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Just to cut to the chase: No, you cannot. While many accident victims wonder whether or not to hire an attorney for their personal injury claim, and you have the right to handle your claim yourself, as a practical matter, you probably don’t have the education or experience to secure the compensation you deserve. Even lawyers hire other lawyers to tackle their claims. So, if you’re not an attorney, think carefully before you commit to the decision to serve as your own legal counsel.
Insurance companies settle with injured claimants every day. Major insurers have their own claim departments and legal teams. Some contract with independent investigators. They may seem happy to work with you from day one. But you must be cautious. When an insurer doesn’t have to deal with a legal professional, they may deny liability or try to settle your claim for the least amount possible. That’s how they make money.
Insurance companies have many resources you will likely lack if you bring a claim on your own. In the early days following your accident, the liability insurer often completes their investigation of the incident. The insurer assesses the liability issues, evaluates your injuries, and establishes their projected settlement amount (their reserve). While you won’t have the same resources as an insurance company, you must treat your claim handling process just as seriously as they do.
This can be a tall order, especially if you are recovering from serious injuries. The best idea is to seek out guidance from a personal injury attorney, and possibly to have them represent you in your claim. This piece covers the critical aspects of a personal injury case you need to keep in mind, whether you bring a claim on your own or have an attorney represent you.
A lot happens between the date of your injury and the date you initiate settlement negotiations with an insurance company. While you’re at home recovering, insurance company investigators are out digging up as much information about the case as they can. They want to know, not just about your accident, but about you.
If your accident occurred months ago, you’ve probably already dealt with the liability insurance company. If your accident occurred more recently, you must decide how you will handle their representative and anyone else who wants information from you.
You get to choose how you respond to these situations.
Many people handle their own injury claims. And many don’t realize until it is too late that claim handling begins immediately after an accident occurs. Even if you later choose to consult with an attorney, you must take immediate steps to preserve the evidence in your case and protect your legal rights.
Whether it’s due to anger, pain, or embarrassment, injured people sometimes say things after an injury that they probably shouldn’t say. They apologize or sometimes suggest that a fall, crash, or other incident could have been their fault. Assume that someone will hear whatever you say after an accident. Even if you don’t believe you were admitting that you were ultimately at fault, someone may use your words to argue you were.
You might forget what you said, but others may not. A police officer may add your words of regret to a formal report. The defendant may have overheard your statements and they may end up in your insurance claim file. Whatever you say after an accident, it can come back to haunt you during the insurance investigation, settlement negotiations, depositions, mediations, or during a trial.
If you’re long past the point of controlling your post-accident conversation, remember to remain discrete from this point forward.
After an accident, speak only when necessary. It’s one of the best things you can do to protect your rights. If a police officer asks questions, answer only the questions asked. Provide known facts only. If a property owner requests a statement about your fall, ask for a form to complete at home and return later. Don’t volunteer information to anyone.
If you hire an attorney, you can leave the talking to them.
Whether you’re involved in a vehicle crash, a fall, or some other serious accident, seek medical attention immediately. You won’t always feel immediate pain from an injury. If you have a traumatic brain injury, organ damage, or some other injury without visible wounds, you might not feel it until hours or even days later. But, the longer you wait to get medical attention, the worse these injuries can become. An insurance company may try to use your delay in seeking medical treatment as a means of pinning blame on you for the severity of your injuries.
If you can, while you’re waiting for an ambulance or police officer to arrive at the scene of an accident, do what you can to document the scene. The closer you are to the accident, the better the evidence. If you have an auto accident, the scene often changes between the time you dial 911 and the officer’s arrival, perhaps because you or another driver moves their car to the side of the road.
Whether you follow a treatment plan can make or break your claim. Even if you don’t like going to the doctor, do it anyway, and keep your follow-up appointments. When the insurance company evaluates your claim, you lose credibility if your medical history shows you ignored your doctor’s orders to take a prescription or to attend follow-up therapies.
As your injuries begin to heal, you will likely forget details about the early days when the pain was unbearable. You won’t remember all the tasks you couldn’t do or how your injuries affected your family. That’s why it’s important to document your injuries from the very beginning. Keep a journal of each day’s pain, challenges, and progress. Write down anything you believe will help you explain your difficult recovery. You will use this information when you negotiate your claim.
If you haven’t heard from the insurance company in months, they might not intend to reach out to you about a settlement. While some insurers will ask you to send them your information when you’re ready to settle, others won’t. You shouldn’t wait for a signal from the insurance company before you prepare your case for your settlement negotiations.
Once you feel prepared, contact them or have your attorney reach out about scheduling a settlement conference.
You must keep track of your statute of limitations. The statute of limitations dictates how long you have to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file before your statute of limitations expires, you lose your right to collect compensation. An attorney can quickly find out what statute of limitations applies in your case, so that you can timely handle your claim.
Personal injuries occur when a sudden and unexpected event causes injuries. It sometimes feels like you were in the right place at the wrong time. Circumstances you encounter every day cause personal injuries.
When you’re injured on someone else’s property, the owner may have neglected to properly maintain the public areas and can be held liable for your injuries. An unresolved maintenance issue is often an accident waiting to happen. Each year, falls cause injuries ranging from minor bruises to severe brain trauma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that adults aged 65+ and children are particularly vulnerable to fall-related injuries or death.
Large trucks don’t cause accidents as frequently as private passenger vehicles. However, because they weigh over 10,000 pounds, a crash with a large truck often causes more severe property damage and injuries.
Medical professionals cause injuries due to negligent actions, mistakes, omissions, and failure to follow professional standards. The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) documents Adverse Action reports for each year, state-by-state. For California alone, NPDB reports 58,585 Adverse Action Reports against medical professionals in one year. These actions involved state licensure issues, drug enforcement, clinical privileges, and others. Doctors and other healthcare workers rarely disclose to patients when they’ve made a medical error.
Manufacturers regularly put defective products on the market. Even when a product causes injury or death, they rarely recall it until the Consumer Product Safety Commission forces the issue. Under many states’ product liability laws, product designers, manufacturers, and sellers bear strict liability for the injuries their defective products cause.
If you sustain an injury in your workplace, your employer will likely be responsible for paying a certain portion of your medical bills and lost wages through a workers’ compensation policy. In many states, workers’ compensation replaces the possibility of bringing a personal injury claim. However, you might still have grounds for a personal injury case, such as if someone intentionally caused your injury or a product defect did.
Even this general snapshot of personal injury cases shows that bringing a claim is complex. A personal injury attorney can use their experience to deal with everything regarding your claim, from investigation to settlement. They intervene on your behalf to deal with insurance companies and their legal representatives while you concentrate on healing. Personal injury attorneys typically offer free consultations. Contact an attorney before you decide whether to handle your claim on your own.
John Gomez founded the firm alone in 2005. Today, John acts as President and Lead Trial Attorney. He has been voted by his peers as a top ten San Diego litigator in three separate fields: Personal Injury, Insurance and Corporate Litigation. Since 2000, he has recovered over $800 million in settlements and verdicts for his clients with more than 160 separate recoveries of one million dollars or more. A prolific trial lawyer, John has tried to jury verdict more than 60 separate cases.
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