Often I am asked by people who are injured in accidents that are someone else's fault whether they will benefit from being represented by an attorney. Generally, the answer is yes. However, I always encourage people to take advantage of the opportunity for a free consultation that most personal injury law firms offer, and to use that free consultation to gather enough information to make an informed decision about whether to retain an attorney.
Sometimes people are only slightly hurt in an accident, and fortunately make a full recovery quickly. In these instances, I often explain to the injured person how they can handle their claim with the insurance company directly without a lawyer. However, when the injured person has required several doctor visits because of their injuries, generally they will benefit from the representation of an experienced personal injury attorney.
When deciding whether to retain an attorney, it is important for an injured victim to understand their legal rights. Most people are surprised to learn that, in Virginia, they are not entitled to a settlement with the insurance company for the person who is at fault. Insurance companies only offer settlements in order to save themselves from paying out more if you go to trial and get a verdict. In fact, your only legal right is to sue the person you say is at fault and then got to trial, where a judge or a jury determines the amount of your compensation. In determining that amount, more than just the economic losses - meaning the medical expenses and lost wages - are considered. In addition to these financial losses, the compensation awarded should also include consideration of the injuries as well as the physical pain and inconvenience which are always associated with injuries. These subjective losses, which affect one's quality of life, are often more significant than the economic losses.
While a trial is the only legal right an injured victim possesses in order to be compensated, an experienced personal injury trial lawyer can often negotiate a settlement for their clients without a trial for the following reasons. First, such an attorney can develop the evidence for trial in a manner most advantageous to their client, and present it to the insurance company in a persuasive manner. Secondly, the experienced attorney can properly evaluate the case and estimate the likely potential award their client might receive at trial. Finally, the experienced trial attorney is more likely to negotiate an acceptable settlement offer from the insurance company because of that attorney's proven reputation for achieving successful trial results. This is true because -- as explained earlier -- any case which does not settle will have to be tried to determine the amount of a client's compensation. Obviously, those attorneys who have the experience and reputation for securing good results for their clients through trial have the clout or the credibility with the insurance companies to generally get good settlement offers before trial.
To illustrate this point, I will mention a situation that happened when I first began practicing law with the firm more than 25 years ago. At that time, the senior attorney who served as my mentor was hired by a man who was offered $6,000 in settlement from the insurance company prior to engaging us to represent him. Our senior trial attorney was ultimately able to negotiate an $18,000 settlement for this client without the need of a lawsuit or a trial. Obviously, this particular client was very well served by his decision to engage experienced counsel to represent him.
In conclusion, it is probably better to ask than to be sorry. In other words, if you have been injured through no fault of your own, then consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney is a prudent course. At our Firm, the initial conference is always free of charge.
About the Author: For over 25 years, Mr. Allen has handled a variety of personal injury cases, making recoveries for his clients ranging from a few thousand dollars to almost six million dollars. Mr. Allen provides litigation support and works on cases primarily from the Richmond, Mechanicsville and Short Pump offices.