When you have injuries due to the carelessness of another party, whether it is an individual, business, or a corporation, you want to take care of your health first and foremost. Eventually, you will need to ask yourself if you need to hire an attorney or if can you handle the case yourself. It is a tough decision, but there are many instances where you can represent yourself successfully, which allows you to keep all of the compensation instead of paying a large chunk of it to an attorney. In most injury cases, the type of injury you have will dictate whether or not you need an attorney.
When to Represent Yourself
Soft Tissue Injuries
The most common type of injury that doesn’t require attorney representation is a soft-tissue injury. Soft-tissue injuries include injuries to your muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Minor sprains, minor burns, abrasions and contusions, whiplash, headaches, and blurred vision fall under the soft-tissue injury category, as do herniated disks that do not require surgery. Soft-tissue injuries are commonly the result of minor automobile accidents, animal bites, bicycle accidents, or slips and falls.
In cases where it is evident that a person, corporation or business is at fault for causing your minor injuries, all you need to do is provide your documentation, and an insurance adjuster will complete an investigation. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of calculating a settlement amount so you can negotiate a fair compensation amount.
Insurance Company Accepts Liability
Occasionally insurance companies will accept 100 percent liability and offer you a settlement – this is probably the only time it would be advisable to represent yourself for a hard injury case, and it does not happen very often. If you are not agreeable with the settlement offer, don’t sign the release until you consult with an attorney.
You Have the Time
During your injury case, you may still be experiencing pain, attending doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions, and working. If you choose to represent yourself, you need to be certain you feel well enough and that you have the time to pursue your claim. You will be required to provide copies of medical records, police reports, witness statements, and communicate with the insurance adjuster – these tasks are time-consuming and can zap your energy quickly.
An Attorney Will Not Take Your Case
If an attorney does not take your case, you may be forced to represent yourself. There are two primary reasons an attorney will turn you away – liability is not clear, or the settlement amount is too small to cover your losses in addition to his or her fees. After deducting miscellaneous expenses, you pay approximately 33 percent of the final settlement amount to your attorney for their fees. Additionally, attorneys are legally bound to pay any liens before they pay you – this can include doctors, hospitals, clinics, workmen’s compensation insurance, your auto insurance carrier, and more. If your attorney determines that the case will not be profitable for them and you, he or she probably won’t accept the case, and if that happens, you will not have a choice other than to represent yourself.
When to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
The term “hard injury” is used to describe serious injuries ranging from broken bones to traumatic brain injuries. A hard injury also includes permanent scarring, organ damage, lacerations, burns, or injuries that require surgery or extended hospital stays. Due to the complexity of hard injury cases, it is recommended to hire an attorney.
Litigation, Costs, Experts
Hard injuries can include medical malpractice, a defective product, or poisoning. Many of these types of cases can result in court trials that require technical experience from specialists, testimony by an expert, and expertise navigating through the complicated legal procedures. Often the upfront costs are exorbitant and out of reach for the average person to try to come up with alone.
Escalated to Higher Court
When friendly settlement terms are not reached, it can go to a higher court than small claims. It is not impossible to represent yourself in these cases, but it is tough with strict procedural rules, and the judges do not grant much patience to litigants who do not have an attorney. Also, to keep their reputation intact, insurance company attorneys will be ferocious to avoid losing a case to a pro se litigant – they will drown you with multiple legal proceedings, motions, and objections during trial, and they can still appeal to a higher court if they lost their case.
Class Action Opt-in
Class action lawsuits are common with defective products and can last for years. If you are eligible and opt-in to a class action lawsuit, once accepted, you will have representation from the law firm representing the other class members. After the case settles, you receive a check for your portion of the settlement – the amount you receive depends on the number of class members and the overall settlement amount.
Claims Against Government
If you file a claim against any government agency you will be required to follow the strict guidelines of the Tort Claims Act. Instead of trying to make sense of this process yourself, it would be best to hire an attorney with experience in government litigation.
Insurance Company Acts in Bad Faith
If you have a bad faith claim against an insurance company, you will need to hire an attorney who can effectively present a case that will prove wrongdoing by the insurance company.
Choose Your Attorney Wisely
Do your research to find a personal injury attorney who specializes in your type of case – most attorneys specialize in a particular area, such as wrongful death, malpractice, etc. You will not have much if any upfront costs to an injury attorney who works on contingency – they take their fee out of the final settlement. Provide your attorney with all the evidence you have already collected, and you might be able to negotiate lower attorney fees. Most attorneys will not charge for the initial consultation. You should take advantage of this by meeting with several until you find the one you believe will represent your best interests.