If you think you have a valid personal injury case, you're probably wondering whether it always makes sense to hire a personal injury lawyer. In some scenarios, with basic insurance claim 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.
First, make sure you're comfortable advocating for yourself, especially if (or perhaps when) things get contentious. And of course, certain kinds of injury cases shouldn't be handled by novices, including medical malpractice lawsuits, injury claims related to defective products, and any case involving severe or permanently disabling injuries. Learn more about when you might need a lawyer and how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.)
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 a personal injury claim with an insurance company can be relatively 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, 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 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. Learn more about how insurers value an injury claim.
You know better than anyone else—including insurance adjusters and attorneys—how your accident happened. You were there; they weren't. And you 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.
Except in serious or complicated cases, a lawyer might only be able to negotiate 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 contingency fee, and in addition charge you for "costs" of 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 might be able to 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).