A Legal Guide for Handling Your Own Personal Injury Case
Some people can and should handle their own personal injury motor vehicle collision case, keeping the lawyers out of it, reducing costs and making things happen quickly. A good example of when most lawyers would agree with me on this proposition would be on the property damage part of the personal injury claim. To get the lawyers involved to settle the value of your wrecked car usually slows down the process – they are in the middle between you and the adjuster, and things just do not move as quickly when you have to consider a third party’s schedule.
But will the adjuster treat you fairly on the property damage claim? Well, never forget that our civil justice system operates as an adversarial process; and educate yourself as to the value of your property damage claim. If you realize it is the adjuster’s job to settle the claim as inexpensively as he can, and you know what your claim is worth, there is no good reason that you cannot get close to the value of the property damage by dealing directly with the adjuster. If you cannot, then bring in the lawyers (but perhaps at a price).
Now is a good time to mention that Law Offices of Gary Green does not charge a fee for handling the property damage portion of a personal injury claim. If you do not like the stress of dealing with an adjuster and you are not in a rush that a third party attorney could slow down, you might want to just let us handle it for free.
Having said that, if you find the handling of the property damage claim stressful or distasteful, you certainly will not enjoy handling the personal injury part of your motor vehicle collision case!
For the more adventurous, I will offer some general pointers:
1. Put the offending party and the insurance companies on notice, in writing, that you will be handling your own claim. Keep a paper trail.
2. Go ahead and collect the documents that will not change. E.g., get the hospital bills and records if you have been released from the hospital; but do not get your doctor’s bills and records until the doctor has released you. (You do not want to pay for a bunch of records and then have to do it again after more treatment).
3. Realize that before the negotiation is complete you should have compiled every piece of paper, every item that possibly relates to your case – the police report, newspaper articles, medical bills and records. If in doubt about whether you need to get something, get it!
4. Once you are in a position to evaluate the case, send a demand to all possible insurance companies and defendants. This might be the week after the wreck if your bills are high and the available insurance/assets are low. Be careful here! If you are dealing with more than one insurance policy (whether liability, underinsured motorist coverage or uninsured motorist coverage) you should hire a lawyer. Settling with one company or one defendant can inure to the benefit of all defendants or insurance companies! Remember, it is an adversarial system!
5. Negotiating a claim can be like negotiating for other things of value. A first offer and a “final offer” usually are not the last offer you can coax.
6. Evaluating the claim is the hard part. “Comparable sales” reasoning can apply, but cases are unique – more so than real estate is unique. The value of claims can vary greatly based solely on the conduct of the defendant. (If a drunk driver caused the wreck you will receive more than if the same injuries had been caused by a sober driver). Beware of formulas! If someone is in a wreck and dies in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, do not tell me the value of their case is a multiple of the ambulance bill!
7. Realize when you sign a release, it is over. You cannot go back if the money you accepted turns out not to be enough to cover your future needs. If you are ever going to consult an attorney, do so before you sign a release!
When I pay my taxes, I hire a CPA to prepare my return. Could I do it myself? Of course, but doing it only once a year does not keep me sharp enough to know what all I might be missing. While my CPA is expensive, I am convinced he saves me more in taxes than what I pay for his services. Most of the time, particularly with the more serious cases, the same applies to hiring a lawyer. The lawyer’s fee can be a bargain when it comes to the added value the lawyer can bring to the case.
At least, consult a lawyer. You can consult with us for free. At Law Offices of Gary Green there is the no recovery, no fee promise. No recovery, no fee and no expenses. And when there is a recovery, we promise our fee will not be more than your recovery.