After you or a loved one has experienced an accident or an injury, it’s easy to think that you can just make an insurance claim and avoid the expense and bother of a lawyer. This period immediately after an accident or injury is a time when you are simply not at your best—physically, emotionally, or mentally. In other words, having a lawyer can make a material difference in the outcome of your case. Our personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Ivan M. Diamond consider some of the reasons that may be true below.
Understanding Your Injuries
Your injuries may seem simple, but that can change fairly quickly. An attorney will have worked cases like yours in the past and may know the course your injuries may take. If you appear slightly injured now, but your injuries end up with more significant consequences and long-term pain and suffering, your attorney will likely recognize that potential and keep it in mind while handling your case.
Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially fatal complications, as the word “mild” only refers to the initial presentation of symptoms.
For example, you may think you just bumped your head and have a headache. However, that might be the initial symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, leaving you with devastating, life-altering consequences and an equally catastrophic effect on your financial well-being.
Even a brain injury deemed mild can cause severe, long-term complications. You should remain on the lookout for any symptoms of such complications or symptoms that should heal quickly and haven’t.
Calculating Your Damages
Again, an experienced attorney will understand all of the potential damages that can result from an injury or accident like yours. In a personal injury case, for example, damages can include:
Economic Damages—objective and tangible losses and expenses that an invoice, bill, or paystub can demonstrate include:
- Past and future medical and hospital expenses
- Assistive equipment
- Loss of current and future wages
- Property damage
- Loss of use of property
- Cost of services needed to care for you after your injury
- Loss of employment or business opportunities
Noneconomic Damages—subjective damages which are more difficult to calculate and you generally cannot demonstrate them with the kinds of evidence that support economic damages.
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional disturbances
- Loss of society and companionship
- Loss of consortium (spousal relationship)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Disfigurement and scarring
Punitive Damages—though rarely available, punitive damages punish the person who injured you rather than compensate you for your damages. They are generally only available when the defendant was willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious. An example might be an intentional assault or a driver with three previous DUI convictions who drives drunk yet again.
Represented Plaintiffs Often Get Larger Settlements
A past study found that people with lawyers receive a settlement that is on average 3.5 times larger than those without representation. So, while you can get a larger settlement through using an attorney, that probably should not be the sole basis for deciding to retain counsel. On the other hand, some research also indicates that your net settlement might be less.
The process of negotiating a settlement is subtle and complex, and a lawyer with the right experience can handle that process more effectively than you can. Certainly, given your emotional and physical state after a major accident, an attorney can better face off with insurance company adjusters and lawyers dispassionately and with a strong emphasis on your rights in the case. You can then devote your energies to recovering your emotional and physical health through the continuation of your medical treatment.
The “Other Side” Is the Insurance Company
When you are attempting to negotiate a settlement of your case, remember that the “other side” is probably not the driver who hit you or the property owner where you fell and injured yourself. Rather, you will be negotiating with skilled and experienced insurance company lawyers. A huge part of their job is just that—negotiating the lowest possible settlement in the shortest amount of time for every case against one of their policyholders.
Using an attorney lets you focus on your emotional and physical recovery from your accident. An attorney experienced in personal injury and accident cases will level the playing field in negotiating your settlement. They are familiar with the tactics and strategies used by the insurance company lawyers to lowball your settlement. In addition, attorneys have the facilities and staff to handle all the paperwork, emails, phone calls, and other demands of the negotiation process.
Identifying All the Potential Defendants
Sometimes a case is not just one plaintiff and one defendant. A knowledgeable accident or personal injury attorney will understand the need to carefully analyze the facts and circumstances of your accident to make sure that they identify all the potential defendants. This information can be particularly important, for example, if your injury occurred at work and Workers’ Compensation rules limit your recovery against your employer. You can sue third-party defendants who are not your employer in such cases.
Let an experienced accident attorney help you to be sure that everyone who might have been responsible for your accident is involved in your case. A slip-and-fall accident, for example, may involve not just the property owner (who may or may not be your employer) but also the person who operates the business you were visiting, the maintenance company responsible for the stairs and lighting or industrial equipment, and even the groundskeeping company responsible for cleaning up snow and ice on the sidewalk where you fell. Finding all of the potential defendants in your case can make a tremendous difference in your ability to recover all of the compensation to which you may be entitled.
Avoiding Mistakes that Ruin Your Case
Knowing how the law applies to your case is key to a successful settlement negotiation. Remember, even when you’re negotiating a settlement and not yet in court, your position of power versus the insurance company’s power matters—a lot. If your case has any open questions or dubious issues, an attorney will be in a better position to argue your side than you will.
Most of us have seen “lawyer” movies or TV shows in which we heard some variation of, “Anything you say can be used against you.” Unlike much of what happens in lawyer dramas, that is true.
When you’re talking with insurance company lawyers, they are watching and listening for you to make a mistake, say something, or admit something, that they can use in negotiations or at trial against your claim for damages.
You may think you’re all just talking, but the insurance company lawyers are working very hard to limit what their bosses will have to pay you. If getting you to say you’re sorry will achieve that goal, they will certainly try to lead you there.
An attorney will, first, be aware of this tactic and, second, will not have the personal sensitivity in the conversation as you are. Using an attorney can protect you against your emotional investment and lack of experience in hardball negotiations.
Making Sure You Don’t Miss Deadlines
Timing can be everything in the law. For example, New York has a three-year statute of limitations for most negligence and personal injury cases. Although there can be limited exceptions, as a general rule, if you miss the deadline set in the statute of limitations, the court will likely dismiss any case you file. At this point, the facts and circumstances of your case no longer matter, as you can no longer recover compensation.
Timing isn’t only important for filing your case. If your case goes to court, then every task in the case will be subject to specific and often short deadlines. Once the complaint is filed—either by you or against you—everything else in the case will be subject to a mandatory deadline. Certain deadlines, if missed, can lead to a dismissal of your case or, even worse, a default judgment against you.
An experienced and knowledgeable injury attorney will be intimately familiar with all the applicable deadlines in your case. Using one can keep your case alive in the system.
Negotiating With Insurance Companies
Insurance companies make money when they take in more premium dollars than they pay out in insurance benefits. In other words, insurance company lawyers aim to get you to accept the lowest possible settlement. In the days and weeks right after your accident, when you are still vulnerable and emotionally distraught, they will often offer you a lowball settlement in hopes that you will settle fast rather than wait for a better offer.
Your experienced personal injury attorney will have years of background working with insurance company lawyers. Your attorney will understand the motives and tactics that the insurance company uses to get you to accept a lower offer, and the insurance adjusters will know better than to use their usual tactics and tricks.
Offering Legal Analysis and Advice
Lawyers spend a certain number of years in law school and have to pass a bar and fitness exam to become lawyers. But, far beyond that, they spend years of practice, usually focusing on a particular type of case to become skilled and knowledgeable in that area of law. They also, of course, develop years of experience—in negotiating and in litigating—in that same area of law.
Retaining an attorney for your accident or injury case allows you to take advantage of all that knowledge and experience. You don’t have to think about things like trespassers versus invitees or comparative negligence or res ipsa loquitur because your attorney understands all of those things and will think about them for you.
Your attorney will intimately know the law of your case, the circumstances and facts of your case, and, quite possibly, with the insurance company and its lawyers in your case. Take advantage of that wealth of knowledge and experience to let the attorney handle that side of the matter while you concentrate on regaining your physical and emotional well-being.
Representing You in Court
If, in the end, negotiating fails and your case comes to litigation, you must retain an attorney. However, if the same attorney has handled your case all along, that attorney will be up to speed on the details and can process your lawsuit quickly and efficiently.
Affording a Lawyer May Be Easier Than You Think
Sometimes, accident victims avoid hiring an attorney because they’re afraid of the cost to hire a lawyer. However, most, accident and personal injury attorneys enter into contingency fee arrangements with their clients.
Under a contingency fee arrangement, you enter into a written agreement with your attorney, which provides that you will pay a percentage of your award to the attorney but will not owe any fees until the attorney achieves a result in your favor—either in court or via a settlement. You will also be responsible for certain costs and fees, and the handling of those expenses should also be clear in the agreement.
Even if you decide not to retain counsel, speaking to an attorney for an initial consultation and case evaluation will give you excellent and useful information regarding the strength of your case and the law behind it.
During this consultation, the attorney will listen to your story and tell you whether your case is viable and may even express an opinion about the case’s value. This initial meeting probably won’t cost you anything but will give you invaluable information about your case.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today
If you’re struggling after an accident or injury, don’t try to handle it on your own. A skilled and knowledgeable accident attorney can give you access to all of the benefits of using counsel in resolving your case, either with insurance companies directly or by filing a lawsuit.