Common Mistakes People Make When Handling Their Own Personal Injury Claims
While it is certainly legal to represent yourself in a personal injury or accident claim, it is not always the best thing to do. Most people might think that they can walk away with a better settlement and keep more money in their pockets without having to hire and pay for a personal injury lawyer.
However, taking this approach could harm your claim. You could end up with a fraction of the monetary damages you are legally entitled to from the people responsible for your injuries and their insurance companies.
To help illustrate why seeking help from a personal injury attorney is always in your best interest, let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes people make when attempting to handle their own injury and accident claims.
Improperly Estimating Damages
Damages involve more than just your current injuries. People often forget to think about future problems associated with their injuries. They are concerned about taking care of medical bills and getting reimbursed for lost wages right now and overlook other damages they might be entitled to receive.
For example, you break your leg in a slip, trip, and fall accident at a retail store. The store’s insurance company offers to pay for all medical bills and any of the time you missed from work. This might not sound like a bad deal.
However, what you may not know is that you have nerve damage in your leg from the accident as well. You do not find out about this until after you settled the claim on your own. Since you signed an agreement for the initial settlement, it prevents you from seeking more money to cover expenses and pain and suffering related to the nerve damage in your leg.
Had you hired a personal injury law firm, your lawyer would have made sure your claim allowed for future damages or included additional compensation to cover potential future damages.
Not Getting Sufficient Documentation and Photos of the Accident
In order to establish negligence, it is vital to make sure you have sufficient documentation and photos to prove the other party was at fault for your injuries. Quite often, people do not think about this at the time of the accident. Rather, they are in pain and suffering and just want to resolve their discomfort as quickly as possible.
Even if you are not fully capable of taking pictures or getting contact details for witnesses, you could ask someone who witnessed the accident to do so for you. Most people are willing to help out and do what they can. In accidents where the police are called, the responding officer might take pictures and include those in the police report, along with witness testimonies. For other accidents, like in retail stores, it is a good idea to fill out an accident injury report.
Without the proper documentation and photos of the accident, the other party’s insurance company could try to downplay the seriousness of your injuries. Furthermore, without help from a personal injury lawyer who has access to resources to help gather documentation and pictures of the accident, you may end up with a much smaller settlement than you are entitled to receive.
Not Seeking Medical Treatment Immediately
Frequently, immediately following an accident, most people are not fully aware of the extent of their injuries. They might say they feel fine and refuse medical treatment. It is only later that they notice they are in pain and are injured. The reason for this is because the body releases high levels of adrenaline during the accident.
When adrenaline levels are elevated, it helps mask the signs of pain, soreness, and discomfort. If you wait to seek medical treatment until a few days later, the other party’s insurance company could claim you refused medical treatment and are now fabricating injuries to get a bigger settlement.
Even if you do not feel pain or notice any injuries following an accident, it is always in your best interest to go to the hospital or another healthcare provider to be examined in great detail. Many people are quite surprised to find out they are, indeed, injured in some manner.
When you file a personal injury claim on your own, the settling insurance company will seem like it is working in your best interest. It might sound nice and agreeable on the phone. However, what the worker is not telling you is the company’s goal is to get you to admit fault or at least partial fault. If the company can do this, then it can say you are either not entitled to seek damages or can only receive a percentage of the claim.
Insurance company interviewers will typically ask leading questions. For instance, they might ask you what you were doing when the accident occurred. Without thinking, you may say you were talking to someone on the phone. Now they can say you weren’t paying attention, and therefore were partially at fault for the accident.
A personal injury attorney will handle all negotiations with the insurance company. In addition, the attorney will advise you on how to best answer questions during the interview process and be present to ensure you do not hurt your claim.
Settling the Claim Without Realizing It
Some insurance companies can be sneaky. They might say they are issuing checks to cover your initial damages, like to pay for current medical expenses. However, what they do not tell you is, by cashing the checks, you are agreeing your claims are settled. They may also have you sign “general releases” to get the checks. The wording in the fine print in the releases could also state you are agreeing your claims are settled.
A personal injury lawyer will make sure that your claim is not settled without your knowledge. Lawyers are also equally aware of these tactics used by some insurance companies.
Settling Too Low
One of the more common mistakes people make when representing themselves in a personal injury claim is accepting the initial settlement offer or one that is too low. The thing you have to remember, with all insurance companies, is that their primary goal is to get you to agree to a settlement for the least amount allowed by law.
Their secondary goal is to make as much in profits as possible for their shareholders and stakeholders. Insurance companies are for-profit businesses, which most people tend to forget. If they are paying out large settlements for personal injury claims, they are not going to earn as much money.
Furthermore, insurance companies have their own teams of injury lawyers that provide them with legal advice about how to negotiate claims for the least amount possible. Insurance companies know how to make it sound like you are getting the maximum settlement amount and best deal possible, just so you sign the offer or cash the insurance check.
Another reason some people end up settling for less than they are entitled to is that they assume they will get less if they get help from a personal injury law firm. For example, the insurance company makes a settlement offer of $15,000 for your injuries. This sounds like a decent offer. If you had hired a lawyer for help, you would have to give them a portion of the $15,000, so that means you would end up with far less. Let’s assume, for this example, the lawyer takes 33% of the settlement. This would mean you would only get $9,900 after paying your lawyer.
Yet, what you are unaware of is, with help from a lawyer, you end up with a settlement offer of $75,000. Even if you have to pay lawyers 33% for their help, you would still end up with $49,500. This is quite a big difference from the original $15,000 the insurance company offered to settle the claim on your own.
Believing a Retainer Has to Be Paid to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
One of the reasons people make the mistake of attempting to handle their own personal injury claims is they have been misled to believe they have to pay up front to hire an injury lawyer. Reputable and experienced law firms and lawyers will not require you to pay them up front.
In fact, they will work on a contingency basis and only get paid if they win your case. Once you receive your settlement check, you then pay them the amount you agreed on when you hired them. Additionally, some injury law firms have access to resources that can help you out financially, pending the outcome of your case. For instance, they might provide interest-free loans so you are able to pay medical bills and other expenses until you can settle your claim.
It is always a good idea to speak to a personal injury lawyer after being involved in an accident where someone else is either mostly or fully at-fault. For a FREE personal injury claim consultation, please feel free to contact Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. at 713-364-0723 today! Our personal injury lawyers are available 24/7!