Most car accident claims -- especially those involving significant injuries -- are more than a do-it-yourselfer should try to tackle. It usually makes sense to at least discuss your options with an experienced personal injury lawyer, to make sure your rights are protected. But in some instances, it might make sense to go it alone, as long as you're comfortable navigating the claims process and standing up for yourself if things get contentious, and you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees along the way. In this article, we'll offer some tips on when may be safe to handle your car accident claim yourself.
A few key factors should be in place before you try to represent yourself in a personal injury claim after a car accident. Note that this is an "and" list, not an "or" list. So you want to make sure that all -- or at least a majority -- of these factors apply to your situation, not just one or two.
You want to. You have to want to represent yourself, or at least be willing to invest the time and effort necessary to giving your car accident claim the best chances of success.
You're willing to put a little effort into learning the "rules of the road" when it comes to the claims process. Learning how the process works and then handling the claim will take some time and effort, but not as much as you might think. But if you don't want to invest the time, read no further. Don't represent yourself. Contact a car accident lawyer and put your case in experienced hands.
How much time will it take? You can probably learn enough to try to negotiate a car accident settlement (if the claim is relatively straightforward) in about 6 to 8 hours. If you want to go the route of mediation or small claims court, add another 3 to 5 hours of research. If you have to go to regular court, count on spending much more time educating yourself. These estimates are for preparation time. You will have to spend more time actually putting what you've learned into action.
The insurance company for the driver who caused your accident admits responsibility, or, in the lingo of the industry, "admits liability."
If the "Other Guys" agree that they are at fault for the car accident, you're half way home. Now, all you have to do is marshal the evidence of what losses you have suffered (your damages) and negotiate fair compensation for those losses.
BUT, if the Other Guys deny liability and won't voluntarily pay you anything, you should probably contact a lawyer and get an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
You are negotiating an out-of-court settlement, going to mediation, or filing in small claims court.
While you will have to learn what to expect and what procedures to follow, there are usually no formal rules inherent in these processes that will cause your case to go down the tubes if you violate them. But in "regular court," you will have to follow the same rules of procedure and evidence that the lawyers on the other side do (the other side will definitely be represented by a lawyer, so you have to be ready for that).
You do not have significant and/or permanent injuries. This is another way of saying that you should only represent yourself in cases where the stakes are relatively small. You wouldn't want to represent yourself in a million dollar case and lose because of what you don't know (ignorance may be bliss, but it's not a winning court strategy), but you might take the risk in a $10,000 case. The bigger the claim, the more benefit a trained expert can provide.
If your car accident injuries include a broken bone, herniated disc, or virtually anything more serious than a soft tissue injury (sprain, strain), you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer.
You don't have any other choice. Sometimes, you just don't have an option beyond self-representation. Maybe your claim is so small that no lawyer wants to represent you, or maybe your liability argument is so iffy that you can't get a lawyer to handle it on a contingency fee basis. If the alternative is dropping your claim, you are convinced that you are right, and you've got evidence to support your view, then by all means represent yourself.
Think of representing yourself this way: If you started a new job tomorrow, you could probably learn to do some of the key things within a day or so, provided you make the effort to learn. But you couldn't be taught the most complicated things within a week, or even longer. The same is true of trying to learn how to handle an injury claim. You can learn much of it in a reasonable period of time, and you can handle many of the claim resolution activities yourself. But you can't learn to be a trial lawyer in "regular court" in a short time, and the risks are too great.
Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim.