In the American legal system, you’re allowed to settle personal injury claims without involving a lawyer. In cases involving small amounts of property damage or minor injuries, it’s often not worth it to get a lawyer involved. However, in cases involving major injuries or deaths, it’s a good idea to consult with a personal injury attorney before you make any legally binding agreements with a defendant.
People with large injury claims who settle without a lawyer are at risk of undervaluing their claims. They may not fully understand what they’re allowed to claim in economic and non-economic damages. They may also only ask for the value of money they’ve already spent for treatment without considering future expenses. An experienced personal injury attorney will have handled hundreds of injury, abuse, and wrongful death cases. They know exactly what to ask for and they can hire experts to make estimates about what you’ll need in the future.
The Risks of Settling Your Case Without a Lawyer
1. Settling while your medical condition is still in flux
Severe injuries can take months or even years to heal, and their long-term symptoms may not be obvious until the initial stages of healing are complete. In some injury cases, patients are first diagnosed with a mild soft tissue injury, and it’s only later that doctors realize a more serious issue was caused by the accident.
Insurance companies try to settle cases as quickly as possible. This means that they don’t want to give plaintiffs time to understand their future medical needs. Remember that once you’ve settled a case, you can’t go back and ask for more money.
A personal injury attorney can hire experts who can evaluate your future medical needs. Because they’ve handled many cases like yours in the past, they can also estimate how much future care you may need for certain injuries.
2. Settling for less than your case is worth
Because most victims of personal injuries haven’t had any previous experience with the legal system, they don’t know what they’re getting into when they file an insurance claim on their own. Once they’re faced with mountains of paperwork and repeat calls from insurance adjusters, they’ll accept the first offer they get just to make the hassle go away.
It’s understandable that injury victims don’t want to deal with a complicated legal case while they’re recovering physically and emotionally. Fortunately, personal injury attorneys can help victims understand what their cases are really worth and handle the hassle of communicating with an insurance company on their behalf.
3. Settling without understanding policy limits or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage
In most cases involving insurance companies, plaintiffs have to deal with policy limits. This means that even if their damages are very high, the insurance company only has to pay up to a certain amount.
Some people mistakenly believe that they should expect to recover less than that amount. It’s true that they may not be able to recover everything from a third-party insurance company. However, if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and the third-party insurance company pays out to its policy limits, you have the opportunity to “stack” your own coverage on top of theirs. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you navigate this process.
4. Settling without being aware of all potential sources for recovering damages
Investigating a personal injury or wrongful death case is a complicated, multi-month process. It’s not always as simple as getting the name and insurance information of the person who hit your car.
There are too many different reasons why there might be multiple defendants or multiple options for recovering damages in a case to list them all here. Just a few of those reasons are:
The defendant has significant assets. In most personal injury cases, an accident victim can only recover as much as the defendant’s policy limit allows, plus the compensation they may receive from other sources such as Personal Injury Protection coverage and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. Sometimes, however, the defendant has high-value assets that may help pay for an injured victim’s damages. As part of an investigation, a personal injury attorney will conduct research on a defendant to figure out whether they have significant assets.
More than two cars were involved in your crash. At the scene of the accident, you may only notice the person whose car hit yours. The actual at-fault driver might be several cars back in a pile-up. They might even have left the scene after cutting someone off or sideswiping them. A personal injury attorney can work with records of the crash, not just your impression of the scene at the time.
You were injured by a commercial vehicle. Cases involving commercial vehicles can be extremely complicated. In some cases involving large vehicles like semi-trucks, one company might employ the driver; another owns the vehicle; and a third owns the load it’s carrying. Commercial vehicles can also be owned by government agencies such as cities, states, or counties.
A government agency bears some liability for your accident. If a crash was caused by poor road design, incorrect road maintenance, or incorrect signage, among other problems, you may be able to file a claim against the agency that should have been responsible for keeping you safe. Different agencies also handle public transit and certain government-owned vehicles. It’s often difficult to tell just from looking at a stretch of road or a piece of construction equipment which government entity is responsible for maintaining it. A personal injury attorney can help you figure out whether it’s possible to file a claim against the government.