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Should I Wait Before I Hire An Attorney For My Accident Claim

by on May 4, 2012 » Add the first comment.

It’s a great question and one that a lot of people ask themselves when they have been in an accident.  After all, most people are aware of the fact that attorneys charge a portion of whatever their recovery might be.  So it is reasonable to ask, “Why should I share my recovery with a lawyer if I can settle the case myself?”  The truth is, there are some claims that can be settled without a lawyer.  For example, if you have a little car accident with minimal property damage and no personal injury, you probably don’t need a lawyer.

But if you are in an accident where you have suffered bodily injury, you should get quality legal representation as soon as possible.  Never try to settle an injury case without a competent personal injury lawyer on your side.  There are several very important reasons for this:

  1. It takes time to determine the seriousness of your injury. After an accident you may be stiff and sore and unable to move as well as before the accident.  The muscles of the body respond to injury and trauma by going in to spasm of varying degrees.  The muscles tighten in order to prevent you from moving too much and causing greater damage to injured tissues and structures.  It is often difficult to know how significant the underlying issue is during the inflammatory period which can last weeks or even months.A good lawyer is going to help you understand the importance of early treatment and intervention.  In addition, your lawyer should be able to help you find a doctor who can give you this very important care at no out of pocket cost to you.  A good lawyer will be able to help you find a doctor who understands the importance of keeping excellent records that will carefully document the nature of your injury.  When it comes time to settle your case, the quality of the doctor’s records will be just as important as the quality of the doctor’s care.

    If you take a wait and see approach to this kind of injury, you could be in very serious trouble on a number of fronts.  First and foremost, if you wait to get appropriate treatment, you jeopardize your chances of getting the best possible physical outcome.  By failing to get the right kind of treatment early on, you could be left with permanent stiffness or limitation of motion in critical joints and muscles.  Early treatment leads to far better long term outcomes.

  2. When the opposing insurance company sees that you have a lawyer who is willing to go the distance in your corner, you have a distinct advantage right from the start.  Insurance companies are in the business of making money.  Their objective is pay out as little as possible on every claim.  When the company receives notice of your claim they are required to establish a “reserve” on the file.  This means that they set aside a sum of money that they believe will be sufficient to pay your claim.  This “reserve” is often established very early in a case.  It reflects the adjustor’s first impression of the claim.The amount of money that the insurance company places in reserve is dependant upon a number of important factors.  An important factor is the perceived quality of your representation.  If you are unrepresented, this can effect how the insurance company evaluates your case and decrease the amount of money placed in “reserve”.  By the same token, if your lawyer is known for wanting to avoid “the courtroom” or if the law firm representing you has a reputation for being a “settlement mill”, your “reserve” will suffer.  Once the “reserve” is established on a case, it is difficult to settle your case for more than the reserve amount…so you want that “reserve” to be set as high as possible from the outset.

    Having a quality law firm on your side tells the insurance company several critical things:

    • They know you have taken your case seriously enough to get a good firm to represent you.
    • They know you are willing and able to go the distance if you don’t get an acceptable offer.
    • They know your case will be investigated and documented properly.
    • They know your medical records and bills will be presented in a professional manner.
    • They know your lawyer is going to be able to argue you case persuasively and with conviction
    • They know that when it comes time to talk settlement your lawyer will be ready to file suit immediately if they don’t pay you what your claim is worth.

    When the insurance company understands these things from the outset, the “reserve” is placed where it needs to be and the case has a much better opportunity to settle for the right amount.

  3. When the insurance company sees that you have no lawyer and that you want to try and settle it on your own, your case starts off on a weaker footing.  Not only is the “reserve” likely to be much lower, the adjustor will usually take your case less seriously.  Adjustor’s can’t help themselves.  They see an unrepresented (or poorly represented) claimant as an opportunity to settle the claim for less.  Even if you threaten to bring in an attorney if the offer isn’t fair, the adjuster can’t resist playing hardball with you.  The odds are in the companies favor.  They know that they usually settle cases with unrepresented claimants for less money, so that will be their mind set when it comes to negotiating the claim with you.This kind of a negotiation paints both sides into the wrong corners and makes it difficult to settle even if the claimant eventually hires a lawyer.  At this point, the only alternative is often filing suit and going through a protracted litigation process. Filing suit after this kind of fruitless negotiation incurs significant costs that can usually be avoided when the claim gets off on the right foot.  The threat of litigation from a good attorney is a powerful negotiation tool.  The threat of litigation from an unrepresented claimant can be seen as very hollow.
  4. 4. Insurance companies know who the “good firms” At Wattel & York we have decades of experience in helping accident victims recover full value for their claims.  We are known as fighters.  We are not afraid to litigate a claim if that means putting more money in our client’s pockets.  The insurance companies know this about us.  They know we are not a settlement mill.  They know our main objective is not to avoid the court room.  Our main objective is maximizing the value of every client’s claim.  We would be proud to be on your side.

By David H. Cluff

Of counsel to Wattel & York

Find more like this: Personal Injury

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