DO I NEED A LAWYER?
A: You are not legally required to use an attorney to settle an auto injury claim. And, after an auto injury, you have more bills and less income. The last thing you want is to pay for something you don’t need. If you can get the same result without an attorney, it would be foolish to employ one.
I will never forget an experience I once had with my son. He was about a year old. He had been crying all night. At about 2:30 a.m., it got worse. My wife and I took turns picking him up, patting him on the back, and reassuring him that he was all right. The truth is, we were beginning to wonder. All babies cry, but this was ridiculous.
His crying was intensifying and we had run out of ideas. He would not eat. We had already changed his diaper. It was too late to call anyone. We decided that we needed professional help. We got in the car, feeling guilty that we had not made this decision sooner.
On the way to the hospital, we were both really scared. We pulled up to the emergency room door. We had been trying to think of possible causes. Had he swallowed a piece of a toy? Was he having an allergic reaction? Had something bitten him? I ran inside with my insurance information and put my name on the list. Again, we held and patted our son.Suddenly and without warning, I heard a sound. It was a sound I never thought a one-year-old was capable of producing. It was loud, it was long, and it was welcome. Our fear melted away and we laughed so hard we cried.His gas pains gone, our baby fell fast asleep. Since we were there, we went in for confirmation that everything was okay, and it was. We all went home happy and relieved.
As it turned out, my wife and I could have handled that situation all by ourselves. We did not need professional help. But, the problem is that we did not know whether we needed it or not, and it was too important for us to take a chance. If we had waited, it may have been too late. The doctor may not have been able to undo the resulting damage.
Not every injured person needs an attorney. If your case is smalland uncomplicated, you may be able to represent yourself effectively. If you are careful, organized, and diligent, you might be able to settle your case on your own. If you do, you will have to be very careful with how you handle your health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and Med-pay. Insurance companies and providers can have liens on your case, and failure to properly address these liens can cost you a lot more money than a competent attorney would cost. For another example, imagine that you are having trouble with your car. If you have a headlight that has burned out, you might be able to change it yourself. If you are good with cars, you could probably change the headlight as easily as a mechanic could. At the same time, if you are less familiar with cars, you could cause more damage in the process of trying to change the damaged headlight. You might consider consulting with the mechanic before you get started, especially if the consultation is free. If you are having more serious problems, for example, with your brakes or a transmission, you may need professional assistance.
Like everything else, injury settlements have grown increasingly more complicated. We see a lot of people who are not able to recover a fair settlement because they tried to do it themselves but lacked the experience and training to proceed effectively. Sometimes the damage cannot be undone.
Here is a common example of how you can get into trouble by trying to do it yourself. Sally is rear-ended at a stoplight. The accident is clearly the other driver’s fault, and the collision report is accurate. Sally is in pain. She is tough and has worked through pain in the past. Sally does not like to go to the doctor, and she does not think she needs a lawyer. Sally goes home. She is sore, but thinks she’ll feel better in a few days. She takes ibuprofen and suffers through work for a while. It is a little better, then a little worse. Three months pass. She speaks with the insurance adjuster throughout this process, consistently describing her experiences and her efforts to obtain relief. One night the pain becomes unbearable. She goes to the emergency room. There, the doctors diagnose an injury that will cause her to have chronic pain and limited mobility for the rest of her life. The insurance company refuses to pay for the injury, citing causation, intervening cause, and failure to mitigate damages.
The insurance company is perfectly justified in maintaining this position. They should never pay full value for this case. They have a duty to their shareholders to pay valid claims, and valid claims are those that can be proven. This case gives the insur-ance company several opportunities for defense. First, as we said earlier, an injured person has a legal duty to mitigate (lessen) damages. In this case, that means obtaining medical treatment quickly. Quick medical treatment could have prevented the injury from becoming permanent.
Second, the delay in treatment will make it difficult to prove causation, a necessary component of any successful injury claim. In order to prove legal causation, the treating physician must be able to say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the accident caused Sally’s injury. The burden of proof is on the injured person to show that her injury resulted from the accident. How do we know that it wasn’t something that happened at work that caused it, or at least made it worse? This is a good example of how a good, hard-working person can ruin their injury claim by doing what we are all taught to do from the time we are children: just tough it out. An injury lawyer can help you address these issues responsibly as they arise.