As a personal injury attorney, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is why an injured person needs to hire an attorney to represent them. Here’s an outline of how I usually answer that question.
Should I hire a lawyer for my car accident?
Sometimes you don’t need a lawyer. You may consider handling the situation alone if:
- Your injuries are relatively minor
- Your medical treatment is for only a short period of time
- Your medical expenses and other damages are small
- You are pretty savvy about business matters and negotiating
You may be able to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company that will net you about the same or maybe even a little more than if you had an attorney. But that’s a lot of ifs, and that only applies to small cases for reasons I’ll discuss.
Reasons why you should hire an attorney for your auto accident
1. Insurance companies have professional adjusters who handle their claims for them, and that’s who you’ll be dealing with.
These are trained professionals whose job it is to make your case cost the insurance company as little as possible. And that means you receive as little as possible. They know that you haven’t hired an attorney and that you probably don’t want to. The adjuster assumes you are a person who is willing to struggle on your own without getting the information and help that you need. And that creates the opportunity for you to be taken advantage of.
2. When you are trying to handle something that you are not knowledgeable about or experienced in, it’s stressful.
You are making decisions about your claim without knowing how to properly make the decisions. These questions include:
- Should you give a recorded statement to the insurance company?
- Should you sign the authorizations the insurance company wants you to?
- Are you including all the items that you can claim in your case?
- Are you calculating them the right way?
- Is the amount the insurance company is offering a fair amount?
- Should you sign the release they want you to as part of the settlement?
Facing all these decisions without the proper knowledge and information will make most people miserable. Isn’t the peace of mind of knowing it’s being properly handled to protect your legal rights worth something? And if you end up with the same amount of money as you might net with an attorney handling the case, then in essence you’ve just paid for an attorney you didn’t get. Or the peace of mind.
3. When you are trying to handle something that you are not knowledgeable about or experienced in, and money is involved, you are likely to be taken advantage of.
Many people do not like buying a car. Why? Often because the salesperson is very skilled at getting you to buy, and you are worried about being pressured. You may not know which car is best for the price. When you deal with an insurance adjuster, you are dealing with a very knowledgeable professional who is trained to persuade you to do what the insurance company wants: accept a low offer. Well, here are a couple of the most common ways.
4. The more money that is involved, the more you have to lose if you handle it wrong. And the more incentive the insurance company has to take advantage of you.
If your injuries and losses are small, a mistake in handling your claim won’t lose you much. However, if your losses are more substantial, then you are more at risk if you make a mistake. And the insurance company has more incentive to help you make that mistake.
5. Insurance companies train their adjusters to keep people from going to an attorney. The insurance companies call that “controlling the case”.
Why would they do that? Because the insurance companies know that an experienced and knowledgeable attorney will be able to ascertain the full extent of all your damages and losses that you are entitled to collect, will know what a fair value for those losses is, and will file suit if the insurance company won’t pay it. In other words, because the insurance company knows they’ll have to pay out more money if you have an attorney.
How insurance adjusters get you to settle for low offers
Insurance adjusters are trained to try and settle cases shortly after an accident for a small amount of money. The goal is to tempt someone who may not yet fully recognize the extent of their injuries and losses into settling cheaply. The insurance company wants a quick settlement for a low amount so it can avoid having to pay a larger amount later when the losses are fully known. In the industry, it’s called “flash money”. The idea is to “flash” the prospect of immediate money in front of the injured person in hopes they’ll take it.
The recorded statement
Another way insurance adjusters take advantage of claimants is the recorded statement. The insurance adjuster knows the right words to use in asking the questions to lead you into saying certain things, which have a meaning or effect that you didn’t realize. That type of interviewing is a learned skill.
Many people are shaken up after an accident, and have a fuzzy memory of the events. There’s a medical reason for this. Often in the whiplash motion that accompanies many impacts, the brain hits against the inside of the skull and affects immediate short-term memory. This is called a “contre coup” injury.  Insurance adjusters take advantage of this when they take recorded statements. The questioning may go something like this:
Q: I guess things seemed to happen pretty fast out there when the accident happened.
A: Yes, it’s almost like a blur.
Q: Do you remember seeing how many people were in the other car before it hit you?
A: No, I don’t recall that.
Q: Do you remember seeing the color of the other car before it hit you?
A: No, I don’t recall that.
Q: Do you remember noticing what make and model the other car was before the impact?
A: No, I don’t remember noticing that either.
Q: It sounds like you didn’t notice very much. I guess it happened so fast you didn’t really see the other car before the impact.
A: No, I guess I really didn’t.
What the adjuster knows and you don’t is that Virginia has a rule of law called contributory negligence.
Virginia’s rule of contributory negligence
Under that rule, even if the other driver is 99% at fault in causing your accident, if you as the injured person are even 1% at fault in a way that significantly contributes to cause the accident, then you lose. You don’t get a dime.
And based on your statement, the insurance company will argue that you are partly at fault too, because you weren’t paying attention since the car was in plain view approaching before it hit you in the side. But the truth is you probably did see it. You just don’t remember because of the type of injury you sustained. But the adjuster knows that you don’t know that.
Personal injury attorneys: Most have no retainer fees or billable hours
Most personal injury attorneys charge one-third of the recovery as a fee. Even if they do a lot of work but don’t recover much, you still only pay out a third. The attorney’s financial incentive is to get as much money for you as possible. Suppose your tax preparer’s fee was only a percentage of the money they saved you on your taxes. How hard do you think they’d look to find you more savings?
Some people think a third (33%) sounds like a lot. That’s because they don’t know what the markup is on most of the products they buy. Did you know that the average hot dog vendor on the corner is charging you a fifty to sixty-three percent mark-up? When you get a repair at the auto body shop, they are charging you a 25% to over 100% “fee” added to the cost of the parts they provide. And labor is extra!
So with the extensive education, experience, and skill required to be an attorney, one-third is a bargain compared to what you pay for products you buy. The attorney doesn’t get paid until you get paid either. If the insurance company is being difficult, a case may last a year or more. Not only are lawyers paying their staff, office expenses, and insurance, but they’re fronting the expenses to file suit, pay doctors for conferences and depositions, court reporter charges, medical records charges, and more. It’s not unusual for our Firm to be fronting expenses to clients that total in excess of one million dollars, for which we charge no interest. Many of our competitors do charge interest on advanced expenses, but we do not.
Opt for education, experience, and skill
Almost all attorneys have attended a four-year college, successfully completed a three-year law school, and passed a rigorous licensing examination to practice law. In our firm, we have attorneys who have attended some of the top law schools in the country. They’ve been listed in the Best Lawyers in America books. We have attorneys who have received local, state, national, and even international recognition for their accomplishments in the law. We have attorneys who have successfully tried many difficult cases in court on behalf of our clients and have obtained a number of the top verdicts in Virginia. And we enjoy helping people.
If you have been injured in an accident through no fault of your own, call the experienced car accident lawyers at Allen & Allen for a free consultation, at 866-388-1307.