A personal injury claim is part of civil law. The intention of a personal injury claim is to provide accident victims with compensation to correct the wrongs done to them. A plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit is the injured person.
The defendant in one of these claims is the negligent person, with their negligent behavior leading to a loss to the victim or an injury.
If there's an accident, such as a motorcycle accident, leading to the victim's death, the plaintiff will represent the estate of the person who died.
There are a number of legal elements considered in a personal injury case.
One of the big ones is liability.
Personal injury attorneys specialize in these types of claims. A personal injury attorney doesn't usually charge a retainer or hourly fee like other types of attorneys.
Instead, a personal injury attorney will make money on a contingency fee basis. They will usually earn around 1/3 of the settlement or jury-awarded payout in a case. If you don't recover anything, then your attorney doesn't get paid either.
Of course, 1/3 is a substantial amount of money, which often leaves people wondering if they should try to handle their personal injury claims independently.
The following are things to know about doing so.
Are There Times When Self-Representation is the Right Option?
There are a few scenarios where representing yourself might be the best option.
If you've represented yourself in a legal situation in the past, you may feel comfortable doing so again.
First, consider how badly you were hurt.
If you were in a slip and fall accident in a store when you were grocery shopping, and you got a few bruises or maybe a sprained ankle, then the store might not fight much and give you a quick, although probably small settlement.
The settlement might cover your medical expenses and maybe have a little extra for the trouble you went through.
This probably isn't worth hiring an attorney.
In cases of car and motorcycle accidents and any other type of serious accident, you should more than likely hire an attorney.
When Is Self-Representation a Bad Idea?
Beyond limited circumstances, self-representation tends to be a bad idea, but in particular, the following situations mean you should probably hire an attorney:
The insurance company has denied your claim. If an insurance company denies your claim and you were injured, then you need an attorney to negotiate on your behalf. You have to think about the idea that there shouldn't put much trust in them if they've denied you wrongfully from the start. How will you then move forward and trust them in future negotiations?
Do you feel pressured to settle by the insurance company? When an insurance company pressures you, if you sign a release of your claim, then there's nothing you can do about it going forward. It's done. If you proactively work with an attorney, they're not going to let you agree to or sign anything too early.
If an insurance company comes to you and says they're giving you their best offer, unless you have the experience, you're not going to know whether or not that's true. You're also not likely to have any idea what your claim is worth.
If an insurance adjuster tells you you're partially at-fault in an accident, you should work with an attorney. There may not be any facts that support this, but if you aren't knowledgeable about the fault laws of your state and how the claims process works, then you might not know the best steps to take.
What Is the Process Like?
You might be researching the process of a personal injury claim to try to do it on your own. At the same time, you may, after seeing the steps involved, realize it's best to hire someone to help you.
The initial steps are things you can do on your own.
After an accident, if at all possible, without neglecting the need for medical attention, take pictures of the scene of the accident, injuries, and any property damage.
Get medical treatment, even if you don't feel like you're hurt immediately after the accident. At least have your doctor check you out.
Get a copy of the police report, and use your personal injury protection coverage to pay your bills initially. Then you can use your health care insurance.
Keep all of your bills and records, and never give a statement to the other driver's insurance company.
Check on the statute of limitations in your state. The statute of limitations is how long you have to file a claim, and it's usually a year to two years, but it varies by the state.
At that point, you'll then have to write a demand letter if you're representing yourself. If not, your attorney will do it for you.
A demand letter is the first step you have to take to move toward receiving compensation.
You wait until the investigation is finished and you know your losses before sending a demand letter.
A demand letter conveys the extent of your injuries and details the treatment you required.
It's from here that things get more complex, and there are deadlines and negotiations that start to take place.
If you aren't working with an attorney, you are at risk for having an unsuccessful claim or settling or lower compensation than you should. You might also make the process harder for yourself.
One of the standout points to keep in mind with a personal injury claim is that it's already an emotional situation for you if you've been hurt. To take some of that emotionality out of it and give yourself a better chance at success, it's pretty important to think about hiring a professional to represent you.
No, you don't have to, but you may end up regretting your decision quite a bit if you don't.
Most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations, so at least take advantage of that option before doing anything else.