First, nothing says that you must have a lawyer representing you, but it is always wise. Some people think that they can get more money for themselves if they do not have to pay part of their settlement to an attorney.
- You may not be in a position to get a settlement at all without a lawyer.
- The insurance company will dramatically underpay your claim if you do not know how to deal with them.
An Attorney Can Help You Prove Fault
To the first point, you are only legally entitled to a car accident settlement when you can prove that someone else was responsible for your injuries. Just because you were in an accident with someone else does not mean that they are the ones to blame. Even if they were responsible, it is not so much about what a person did as it is about what you can prove that they did.
Many car accident cases end up coming down to your word against someone else’s. In those cases, you cannot recover financially from your injuries. If you are seeking money, the burden of proof is on you to show that the other driver was negligent in the crash. Negligence is a legal term of art for a four-part test that proves legal responsibility for the crash. If you do not meet every single element of the test, you cannot get money.
The main part of the negligence test is proving that the other driver acted unreasonably. Meeting this test requires that you prove exactly what the driver did to cause the accident. Every car accident claim requires evidence that shows exactly what the other driver did wrong. You must prove that they acted in a way that a reasonable driver would not have.
When you deal with car accident injuries and don’t know the legal system, this is a tall task. The average person does not know enough about the legal process to accomplish this under the best of circumstances. Your physical injuries will complicate this even further. Thus, working on your own, you may end up with a claim that the insurance company denied because you did not persuade the other driver’s insurance company that they have a legal obligation to pay you.
The one thing that you can count on is that an insurance company will not write a check when there is no obligation for it to do so. Hiring a lawyer can be the difference between a denied claim and a settlement offer.
The Settlement Offer Will Always Be Low
When it comes to the settlement offer, the insurance company often does you no favors when it puts one in front of you. Getting money from the insurance company is not always the best thing for you if what you receive is far less than you deserve. Every settlement comes with a price. You have signed away your legal right to get additional compensation as a condition for receiving the money. You do yourself a disservice if you sign away that right for pennies on the dollar.
If you do not have a lawyer, you are not in a great position to evaluate any settlement offer that comes your way. You may end up turning to Google and typing in questions like “What is a good settlement for a car accident claim.” This is no match for the experience and knowledge of an attorney who has a track record of helping injured clients just like you.
The average person may not even know what they can receive compensation for in a car accident. The general rule is that you must be put in the same position as if the accident never happened. You need payment for your actual economic losses and the experience you endured.
Valuing a Claim Is Difficult for Everyone But an Insurance Company and Experienced Attorney
Beyond that, you will find it challenging to put a dollar value on everything you have lost and experienced. For example, you may not know how pain and suffering damages work. They can form the largest part of your car accident compensation, especially when you suffer severe injuries. The insurance company knows exactly how to calculate these damages, but they will try to pay you far less than you deserve.
In general, the insurance company knows the exact value of your claim practically as soon as you file it. They have decades of experience and a comprehensive database that they know how to use. The insurance company loves it when injured claimants try to represent themselves. To them, they see it as an easy mark and a way to save money.
They do not like to see experienced and aggressive lawyers across the table from them because it means that they will need to pay more. Insurance companies will be on better behavior when they know that a lawyer will call them on it. When dealing with the claimant directly, they will take far more liberties.
Getting Reasonable Compensation Requires a Negotiation
When the insurance company makes you an initial settlement offer, they almost always have far more room to up that offer, any lawyer who has handled a personal injury claim knows this fact. If you are handling your own claim, you may jump at the first settlement offer you get because you may see it as a much-needed bounty. The insurance company will be overjoyed if you accept it because they have saved themselves quite a bit of money. It means they get to keep more of the premiums they collected.
If a lawyer represents you, the claims negotiation process will be an entirely different story. Your lawyer will review the initial settlement offer that comes to learn exactly how short of fair compensation it falls. You can bet that it will be substantially short of what you deserve. Your attorney will evaluate the settlement offer and explain to you exactly how much more you can get by saying no to the initial offer. Your lawyer will write them a demand letter, presenting your detailed demand to the insurance company. This will likely be a prompt for continued negotiations that will lead to a settlement,
Insurance Companies Do Not Want to Litigate Your Case
When you have an experienced lawyer on your side, you have more power in the process than you think. The insurance company most fears your case going to court.
Two things happen that can create problems for the insurance company:
- They will need to pay legal fees to an insurance defense firm to handle your case
- A jury will be the one to decide how much money you can get
When you have a credible threat of litigation, it may press the insurance company to be more reasonable in settlement negotiations. Each side will need to adjust its expectations before reaching a final agreement. What an attorney does is give you more power in the process. Without one, you may be in a position where you must take what the insurance company offers because you do not know their pressure points.
Most cases will not go to trial. In fact, only about four to five percent of personal injury cases will end up in front of a jury. Your battle will happen in the settlement negotiation process. Even when you get a check, you may lose the battle if you accept far too little. Hiring a lawyer reduces the chance that this will happen.
This was all a detailed way of saying that, while you may get a car accident settlement without a lawyer, your chances of getting one are lower, and the amount you receive will certainly be lower. Trying to handle your own case because you want to keep the entire settlement for yourself will end up being counterproductive. You may cost yourself a dollar – many of them, in fact – just to save a quarter.
Abels & Annes
100 N LaSalle St #1710
Chicago, IL 60602