Handling Your Own Case
We hate it when attorneys say they are going to tell you how to handle your own case and then spend the entire time telling you why you need a car accident lawyer. So we promise you we are going to tell you three (3) reasons why/when you should use a lawyer to handle your car accident case. Then, knowing some of you will still go forward with handling your own case (and in some instances you are probably better off doing so!), we will tell you at a very basic level what you must do to help your case. This information could never replace three years of law school, a two day bar examination, and an attorney's experience. You should not rely on anything on this page as legal advice. Every claim is different and may involve different legal issues. Rather, this article gives you some "To-Do's" for setting up and handling your case in terms of gathering and presenting evidence.
Why/When You Need An Alpharetta Lawyer To Handle Your Accident Claim
Let's be honest. The only reason you are thinking about handling your own auto accident case is because you do not want to pay an attorney a portion of the funds you receive, typically a third. If an attorney was free, there would never be a question in your mind as to whether you are better off with an attorney representing you against the insurance company. Of course you would be. So then, your decision is ultimately based on the question: "Does retaining an attorney increase the value of your case to such an extent to justify the attorney's fee?"
Personal Injury Attorneys Know The Value Of Your Case - The first thing that should cross your mind when you are answering the "ultimate question" above is what exactly is the value of my case? Most people first think about making a claim to repair the damage to their car (i.e.
property damage), they do not immediately think about filing a claim against the other driver for personal injuries. A property damage claim is fairly easy to handle because you typically only need estimates for repair. This is why we usually tell people to handle their own property damage claims. Your personal injury claim; however, is much more complex. There are several different types of damages you may be entitled to when you have been in a car accident. The insurance company's goal is to pay as little as possible and they are never going to give you a fair number as their first offer. And how do you know when the offer is fair? You don't. Personal injury attorneys know the value range of your case based on experience and handling 100's of these types of cases and constantly monitoring verdict reports. For instance, the following is just the tip of the iceberg on things affecting the value of your case: amount of damage to your car; jury pool where the case will be filed; delays in seeking medical treatment; types of medical treatment; pre-existing injuries; prior/subsequent accidents; your age; and the types of injuries you suffered.
- You Lose The Threat Of Filing A Lawsuit - You are trying to decide whether you can settle your case with the insurance company without hiring an attorney, the key word here being "settle." Insurance companies always factor in to their evaluation of your claim the reputation of your lawyer. If you represent yourself, that is a big zero. When a personal injury lawyer with a reputation for filing lawsuits in response to unfair offers represents you, he/she brings immediate value to your claim because the insurance company must then factor in the additional time, expense, and uncertainty of a lawsuit. While we are on this point, you should also know we have been told insurance companies track personal injury attorneys by their tax ID numbers. They supposedly keep data on which attorneys routinely take less on a case, which do not file lawsuits, etc. Assuming you retain a competent attorney who is also a trial lawyer, you immediately add value to your claim by having that attorney involved.
You Will Mess Up Your Case - In a lot of ways, handling your own car accident claim is like treating yourself instead of seeing a doctor. Yes, there is a chance you are going to be okay, but there is also the very real risk you can hurt yourself further. If you handle your own case, you are assuming full responsibility for meeting all deadlines. Take the statute of limitations for example. Insurance companies and their attorneys often drag their feet and try to get you to miss the
statute of limitations so you are barred from filing a lawsuit. Many people also tell insurance companies way more information than they ought to and sooner than they should. And because this process is new to you, you will constantly be reacting to what the insurance company is doing when you should be on the offense the whole time. Preparation and how organized you present your case/claim is extremely important. It sends a message you are ready to put the insurance company's feet to the fire. If you have never handled your own claim, how are you to know the best way to organize and present your claim? Finally, if you do file a lawsuit by yourself, you will face an attorney who will use the rules of evidence and civil procedure against you, knowledge that took three (3) years of law school to learn. The plaintiff always has to meet his/her burden of proof and attorneys are trained to use the rules to keep you from doing so.
Handling Your Own Atlanta Car Accident Claim
What Type of Case is Well Suited for Self Representation? we believe there is an "ideal" case suited for clients representing themselves. The ideal DIY case is a 1.) rear-end collision 2.) with only
soft-tissue injuries and where the 3.) total medical bills are under $6,000.
Approximately 43% of all accidents in Georgia are rear-end collisions. The reason we suggest you may be able to handle your own rear-end collision claim is most rear-end collisions are admitted
liability type cases. This means the driver who ran into you is going to have to admit he/she was at fault. This is critical to handling your own claim because then you only have to handle the damages aspect of your case. This typically means the legal issues are minimal and the real focus is on evidence of damages.
Soft-tissue cases involve sprained neck or backs or pain in connective tissue. One recent study stated soft-tissue injuries account for 79-87% of all auto accident claims. (I got that statistic here - you should read this article to see what you are up against and how/why the insurance companies fight these cases.) It is generally thought these types of injuries heal by themselves in 4-6 weeks. Because these cases are pretty "routine" in terms of medical treatment and your duration of pain and suffering, you are
somewhat protected from losing out on a big bump in your case's value from not having an attorney. The more medical bills you have, the more is at stake and the more an attorney can add value to your claim.
Finally, we suggest the $6,000 limit on medical bills because if you go above this number, your injuries are usually more severe than just soft-tissue. This amount will usually cover an emergency room visit and 4-6 weeks of chiropractor care or physical therapy. This size case is best suited for handling yourself because you have the option in Georgia of filing a lawsuit in small claims Court if settlement negotiations fail. We should mention many attorneys, including us, do not usually take a case where you have represented yourself for a period of time. Personally speaking, we want to prepare a case our way so that we know we have all the advantages available to us. Coming in behind someone with no legal experience usually involves a lot of clean-up and a decreased value of a case because of the matter's poor positioning.
That being said, here are some of the things you will need to do in order to handle your own personal injury claim should you choose to do so:
Figure Out Your
Statute of Limitations - Call a lawyer, Google it, or go to a law library. This is the very first thing an attorney looks at and you should too. If you miss this deadline, you lose your case. Be extremely certain. There are general statutes of limitation, shorter deadlines for suing a government entity, and deadlines that get "suspended" for children and other special types of plaintiffs. You absolutely must understand this. It gives you the ultimate deadline for handling your case.
- Get Appropriate Medical Treatment - If you were just in a car accident in the last 1-3 days, you need to seek out appropriate medical treatment. If you went to an ER, the discharge instructions may have recommended you follow up with a doctor. You may want to see your family doctor who can examine you and make the proper referrals. Or, you may want to see a chiropractor. We cannot caution you enough that you should only use your medical treatment to get better. What do we mean? Because medical bills are used to determine the value of a case, some people think running up (unnecessary) medical bills will get them to hit the lottery with their settlement. Do not do this. First, it is fraud. Second, doctors catch on and will begin writing things in your medical records such as "malingering" and the insurance company will discover these. The insurance adjusters have seen 1,000's of auto cases and can tell who is running up medical bills. Finally, if you do this you will ruin the biggest factor in getting a fair settlement, your CREDIBILITY.
Gather Evidence - Presenting as prepared and organized as possible will only increase the value of your claim.
- Photograph your car, your injuries, and the accident scene. Here is a link to tips on photographing your vehicle just like an insurance investigator;
- Obtain copies of all your medical records and bills;
- Talk to eyewitnesses and get written statements if possible;
- Obtain the police report, with sketch of accident;
- Obtain documents that support lost wages. These could be W-2's, pay-stubs, or a letter from an employer;
- Write a Demand Letter - This is a formal letter that sets out your entire claim, along with all the documents that support it. This is actually when you try to settle your own claim. Take your time and make it neat. Use tabs and keep it well-organized. Typically, you would also want to make a demand - the amount of money you want. The problem is you probably do not know what your case is worth. Consider not making a demand and letting the insurance company make the first offer.
- Negotiate. After you send a demand letter you will begin negotiating with the insurance company. There are whole books written on the art of negotiation.
Things Not To Do
- It bears repeating, do not exaggerate or seek out excessive medical treatment. Not only are you doing your own case a disservice, but you also hurt everyone else's case coming after you by giving the insurance industry more propaganda about personal injury claims. You are also running the risk of not keeping any of the settlement money because you may have to pay back the health insurance company or other party that paid for your treatment.
- Do Not Lie. As we state in numerous places on this website, your credibility is everything. Everything you say or write, to the insurance company, your doctors, and anyone else, will be scrutinized for inconsistencies to attack your credibility. Everything you tell your doctor and physical therapists is usually written down, especially any comments that reflect on your condition or injuries.
Do Not Give A Recorded Statement. The insurance company will ask to give a recorded statement. Do not do this. You are simply giving them a statement they can later use against you. Tell them if they want your statement under oath, then wait for you to file a lawsuit, although you will need to look like you are ready, willing, and able to do so. One important exception to this rule is if you are seeking
UM insurance benefits. If this is the case, first we do not recommend you proceeding without an attorney, period. UM is complex. Second, your UM insurance is controlled by your insurance contract and you may be required to do certain things including giving a statement or risk losing coverage.
- Do Not Sign A Release For Medical Records. This is your claim. You control it. Your health information is protected by federal law. The insurance company is trying to get a release so they can go after all your medical records to find prior injuries or other damaging information. And by "all" we mean medical records outside the doctors who saw you for this accident, such as OB/GYN, optometrist, and drug/alcohol treatment to name a few.