If you are in a car accident, you are likely dealing with a lot. You have doctors overseeing your medical care, employers wondering when you might come back to work (if you can at all), family members checking in, and car repair shops slowly fixing your vehicle. The last thing you want is to involve someone else in your recovery process.
For this reason, many people wonder if they can make a personal injury claim themselves without the help of an attorney. This is never a wise choice, and you should always seek legal help right away after an injury. The good news is that the right personal injury lawyer will make the process easier – not more stressful.
Seeking Compensation for an Injury
First, the process of seeking compensation for your injuries is highly complicated. Many people think that you march right into court and file a lawsuit, but there is much more to do before you ever involve the courts.
The process begins with one or more insurance claims, which will vary depending on how your injury happened.
You might file:
- Auto insurance claim against another driver
- Corporate insurance claim against a business
- Homeowner’s insurance claim against a dog owner
- Uninsured motorist claim with your own company
You need to determine which parties to hold liable so you can file the proper claims. This is a complex evaluation, as liability is not always black and white. For example, if a truck driver crashes into you, the trucking company will also be vicariously liable for the actions of its driver. You might not realize that your claim should be against the trucking company, which can cause you to leave a lot of money on the table. Your lawyer can identify all liable parties to maximize your compensation.
If an insurance company does not offer enough to cover your losses (which is common), your lawyer can then pursue a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. The litigation process follows the Rules of Civil Procedure and has many complex steps. You never want to initiate a court case without an experienced personal injury litigator on your side.
How Insurance Companies Work
You might think insurance companies exist to provide benefits for people when they need them. While this is partially true, insurance companies primarily exist to make money. They are businesses first, and their business is collecting premiums and hoping they do not have to pay a lot of claims.
When you file an insurance claim, never expect the insurance company to simply pay what you request. Instead, an insurance adjuster will begin the process of investigating and assessing your claim.
- Try to speak with you on the phone about the accident (don’t do this) to get you to say something that refutes your claim.
- Investigate to try to prove the policyholder is not liable
- Comb through all your medical records to challenge the cause or severity of your injuries
Adjusters and investigators can even search your social media accounts to find information to question your injuries. If either liability or your injuries are in question, the settlement offer you receive will be quite low – or nothing at all.
Insurance companies are pros at limiting payouts. They train their teams to minimize or deny claims, and most claimants do not realize what insurers are doing.
People who file claims without a lawyer can end up with far less than they deserve for many reasons, including:
- A claimant says something to an adjuster that jeopardizes their claim. Even saying “I’m fine” can indicate to an adjuster that your injuries are not affecting your life as you claim.
- A claimant accepts the first settlement offer. An adjuster often makes a quick offer that is wholly inadequate, hoping the claimant will accept it. A claimant might think getting a check quickly is beneficial when they will hurt their financial future.
- A claimant fails to calculate their losses properly and leaves out future losses, intangible losses, and more. They think a settlement offer covers their losses because they fail to factor in significant damages they deserve.
If you accept a settlement offer that is too low, you cannot go back and request more. Accepting the offer means that you waive your right to further action regarding your injury. Do not make this mistake – never handle a personal injury claim yourself.
How a Lawyer Helps You
First off, a lawyer will take the stress of navigating the claim process off your shoulders. When you have an injury, the last thing you need is to figure out how to file a claim and seek compensation. It is more complicated than simply calling an insurance company and asking for money. You do not want to worry about this, so put your case in the hands of a skilled personal injury attorney.
An attorney can help in many ways, including the following.
You might have an idea that someone else was responsible for your injuries, but as we discussed above, liability can be more complicated than that. There might be multiple parties that share liability, some of which have larger corporate insurance policies. If your injuries are serious, this can increase the chances of fully covering your losses.
Your lawyer can examine what happened and identify everyone who should be at fault. Then, they can identify the insurance companies that should cover your losses. If you fail to file all the appropriate claims, you can miss significant funds.
People regularly undervalue their injury claims because they do not know all the losses eligible for compensation. Even if you realize that you can recover financially for future or intangible losses, you might not know how to calculate them. How do you know how much income you will lose if you cannot work? This calculation involves inflation and other complex financial factors.
Your lawyer can employ financial experts to determine your future lost earning ability. They also know medical experts who can estimate the costs of your future medical treatment. Lawyers also know the standards for calculating intangible damages, such as pain and suffering. This all ensures that you request enough money for your insurance claim.
You cannot say that someone was negligent or that you incurred losses and expect the insurance company to take your word. Instead, the insurer will require evidence to prove your claims of liability and damages. How do you get such evidence? Your personal injury lawyer knows how to do this.
Your attorney can review police reports, seek out video footage, interview witnesses, obtain records of law violations, and more to prove liability for your accident. They will have the resources to gather sufficient evidence and know what types of evidence the insurance company expects. Then, they will gather evidence to support the losses you claim. By presenting such evidence with your claim, it can often speed up the process and result in a favorable offer sooner.
Handling the Claim
An insurance adjuster will start processing your claim, and they will have requests. They will want to discuss the accident, go over evidence, seek additional information, and more. If you handle this on your own, you risk saying the wrong thing or failing to provide what they need, which can delay your claim or even result in a denial.
Once you have an attorney, they handle it all. If an adjuster reaches out to you, simply refer them to your attorney. You can rest assured that they will; not accidentally say something to jeopardize your claim. You will not have to worry about sending adjusters additional information. All of this goes through your personal injury attorney.
Advising You on Settlement Offers
When the insurance company makes an offer, it might seem good enough to you. After all, it is money you didn’t have before, and having a check in your hand is always a good feeling. This puts you at risk of accepting an offer that is too low.
Your lawyer will review a settlement offer and advise you how it compares with your damages. They can tell you whether they believe you can get more with additional negotiation. This takes the pressure off you to make the right decision, as you have guidance from a professional who handles such cases regularly.
Escalating Your Claim
Sometimes, no matter what your lawyer says or does, an insurance company will not offer enough to cover your losses. If this happens, your attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. This lawsuit is against the liable individual or company, though the insurance company will help defend it and will cover any settlement or award up to policy limits. Insurance company attorneys have experience defending injury lawsuits, so you want an advocate with injury litigation experience.
Just because your case escalates to a lawsuit does not mean it will go to court. Your lawyer will exchange evidence with the defense and continue negotiations for a favorable settlement. If settlement negotiations are successful, you will avoid the need for trial. Insurance companies often want to avoid going to trial, so they are more likely to make a favorable offer as litigation progresses.
Often, hiring a lawyer at the start of the insurance claim signals to the insurer that you mean business. You send a message that you are ready to file a lawsuit if needed, and the insurance company knows it cannot push your claim around. This is all before your lawyer begins handling the process.
Risks of Handling a Claim Yourself
Even knowing all of the above, some people still have the temptation to file their own injury claim. This is often because they think they can save money if they don’t have to pay an attorney. They can’t. The risks of doing so are serious and costly.
If you unknowingly accepted a lowball settlement offer, you will need to cover any losses the settlement didn’t. This can include medical bills over the settlement amount, future medical costs, and more. This can lead to thousands – if not more – in unnecessary payments over your life. Often, a settlement without a lawyer will not cover intangible losses, such as pain and suffering. If it does, the compensation will be minimal.
Do not risk losing significant sums of money. You shouldn’t have to pay for losses that someone else caused. Instead, reach out to an injury lawyer who can help right away.
When Should You Call a Personal Injury Lawyer?
If calling a lawyer seems daunting (even though it shouldn’t), you might put it off. You might assume you have plenty of time to pursue your claim, and you’d rather wait and let things settle down with your injuries before beginning the legal process. However, waiting to call a lawyer can hurt your claim.
First, each state has deadlines for filing injury lawsuits called statutes of limitations. These range from one year in states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana, to six years in Maine. Most states have statutes of limitations of two years, such as Illinois and Arizona.
Two years might seem like plenty of time, but consider that your lawyer will complete the insurance process before ever filing a lawsuit. Insurance claims take time, and you want to be sure you cannot settle directly with the insurance company before heading to court.
In addition, critical evidence can deteriorate or disappear the longer you wait. If you contact a lawyer right away, they can begin gathering the evidence to support your claim while it is fresh and available. You don’t want a witness to move away or a business to record over key video surveillance footage that you need to prove liability for your claim.
In conclusion, always hire an attorney for your personal injury claim, and do this sooner rather than later. You will not regret seeking legal assistance with your injury case.
Abels & Annes
100 N LaSalle St #1710
Chicago, IL 60602