Should I Handle My Own Personal Injury Claim?

An injury-related insurance claim doesn't always require a lawyer's help, but make sure you know what you're getting into.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

If you think you have a personal injury case, you're probably wondering whether it always makes sense to hire a personal injury lawyer. In a few situations, with some basic knowledge of the insurance claim process, a bit of organization, and a little patience, you might be able to handle your own personal injury claim without a lawyer—and without your insurance company unfairly denying or reducing your compensation.

Let's look at a few reasons why handling your personal injury claim yourself can make sense.

The Claims Process Can Be Fairly Simple

If your case is simple—meaning the facts aren't in dispute, your injuries or losses are minor, you made a complete recovery, and there aren't any difficult legal issues— settling your personal injury claim with an insurance company can be a straightforward process. Some claims involve no more than a few short letters and phone calls with an insurance adjuster who probably has little or no legal training. Chances are you don't need to know technical language or complex legal rules in a simple case.

In fact, your right to compensation often depends on nothing more than commonsense observations about who was careful and who wasn't, how serious your injuries are, and your willingness to keep negotiating until you receive a fair offer from the insurance company.

(Tip: Don't take the insurance company's first offer to settle your personal injury case.)

The Compensation System Is Somewhat Structured

The range of fair compensation for a case doesn't come out of a crystal ball that only lawyers and insurance companies know how to read. Instead, several factors go into figuring out how much any claim is worth, including:

  • the type of accident involved
  • the nature of your injuries
  • your treatment and recovery, and
  • your medical costs.

In simple cases, arriving at a range of case values is typically a function of plugging your medical costs and other out-of-pocket losses into a formula. The amount an insurance company will be willing to pay usually falls into a fairly narrow range.

(Learn more about how insurers value an injury claim.)

You Know Your Claim Best

You know better than anyone else—including insurance adjusters and attorneys—how your accident happened. You were there; they weren't. You also know best what injuries you suffered, what your physical condition has been since the accident, and how you've been affected in different aspects of your life.

Usually, these are the most important things to understand when settling an injury claim.

You Can Save Money on Legal Fees

In fairly simple cases, a lawyer might only be able to negotiate an extra 10% to 25% above what you can obtain on your own, once you understand the claims process. But a lawyer will take 33% to 40% of your recovery as a contingency fee. In addition, a lawyer will charge you for the costs of administrative services such as making copies and holding conference calls.

If you've already got an offer in hand from the insurance company, you'll want to see if you're likely to come out dollars ahead by hiring a lawyer. Subtract the lawyer's fees and costs from the additional settlement a lawyer might get (the lawyer shouldn't charge a fee on any settlement offer you've already negotiated), to see how much better you might be able to do on your own.

Other Factors to Consider

There are some cases you don't want to take on by yourself. Here's a partial list:

  • cases with complicated facts that will make it hard to prove your claim
  • cases with severe, permanent, or catastrophic injuries, or that involve some kind of permanent disability or disfigurement
  • cases involving complex legal issues
  • cases that involve special procedural rules, such as claims against the government
  • cases with difficult issues of proof, problems with evidence, or that will require expert witnesses to testify to legal or damages questions
  • malpractice (professional negligence) cases of any kind
  • product liability (defective and dangerous products) of any kind, and
  • wrongful death cases.

In addition, make sure you're comfortable being your own advocate, especially when things get heated or contentious. Merely being involved in a personal injury claim can be very stressful. If you're trying to represent yourself, your stress and anxiety levels are likely to be even worse.

If You're Trying to Decide Whether to Hire a Lawyer

If you're trying to decide whether you should go it alone or hire a lawyer, be sure to do your homework. Learn more about when you might need a lawyer. Find out what to discuss with a personal injury lawyer before you hire them. Understand what a lawyer can do to help you with, say, a car accident case.

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