There’s an old saying, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Most people seek help from a car accident lawyer after an accident, especially if their injuries warrant the attention of a medical professional. While not recommended, it is possible to handle your own personal injury claim yourself. But before you take on a car accident claim by yourself, there are a few things you should know.
Representing Yourself in a Car Accident Claim – The Hurdles
Attempting to settle an insurance claim without a lawyer isn’t an easy task. Car accident claims can be tricky to navigate when there are injuries involved, especially if you’ve never done it before. People sometimes have the mistaken impression that by not hiring a car accident lawyer to represent them, they will put more money in their own pockets. However, statistically, that’s not true.
Insurance companies try to pay out as little as possible on injury claims which makes getting a fair settlement a battle. By the insurance industry’s own accounting, people who hire an attorney average more than two and a half times more money in their pocket than people who aren’t represented.
Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums and paying as little as possible on claims. They have lawyers who fight on their behalf to minimize what they must pay. The average person may not be equipped to battle an insurance company’s resources or their attorneys’ knowledge of the law. But, a good car accident lawyer on your side can even the playing field.
Some people don’t heed the warnings and attempt to go it on their own. To do so requires a lot of work. The injured party has the burden of proving all the elements of his/her case. That means liability and damages must be established. This can be a difficult and taxing, especially if you’ve sustained injuries and/or suffered emotional trauma.
The Other Party’s Fault
In order to prevail in an injury claim, you must prove that the other party was at fault. Unfortunately, that isn’t always as clear as it seems. Even if the other driver was ticketed for a traffic violation, there is no guarantee that an insurance company won’t attempt to argue on behalf of their insured on who was at fault. This can include comparing fault with respect to your own actions or inactions in the accident.
It’s not unusual for insurance companies to try to place some fault on the victim based on flimsy arguments such as failing to honk, swerve, or brake quickly enough. Sometimes accident reconstruction experts must be hired to support claims as to fault. If you represent yourself, you would need to pay for this out of your own pocket but a car accident lawyer would front this money for you.
To establish fault here are a few basic steps that need to be addressed:
- Take photos of the scene of the accident and damage to the vehicles.
- Call the police to prepare an accident report.
- Secure any video of the accident from traffic lights and/or local businesses, if available.
- Secure names and statements from witnesses.
Without these foundational forms of evidence, proving fault will be difficult.
If you suffered injuries you may be unable to accomplish much at the scene. Even long after the accident itself, you may need to focus on treatment. That’s when hiring a car accident attorney is especially important. The attorney can do what is necessary on your claim while you focus on recovering. With an attorney on your side, it becomes much more difficult for the insurance company to dispute fault and offer less money for your claim.
As with all elements of an injury claim, the burden of proof always rests with the injured party. In addition to proving fault, the injured party must prove the damages that were sustained.
Injury damages can include the following:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages or income
- Compensation for loss of normal function
- Compensation of pain and suffering
- Out of pocket expenses
There may be other types of damages available depending on the situation. Damages may be appropriate for both past and future concerns.
It may not seem that difficult to prove the amount of medical bills to which an injured person should be entitled but the truth is, it can be. The party responsible for causing an accident is responsible for paying “reasonable and necessary” medical bills for treatment of injuries that were caused by an accident. What is considered “reasonable and necessary” is often disputed by insurance companies.
States differ as to the application of what is known as the “collateral source” rule which means that the amount you may be entitled to recover for medical bills can also depend on what amounts have been paid by other sources, like health insurance, medical payment coverages, Medicare and/or public aid. Those sources are often entitled to reimbursement or subrogation when an injured party gets a recovery from a third party. The average person will likely find it very difficult to navigate through the minefield of liens and collateral source laws.
If future medical care is anticipated, the injured party needs to present evidence as to what type of care is expected and the amount of money necessary to pay for that care. Whatever the anticipated amount is, it then needs to be reduced to its present cash value. Again, these are difficult things to accomplish if you’re not familiar.
Lost Wages or Income
If injuries from an accident impair a person’s ability to earn money, lost wages or income may be a category of damages to which the person is entitled.
This isn’t always as easy to prove as one might hope, examples:
If a person is a business owner or works on a commission basis, calculating lost income can become very tricky.
- Does the person have to use benefits like sick or leave time? If so, what are they entitled to as far as lost wages?
- If a person has a short-term disability policy that pays lost income is he/she entitled to recover lost wages?
- Does an injured person have to pay taxes on money recovered for lost wages?
These are all issues that a car accident lawyer will know how to handle.
Certain damages, like medical expenses or lost wages, can be concretely calculated. We call these economic damages. Other damages aren’t easily calculated and are referred to as non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include things like pain and suffering, loss of function, scarring, loss of consortium, and others.
A person without professional or specialized knowledge isn’t expected to understand what type of damages they may be entitled to recover or how much they may be entitled to for each measure of damages. Good car accident lawyers can not only understand these things but persuasively argue for them.
Will You Get Money from Your Car Accident Without a Lawyer?
People can resolve their car accident claims without a lawyer. They may be satisfied with their outcomes or they may not be but there are two things overriding factors an injured person should consider when making the determination as to whether to hire a car accident lawyer to help with a claim:
Do you really want to spend countless hours and experience the frustration of dealing with insurance companies?
Are you confident you can resolve your claim for more money than a good car accident lawyer can recover for you?
It is essential to consider the above factors when deciding whether to seek legal representation for your car accident claim. Once you settle with an insurance company, there is no going back.
At VanDerGinst Law, we are passionate about securing fair compensation for our clients. We have represented over 50,000 injury victims throughout Iowa, Illinois and the rest of the country, and recovered millions of dollars on their behalf. Contact us for a free consultation and let us see how we can help you.
The information contained on this website is presented by VanDerGinst Law P.C. It is not intended nor should it be construed as professional legal advice. The information is general in nature about the Firm, the scope of services we offer, and our community outreach, it is not legal advice. Please contact us by phone, email, mail, or via this website for inquiries. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation regarding your situation. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the State of Iowa and/or the State of Illinois.