With basic accident claims process knowledge, a bit of organization, and a little patience, you may be able to handle your own personal injury claim without a lawyer -- and without your insurance company's unfairly denying or reducing your compensation. In fact, if your losses were minor, and if you are armed with the proper information, you may end up with more compensation if you handle your claim yourself, because you won't have to pay lawyers' fees.
Types of claims you can often handle on your own include those involving:
Of course, there are times when a lawyer's services can be helpful or even necessary, especially in situations involving severe or permanently disabling injuries and certain types of complicated accidents, such as those involving medical malpractice or toxic exposure. If you need advice from a professional, you can find a personal injury lawyer in Nolo's Lawyer Directory. (To learn more, read the article Personal Injury Claims: When You Need a Lawyer.)
But if you weren't hurt all that badly, and you didn't lose much in the way of property damage, it may make sense to represent yourself, assuming you feel confident and comfortable doing so. Let's look at a few reasons why handling your personal injury claim yourself may make sense.
Despite what the insurance industry and some lawyers would like you to think, settling an injury claim with an insurance company can be quite simple. Most claims involve no more than a few short letters and phone calls with an insurance adjuster who has no legal training, so you don't need to know technical language or complex legal rules. In fact, your right to be compensated often depends on nothing more than commonsense observations about who was careful and who wasn't, and how serious your injuries are.
The amount of fair compensation in any given case does not come out of a crystal ball that only lawyers and insurance companies know how to read. Rather, a number of simple factors -- type of accident, injuries, medical costs -- go into figuring how much any claim is worth. The amount an insurance company will be willing to pay usually falls into a fairly narrow range, whether or not a lawyer handles your claim for you. For more information, see How Do Insurers Value an Injury Claim?
You know better than anyone else -- insurance adjuster or attorney -- how your accident happened. You were there; they weren't. And you know best what injuries you suffered and what your physical condition and other circumstances have been since. Usually, these are the most important things to understand when settling an injury claim.
Except in serious or complicated cases, a lawyer is usually able to negotiate for you only an extra 10% to 25% above what you can obtain for yourself, once you understand the claims process. But a lawyer will take 33% to 40% of your recovery as a fee, and in addition charge you for "costs" -- charges for administrative services such as making copies and holding conference calls. Subtract the lawyer's fees and costs from the extra amount of the settlement a lawyer might get, and you'll see how much better you can do on your own. But again, if you've suffered significant injuries -- and especially if those injuries resulted in temporary or permanent disability -- you're going to want to turn your claim over to an experienced lawyer.
For a complete guide to the personal injury claim process, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).