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If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you can seek compensation for your losses with a personal injury claim. One of the first questions you’ll be asking yourself is whether or not to hire a lawyer. While it is legally possible to file an insurance claim and even a lawsuit without the help of a legal professional, this is almost always a bad idea.
A personal injury attorney can clarify your legal rights, initiate the claim process, gather evidence, negotiate with the insurance company, represent you in court if need be, support you throughout the entire legal process, and – most important of all – secure you a higher settlement. To help you think the decision through, let’s look at twelve conditions that should prompt you to hire a personal injury attorney without delay.
Following an accident, any injury leading to medical bills should be covered by the negligent party. This includes any physical and occupational therapy. A fair settlement should also cover medical expenses for ongoing treatment into the future.
In the crucial days and weeks following an accident, you should be focusing on recovering your health. But unfortunately, time is of the essence when it comes to lodging a personal injury claim. Any delay makes gathering evidence harder and reduces your chances of recovering fair damages for your medical expenses.
When you hire a personal injury lawyer, either a sole practitioner or an attorney at a law firm, they can immediately get the ball rolling on your claim. Once hired, a personal injury attorney can immediately file the paperwork to start the claims process, gathering evidence, speaking to witnesses, collecting medical reports and bills, and preparing your entire case. All the while, you can rest and recuperate.
Fair compensation for physical injuries should cover past, present, and future medical bills and related losses. But without a lawyer by your side, it can be difficult to estimate what the complete ongoing cost of recovery will be, especially when forecasting the future.
A personal injury attorney can consult with your physicians, therapists, and other medical experts. Then they can use their know-how of personal injury laws and experience with similar cases to figure out full and fair damages.
Many accident victims are tempted to brush off a seemingly mild injury after a slip-and-fall or motor vehicle accident. They might have a few scrapes and bruises, minor sprains and cuts, or no apparent injury at all. They consider it too much hassle to hire a personal injury lawyer and quickly accept any payment the responsible party’s insurance company offers to pay for their relatively small medical bills.
But this is often a mistake. Seemingly minor car accident injuries can develop into major injuries later on, but if you’ve already accepted a settlement offer, there’s no second chance at a claim for the same accident. All further medical bills will come out of your own pocket, and you can also say goodbye to possible compensation for pain and suffering damages and other non-economic losses. To avoid this bad outcome, seek out a personal injury attorney immediately.
It’s also the case that adrenaline can mask the symptoms of an injury at the time of an accident, causing you to think you escaped unscathed. But without a doctor’s immediate attention, internal injuries might not be noticed until days or even weeks later.
So even if you feel fine following a car crash or any other accident, see a medical professional right away, and also a lawyer. It’s unwise to go straight to the insurance company. The last thing you’d want is to give the impression that you haven’t suffered any serious injuries, only to find out later that you have.
Injuries often lead to a loss of wages, which covers all income and work-related benefits you would have received if not for your injury. If you’ve been prevented from earning a salary, an hourly wage, commissions, bonuses, or even work-related perks, you can claim damages.
You can also include lost sick days, vacation days, and personal days, plus transportation costs and car allowance, insurance plans, stock options, and missed promotion opportunities. With the help of a lawyer, you can understand the full extent of work-related damages to claim and know the real worth of those damages.
You’ll need to prove your lost earnings with past pay stubs and a statement from both your employer and doctor. These statements need to be clear and thorough, covering every detail and damage. Good personal injury lawyers have helped draft and obtain these statements many times before and can make sure nothing is left out that might diminish the strength of your case.
Your accident may have also reduced your long-term capacity to earn a living or pursue a particular career. If you’ve been somehow physically incapacitated or suffered a traumatic brain injury, for example, you might be facing a significant drop in wages for the foreseeable future. But proving a loss of future earnings is far more difficult than demonstrating the earnings you’ve already lost.
Nevertheless, a personal injury lawyer can achieve this for you, often with the help of expert witness testimony. Well-selected medical, occupational, and financial experts can be called upon to explain how your injuries prevent you from working, how long this incapacity will last, and how much of a loss in earnings you’re facing. Once proven, you can win it all back.
As a new claimant without any frame of reference or relevant legal know-how, it’s difficult to accurately estimate the value of your claim. Economic damages for suffered injuries, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage, are perhaps easier to understand.
But you can also claim for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, unjust hardship, inconvenience, loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment in life, and other personal injuries.
Without guidance, though, how can you know which of these damages apply to you and what each one is worth in monetary terms?
As a result of this uncertainty, you’re likely to either overestimate or underestimate the value of your claim. You won’t have firm footing from which to negotiate, and you’re far more likely to accept the insurance company’s assessment of your claim’s worth. This is almost always a very costly error.
Needless to say, it’s far better to have an experienced personal injury lawyer determine the value of your claim. Hire an experienced attorney with a proven track record of successful personal injury claims that are similar to yours. With their legal training and experience with similar insurance claims, an attorney can accurately assess which damages you can and cannot claim and what those damages are realistically worth.
It might be the case that you’ve already lodged your claim and have received a settlement offer from the insurance company. If you’ve done so alone, don’t be surprised if this offer is far from a fair settlement. Remember that insurance companies are working against you, seeking to dispute the claim at every turn and minimize any kind of payout.
You might have already harmed your claim by initiating litigation proceedings without an attorney and saying the wrong thing during the process. But at this stage, a lawyer or law firm can still step in to salvage as much as possible. They can take a fresh look at your case, maximize your claims for damages, gather new evidence, and use their experience and negotiating skills to push back at the insurance company and win a much higher settlement.
When someone hires a personal injury attorney to handle their claim, they receive more than three times as much money in their final settlement, on average, than a claimant who doesn’t hire an attorney. This impressive multiple was the finding of an extensive study by the Insurance Research Council. And it should be reason enough for most accident victims to opt for legal representation.
Some claimants hesitate to hire a personal injury lawyer because they’re unaware of how the fee structure works in personal injury cases. A personal injury lawyer will almost always charge on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if they win the case for you. As their fee comes out of the compensation received, insurance companies effectively pay for personal injury lawyers. And if you lose, you don’t pay a dime.
A typical attorney’s fee will be 20 to 40 percent of the settlement figure. This means you receive 60 to 80 percent of the final settlement. This will usually still be several times greater than what you might have gained without a lawyer.
During your free consultation with potential lawyers, always ask about their fee structure. Make sure it’s a standard “no fee if no recovery” contingency arrangement.
Also, inquire about how out-of-pocket expenses are paid. Additional case-related expenses, such as paying for expert witnesses, should also come out of the settlement in the case of a win. Ideally, you shouldn’t be paying a single cent toward the case until you receive a payout.
As you might have already gathered, insurance companies are your primary adversary throughout a personal injury claim. Insurance companies are incentivized to pay out as little as possible and also to make the litigation process as difficult as possible for you: the victim.
The uncooperative and often rather underhanded strategies that insurance companies use are hard to handle without an experienced personal injury attorney by your side. Here are a few examples:
Immediately following an accident, an insurance adjuster will investigate what happened and decide upon the value of your claim. Be very clear that an adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you.
If you ask the insurance adjuster whether or not you need a lawyer, guess what their answer will be. You got it; they’ll almost invariably say “no” and try to persuade you to forget the idea. Pay them no heed.
There are many mistakes an uninformed claimant can make while filing a claim. Perhaps the worst of them all is to admit some degree of fault. This diminishes or destroys your claim from the outset.
If you contact the insurance company before hiring a lawyer, the very first thing they’ll do is try to have you make an official statement. With great skill, the adjuster will ask leading questions and encourage you to speak as much as you like until you trip up and admit to some fault. Don’t fall for this; hire a personal injury lawyer to contact the insurance company for you.
When you’re on your own, insurance companies have better investigatory resources than you. If they find evidence that proves your innocence and the defendant’s liability, they’re probably going to “lose” or “forget to mention” that key piece of evidence.
This can be extremely frustrating for the claimant who was there at the incident and knows the truth. But without hiring a personal injury lawyer or special investigator, there’s little you can do about it.
Insurance companies are well aware that paperwork relating to insurance and legalities causes most people’s eyes to glaze over. While filing your claim and also during the proceedings, don’t be surprised to find yourself inundated with seemingly unnecessary amounts of paperwork, all of which needs to be read, understood, and responded to to keep the case moving forward. It’s best to allow a lawyer to take this headache off your hands.
If you ask the other driver’s insurance company how much coverage is available on the policy, don’t expect an honest answer. They have no incentive to clearly explain what kind of payout the full insurance coverage permits. Review the small print to learn the insurance coverage yourself, or better yet, have an experienced attorney do it for you.
Every personal injury claim has a statute of limitations, meaning a time limit on filing an insurance policy claim or lawsuit relating to an accident. Plaintiffs in Missouri are fortunate that the statute of limitations is five years on personal injury cases. This is a good deal longer than Kansas and most other states, which allow only two years.
Aware of this time limit, insurance companies intentionally drag cases out. If the statute of limitations deadline passes, the victim can no longer file a lawsuit and take them to court, which greatly reduces your negotiating power. Another reason for dragging things out is simply to exhaust and demoralize you. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to counter this and keep things moving along as rapidly as possible.
As the accident victim, you need to prove that the other party’s negligence or wrongdoing caused your injuries. In some cases, this is pretty much indisputable, such as if part of a restaurant ceiling collapsed, injuring you when you were quietly having dinner. A more common example is a rear-end auto collision when you’re stopped at traffic lights. There’s no disputing liability in these cases.
But oftentimes, liability is less clear. If your car is rear-ended when you were slowing to turn and it’s later uncovered that your turn signal malfunctioned, this means your car’s manufacturer might share some degree of fault. And in almost all cases, whether clear or unclear, liability will be disputed by the defense team. If liability is unclear or disputed, you’ll need a personal injury attorney to gather the evidence and properly prove your case.
In some types of personal injury cases, negligence is more often questionable and hard to prove. This is most notable in medical malpractice cases. Here, the claimant must prove that the doctor failed to act with the reasonable level of care that another doctor would provide under the same circumstances. Given that negative outcomes can occur in medical procedures even when the doctor does everything correctly, negligence is notoriously difficult to prove in medical injury cases.
Even relatively simple slip-and-fall accidents can have questionable liability. Here, you must prove that the property owner knew about a dangerous condition, or should have known, but did nothing about it. When negligence is questionable, liability is unclear, and an abundance of evidence is needed to prove it. You’ll certainly need the help of an attorney, and often an attorney who specializes in your particular type of personal injury case.
The insurance company will often accuse you, the victim, of contributory negligence, meaning you were at least partially responsible for your own injuries. While not a full defense, this can take a large bite out of your settlement figure. For example, in an auto accident, if the defendant was driving drunk, but the claimant was speeding, the claimant is partially at fault. Or perhaps the claimant wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was therefore partially responsible for their own injuries.
When dealing with insurance companies, sometimes accusations of contributory negligence can be made in bad faith: knowingly invented purely to muddy the waters. This is especially likely if you don’t have legal representation. Disputing or minimizing contributory negligence is a tough task in most cases, requiring the aid of a skillful attorney.
A strong case requires strong evidence, and lots of it. Gathering and presenting evidence is the primary task of a personal injury attorney. Liability in a car crash might include the police report, photos and videos of the crash location, photos and videos of injuries, eyewitness videos, CCTV camera footage, eyewitness reports, and more. Even with relatively simple cases, a personal injury lawyer can gather all this evidence far more quickly and thoroughly than a claimant working alone.
The more complex a case, the more evidence you’ll need. Proving medical malpractice requires detailed medical records such as doctor’s notes, prescription records, medication administration records, lab reports, diagnostic test results, treatment plans, and discharge papers. You’ll need hospital reports on policies and best practices and records of communication between doctors and nurses. You’ll need statistical data on treatment outcomes, accepted healthcare procedures, various expert witnesses, and more. All this is tough, if not impossible, to collect alone.
As the victim, in addition to proving liability, you also need to prove the full extent of your damages. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially if you had a pre-existing medical issue before the accident. To illustrate, let’s say a victim previously had a minor ACL injury for which they were undergoing physical therapy and other non-surgical treatments. They then had an accident that worsened the injury, necessitating surgery.
Here, the accident didn’t cause the injury but only worsened it: but this can be complicated to prove. A judge or jury might find for the defendant if you fail to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accident aggravated the injury and that the additional medical expenses of surgery wouldn’t have taken place otherwise. Personal injury attorneys are well acquainted with thorny situations just like this and can analyze your medical records and gather the evidence required to clarify and maximize your damages.
Any complexity in a personal injury claim calls for a good lawyer to help unravel it. Another common example of complexity is when multiple parties are at fault for an accident.
With multiple potential defendants, the good news is you’re likely to win a much higher final settlement figure. The bad news is that cases with multiple parties and legal teams are harder to win and generally take a good deal longer.
Over 95% of personal injury claims settle out of court, but sometimes you’ll need to file a personal injury lawsuit and take the case before a judge and jury. If you’re already taking legal action following unsatisfactory settlement negotiations, then you’ll undoubtedly need an experienced personal injury lawyer fighting your corner.
When an insurance company and defendant choose a trial over paying a settlement, then usually they feel confident about winning the case in court, the plaintiff was demanding too much money, or both of these are true. As the victim and plaintiff, a full-blown court case is no situation to handle without excellent legal counsel and representation.
It might be surprising to hear that most personal injury attorneys don’t take cases to court or only do so on rare occasions. This is simply because so many cases never need to go that far.
But if you’re preparing to file a personal injury lawsuit, you’ll need a lawyer who’s experienced in court and has a great track record of winning over a jury. Ideally, this experience should be with cases similar to yours.
Attorneys who frequently try and win cases in court earn a reputation, especially in their local city and state. So when you hire a court-ready personal injury lawyer or law firm, the opposing legal team knows you mean business.
The very fact that your legal team is ready and willing to take things to court also strengthens your negotiating hand. This increases your chances of winning a higher settlement before a trial even becomes necessary. With this in mind, during your initial consultation, always ask a potential personal injury lawyer if they have experience trying cases in court.
A few times already, we’ve touched on the importance of expert witnesses while investigating and proving your personal injury case. There are two main types of expert witnesses: consulting experts and testifying experts. A consulting expert witness explains complex specialist issues to you and your personal injury lawyer, helping to build your claim. A testifying expert witness provides testimony in court before the jury, serving as a vital source of evidence and helping to prove and win you fair compensation.
For each kind of personal injury claim, there are all kinds of possible expert witnesses. Specialist medical experts will be required for a medical malpractice case, for example. An engineering expert can testify about poor road conditions in an auto accident or building safety in a property damage claim. A manufacturing expert can demonstrate how a product was defective in a product liability case. The kinds of expert witnesses you can call upon vary as much as accidents vary.
When you hire a personal injury lawyer with experience handling the legal process in your kind of case, you’re gaining more than the lawyer’s time and talent alone. During each case, personal injury lawyers work with all kinds of specialists and experts.
So you’re also gaining access to the network of relevant expert witnesses they’ve built up over the years. And if you hire a personal injury law firm, you have access to the resources of more than one lawyer. Without this valuable asset, it can be difficult to know when to use expert witnesses, how to use them, and how to find the right experts for your case.
If you’re scared of slipping up and losing your claim because of an error you weren’t aware of, those fears aren’t entirely unfounded. A large part of success in any personal injury case is simply not making mistakes. You have to navigate this strange new legal minefield, all the while with a wily insurance company trying to trip you up. A personal injury lawyer helps you safely navigate this unfamiliar landscape without putting a foot in the wrong place.
We’ve already mentioned the grievous errors of admitting fault, failing to get immediate medical attention, or accepting a settlement too quickly. A few more common mistakes in personal injury cases include giving the insurance company a recorded statement, signing a medical authorization release for the insurance company, misrepresenting (lying about) your injuries, failing to inform the doctor of prior medical issues, sharing the details of the accident on social media, and plenty more besides. All of these are avoidable, and your lawyer can help.
Last but by no means least, personal injury cases can feel overwhelming for many victims who are already dealing with the immense stress and pressure of a severe injury, recovery, loss of wages, and a suddenly interrupted life. The moral support you get when you hire a personal injury lawyer can’t be overstated. Having a competent, confident ally in your corner can make the next few months or years of your life a far happier and less stressful journey.
Contact Wendt Law Firm P.C. today at 816-542-6734 for a free consultation with an experienced, highly qualified personal injury attorney. Our award-winning law firm has successfully negotiated fair settlements for over 1,000 clients. We’re committed to gaining each client the full and fair compensation they deserve.