Woodland Hills personal injury lawyer Barry P. Goldberg is asked by prospective new clients on a regular basis; “Is it worth hiring a personal injury lawyer?” Believe it or not, the answer varies with the circumstances. On many simple fender-bender accidents with very minor property damage and very moderate injuries, it may be preferable to handle the case on your own. It is not rocket science. Here are 6 reasons why it is worth hiring a personal injury lawyer.
- Minor Accidents
However, it does take time and some expertise. More importantly, many get stressed out talking to insurance companies and worry about saying the wrong thing or not presenting the case properly. (For that matter, people get stressed out talking to lawyers as well!) On these very basic cases, anecdotal evidence developed by our office for over 30 years suggests that the actual “net” money in a client’s pocket is very close to what the client would have received if a lawyer handled the case. But I ask the question to the prospective new client, if the money is roughly the same, why would you want to do it on your own? Besides, a well-trained law office staff should be able to handle the case faster and more professionally. The client’s time has to be worth something.
On anything other than a very minor accident, statistics demonstrate over and over that the client’s “net” recovery (after paying the lawyer and reimbursing the medical expenses) receive about 3 times more than had they handled the case on their own. There are many reasons for the increase in net recovery. Some of those reasons are so “baked” into the handling of the case that sometimes it is hard to explain the benefits to the client separately. So, let’s examine the bakery, shall we?
- The Insurance Companies are not there to help you!
Insurance companies are not “like a good neighbor.” With neighbors like that—you would move immediately. The insurance companies use effective saturating advertising to give the public an incorrect image of the relationship between the claimant and the insurance company. If you have a claim that an insurer must pay, you are an adversary. If you have a claim with your own insurance company, it will do only what it is contractually obligated to do and nothing more. I am astounded how often clients who were handling their own cases and are now seeking counsel say “my insurance company said they will take care of everything.” Bolder insurance companies my even say or suggest “you don’t need a lawyer.”
Think about it. If the insurance companies “took care of everything” why would the world even need personal injury lawyers? The answer is that the insurance companies do the bare minimum, and even then, you have to push them. In fact, the simplest of claims is becoming more and more difficult because it is becoming harder and harder to communicate with the insurers. It is unclear whether this is as a result of the insurers just trying top overwork the adjusters or whether it is part of a calculated and designed plan to frustrate claimants.
Most insurers will no longer accept your calls! You heard me right. Anyone who has handled a claim recently will bear this out. You call your adjuster and they are not available. You leave a voice message. The adjuster returns your phone call at 6 am and leaves you a message, or calls while you are at work. You call back during normal business hours. It starts all over again. Many companies will not even agree to a return call at a time certain. A professional law firm can pepper the insurer with faxes and emails in order to move a case quickly.
Most injured clients do not realize that the insurer for the at fault driver basically owes you no duty of care whatsoever. Are you upset that the adjuster did not call you back? Tough luck. Are you disappointed with the total loss evaluation and the few days of rental car offered? Too bad. The at fault insurer owes the duty of care to its own insured. As long as the insured is “protected,” it does not matter if the party injured is mad. In addition, if you sue the insured, the insurer has lawyers on staff to respond.
- Personal Injury Lawyers know how to file all the right documents—-on time.
Many prospective clients are unaware of what they are required to do. Worse, the client incorrectly believes that his or her own insurance company will “take care of everything.” They don’t. Within 10 days of an accident where a party was injured or where there is more than $1,000 of property damage, you must file a DMV Form SR-1. That is the only way that the state checks to see that drivers are properly insured. The penalty for failure to file with the DMV, whether you have insurance or not, whether you are at fault or not, is a mandatory one-year suspension of your driver’s license!
Well, there was a police report—that’s enough, right? Nope. I reported to both insurance companies on day one—that’s enough, right? Nope. If it turns out that the other driver did not have insurance in effect on the day of the accident, you will need an SR-19 form as a prerequisite to your uninsured motorist claim. If you did not timely file an SR-1 claim, you will be unable to get your SR-19 form. Whoops!
A personal injury law firm will advise you on medical record request forms, Medicare forms, providing property damage estimates and other reports of the accident. If a governmental entity is involved, like a bus or city vehicle, you must also file a proper claim with the City, County or State within 6 months or you case can be barred. Lawyers are also keenly aware of the statutes of limitation for every kind of injury claim. We see insurers trying to negotiate with unrepresented parties all the way up to a statute of limitation, then deny the claim.
- Personal Injury lawyers have resources to maximize your recovery.
Let’s face it, the more your case is worth, the more the lawyer is paid on his or her contingency fee agreement. Experienced personal injury lawyers can connect injured clients with top doctors and medical facilities. Often the care provided is on a lien basis, which means there is no money out of the client’s pocket. Not only does the client get great care and recover more fully, the value of the case is often adjusted upwards. In addition, if the client’s condition deteriorates, usually it is well documented right from the start and will be easy to connect to the forces of the accident. It is not unusual for an unrepresented party to wait on medical care until their medical condition gets worse. Then count on the insurer to deny the medical causation because the party never sought immediate and comprehensive medical care.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will provide resources and advance costs in other important areas and unrepresented client never even considered. For example, experts are expensive but can make or break a case. An accident reconstruction expert can establish liability. A biomechanical expert can demonstrate injury producing force. There are countless medical experts that create a complete picture of an injury. Life care planners and economists can effectively drive home the costs and put value to an injury. Finally, the med-legal experts that produce trial exhibits, illustrations and videos can make a $100,000 case into a $1,000,000 case.
- Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Claims really require special personal injury expertise.
Barry P. Goldberg is a well-known expert on all things “Uninsured and Underinsured” in California, including coverage law and arbitration. Even the most experience personal injury lawyers often get tripped up on the filing and prosecution of uninsured and underinsured motorist claims. In fact, this office has never seen a UM/UIM case handled properly by an unrepresented injured party.
In every UN/UIM case it is important to unequivocally establish the insurance or lack of insurance of the adverse parties. It is not always that simple. There is the DMV SR-1 process, the declaration process and the 3rd party litigation process. Many unsuspecting parties do not realize or do not know how to prove the exhaustion of the 3rd party insurance as a prerequisite to an underinsured motorist claim. Of equal importance is the party must promptly engage in the arbitration process in order to receive adequate compensation. Unrepresented parties are ill equipped to select a fair arbitrator (and pay for one) and schedule the hearing. Needless to say, it is rare that an unrepresented party can adequately complete the arbitration timely and effectively.
In fairness, experienced lawyers have trouble with this process as the statutes and case law are difficult to synthesize. So, an unrepresented party can not usually go to a handbook or the internet and successfully navigate a claim.
- Personal Injury lawyers are experienced negotiators and get top dollar.
It should without saying that a good personal injury lawyer knows the value of claims and can negotiate for a fair settlement. Further, if a fair settlement is not offered, a good personal injury lawyer can litigate and go to trial if necessary. “Baked” into the lawyer-client relationship is that the personal injury lawyer knows how to negotiate medical liens and knows how much money to advance on the client’s behalf in order to get the best results.
If you have been in an accident, I strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer because — yes—it is worth hiring a personal injury lawyer!