One of the first questions that a person who is injured in an auto accident asks himself is whether he should handle the claim himself or retain an injury lawyer. And… if to hire a lawyer, how to find the right one – how to find an honest, aggressive legal professional who will obtain fair compensation and do a thorough job representing you? Choosing a lawyer can be a challenging task, especially in San Francisco, where there are literally hundreds and hundreds of personal injury lawyers.
Generally, a small accidents with minimal property damages and mild, soft tissue injuries injuries from which you completely recover within a month or so do not justify hiring an attorney unless the third-party insurance company of the driver at fault simply denies liability or are otherwise being unreasonable about settling your claim, not willing to compensate you for your basic medical expenses and for the time missed from work.
Otherwise, if you document your injuries, medical treatment and loss of wages well, you should be able to obtain fair compensation in your insurance settlement without the necessity of paying anywhere between 25% and 40% of your recovery to the attorney.
However, if you suffered a serious injury to one or more parts of your body in an auto accident, which is likely to have residual effects in the future or possibly for the rest of your life which has and will affect various aspects of your life and your ability to enjoy the typical social and professional activities, it is in your best interest to hire a reputable, knowledgeable, personal injury lawyer for a number of compelling reasons:
- Assessing your injury claim. An experienced personal injury attorney will help you understand the legal issues involved in your specific personal injury claim. Is the injury serious? Is it a permanent or temporary injury? Who was at fault? Was there an uninsured or underinsured motorist involved? Is there any third party responsibility? Do you have pain and suffering? Should you try to negotiate with the insurer yourself? Do you have to accept his settlement offer? Do you know what your case is worth (the insurance company does and won’t tell you)? A good lawyer will tell you whether it makes sense to sue in small claims court, to sue for a larger amount in state court or to settle out of court.
- Obtaining additional evidence, information and reports. A good personal injury attorney will know what kinds of evidence to look for (i.e., medical and vocational evidence, police reports, etc.) and will investigate and interview potential witnesses for statements to gather all the necessary records and other evidence to prove the extent and the gravity of your injuries and to prove liability of the other party of it’s in dispute.
- Provide legal education to find a possible shortcut to resolving your injury claim. If representing yourself works better for you, consider using an attorney as a legal coach to help you (1) understand the personal injury law that applies to your case; (2) find the evidence that best supports your case; (3) understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your claim; (4) understand the litigation process and customs unique to your local courts; (5) draft or review paperwork; (6) identify opportunities for a settlement to your personal injury claim; or (7) represent you if at some point you feel you can no longer go it alone.
- Negotiate. If there is an unresolved dispute, there will be negotiations with a claim adjuster who is a professional negotiator. You’d be wise to hire an attorney to negotiate on your behalf and to protect your interests, as both insurance companies and insurance defense lawyers take the arguments of a lawyer much more seriously than those of a lay person who is trying to handle his own injury claim.
- Represent you in court. An experienced lawyer can help you file a personal injury lawsuit against the party with whom you have a dispute. If your opponent has a lawyer, then by all means, you need to get one as well, as a lay person does not have the knowledge and experience to deal with the opposite size, following the many complicated court rules and procedures.
- Relieving you of the hassle associated with handling your own injury claim – your most important job after being involved in an injury accident is making sure that your recover and get back to the normal course of your life. From the moment you hire an attorney, you are relieved of the trouble of handling many of the issues associated with your claim, as most, if not all, the work will be done by your lawyer.
So, the bottom line is this: if your injuries are insignificant, you didn’t miss a lot of time from work and the insurance company being reasonable with you, then you should settle your claim and move on with your life.
If your injuries are serious and require careful treatment and evaluation and are likely to affect your future, it is highly recommended that you retain a personal injury lawyer to represent your interests, to negotiate on your behalf and possibly fight for a fair recovery in court.