Should I Try to Settle My Case Without an Attorney?

Sometimes I get asked if an injured person really needs an attorney to handle their case.  The internet is full of all kinds of advice about how to “do it yourself” and settle your own claim.  Most people who try to navigate the process on their own eventually discover that handling a personal injury case is far too complicated to manage without an attorney—or worse, they settle their case without knowing how much money they left on the table.

Here are just a few of the reasons why you should work with an attorney if you are injured in a crash:

  • If the person who injured you has no insurance or minimal insurance limits, you may be entitled to make a claim under your own insurance policy.  However, settling with the other driver’s carrier without settling with your own carrier at the same time can cause you to lose the right to claim benefits under your own policy.  Many do-it-yourself claimants are either unaware that they have this coverage or fail to account for their own coverage and lose the opportunity to use those funds for settlement.
  • If you are already receiving workers compensation benefits, settling a personal injury award can in some circumstances cause you to lose those benefits.  You need an experienced attorney to help navigate the complicated interplay between workers compensation and personal injury.
  • If you are on Medicare or Medicaid, you may be required to pay some of your personal injury award to the government, and if you fail to do so, you may lose your coverage completely. Negotiating with Medicare and Medicaid is a time-consuming and involved process that requires experience and know-how.
  • If you have health insurance under certain qualified plans, those insurers may be entitled to assert a lien against the proceeds of your personal injury award.  Sometimes the liens are greater than the amount of the insurance proceeds and only experienced negotiation can convince the insurers to fairly reduce their claims.
  • If you were treated in a public hospital (for example, UVA or VCU), then the hospital is also entitled to make claims for medical costs that were not fully covered by health insurance.  Again, people handling cases on their own can wind up exposing themselves to being sued for failing to pay the liens asserted by these public hospitals.
  • Getting a quick settlement requires you to sign a release from the insurance company, and most people handling their own claims don’t bother to read the fine print on these agreements.  Many of these documents require the injured person to agree to protect the insurance company if there are liens that have not been paid.  Again, without advice from an experienced attorney, do-it-yourselfers end up exposing themselves to potential liability should some other medical provider or insurer arise to make a claim for the injury proceeds.
  • Many people pay a monthly fee to their automobile insurer to get medical payments coverage, yet when they are settling their injury case on their own, they neglect to tap this important source of money which can help lessen the loss from an accident or injury.  Again, it pays to hire an experienced attorney before rushing into a settlement and forfeiting these potential sources of settlement money.

The internet is full of advice about how to do many things.  Do-it-yourselfers may be best served sticking with more traditional projects like home improvement or crafts and leaving the management of their injury case to the professionals.  If you’re in doubt, ask yourself:  “Why is the insurance company so anxious to settle my claim before I speak to an attorney?”