I hate it when other attorneys say they are going to talk about how to handle your own case and then spend the entire time telling you why you need a lawyer ,So my promise to you is that I am going to spend 4 paragraphs telling you when and why you should use a lawyer for your personal injury automobile accident ,Then knowing some of you will still go forward with handling your own personal injury case and in some cases you are probably better off doing so I will tell you at a basic level what you must be doing to help your case
1.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 I do not handle property damage claims. Your personal injury claim, however, is much more complex. There are several different types of damages you may be entitled to. The insurance company’s goal is to pay as little as possible, they are never going to give you a fair number as their first offer. And how do you know when the offer is fair? 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.
2. You Lose The Leverage 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 attorney. If you represent yourself, that is a big zero. When an attorney 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 I am on this point, you should also know that I have been told insurance companies track personal injury attorneys by their tax ID numbers. They supposedly keep data on what 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.
3. You Will Mess Up Your Case.
In a lot of ways, handling your own auto 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 on your claim and try to get you to miss the statute of limitations so that you are barred from filing a lawsuit. Many people also tell the 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 that you are ready to put the insurance companies 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. In my prior career as an insurance defense attorney, I was routinely successful in getting cases dismissed against plaintiffs not represented by counsel for a whole array of technicalities, and even where the other driver was wrong. This was because the plaintiff always has to meet his/her burden of proof and attorneys know how to use the rules to keep you from doing so.
Handing Your Own Claim
The Ideal DIY Case
I believe there is an ideal case suited for clients doing it 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 I 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 you then only have to handle the damages aspect of your case.
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. It is generally thought that these types of injuries heal by themselves in 4-6 weeks.
Finally, I suggest the $6,000 limit on medical bills because generally if you go above this number, your injuries are 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. Finally, this type of case is best suited for handling yourself because you have the option in Georgia of filing a lawsuit in small claims Court.
That being said, here is a list of things you will need to do in order to handle your own personal injury claim:
1. 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 generally statutes of limitation, shorter deadlines for suing a government entity, and deadlines that get suspended for children and other special types of plaintiffs.
2. 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. I cannot caution you enough that you should only use your medical treatment to get better. What do I mean by that? Because medical bills are used in part to determine the value of a case, some people think that by running up (unnecessary) medical bills they are going 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 your biggest factor in getting a fair settlement, your CREDIBILITY.
3. Gather Evidence.
Presenting as prepared and organized as possible will only increase the value of your claim. That statement especially applies here.
a. Photograph your car, your injuries, and the accident scene.
b. Obtain copies of all your medical records and bills;
c. Talk to eyewitnesses and get written statements if possible;
d. Obtain police report, with sketch of accident;
e. Obtain documents that support any lost wages. These could be W-2’s, pay-stubs, or a letter from an employer;
4. Write a Demand Letter.
This is a formal letter that sets out your entire claim, along with all the documents above that support it. Take your time and make it neat. Use tabs and keep it well-organized. You letter should include the following topics: your demand; a summary of the accident; photographs; a discussion of whose fault the accident was; damages; medical bills; your current status, and expenses. You want to make a demand – the amount of money you want. The problem is you probably do not know what your case is worth. You may want to let the insurance company make the first offer.
After you send a demand letter you will begin negotiating with the insurance company.
Things To Not Do
a. 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.
b. Do Not Lie. 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. It is worth mentioning everything you tell your doctor is usually written down by him/her in your medical record.
c. Do Not Give A Recorded Statement.
The insurance company will ask to take a recorded statement. Do not do this. You are simply giving them a statement that they can later use against you. Tell them if they want your statement under oath, then that is what a lawsuit is for. One important exception is if you are seeking UM (uninsured/underinsured) insurance benefits. If this is the case, first I do not recommend you proceeding without an attorney. UM is complex. Second, your UM insurance is controlled by your insurance contract and you may be required to do certain things or risk losing coverage.
d. 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 that they can go after all your medical records to find prior injuries or other damaging information. And by all I 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.