Hello, I’m attorney Keith Schindler. Thank you for taking the time to view another edition of Claim Your Justice Live.
The purpose of these sessions is to try and help educate the viewers, and the rest of the Facebook community about personal injury cases, personal injury topics, and how to maximize the value of any personal injury claim.
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Today I am going to discuss representing yourself in a personal injury case. You may think this is a self-serving topic because of course, we’re personal injury attorneys. I want to represent clients in personal injury cases. However, there are pitfalls to representing yourself, a glaring comparison is if you had a fire at your house, you would call the fire department. Why? They’re professionally trained in putting out fires. They have the tools that are necessary to do the job.
I have had prospective clients who have called to discuss with me their case and are trying to represent themselves. Why are they trying to represent themselves? They do not want to pay an attorney a fee to represent them in a personal injury claim. If it is a very, very minor type of injury, go ahead and try and represent yourself.
I rarely say that though. I view it as an attorney does not cost, it pays. Over the past couple of months, I have had two clients call, and they were representing themselves. In the first case, the client was very happy that they were able to secure a settlement of a few thousand dollars, on their own. Sounds great, right? The problem is, my evaluation of the case and medical bills told me the case was worth probably $25,000. Certainly in that situation, having a personal injury attorney representing the client would not have cost, it would have paid because the client would have walked away from the case with significantly more than a few thousand dollars.
Worse, I had a client call and she was representing herself trying to negotiate a settlement. There were a lot of medical records involved. A lot of gathering medical records. There were a couple of different injuries at play. She had a specified type of injury that she was suffering and organized what bills go to what type of injury and what the permanency of the injury was valued at. It took such a long period that the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit had expired. The client had not successfully negotiated a settlement for herself. The case was essentially dead.
The problem with the second example where the statute of limitations expired, is that the client had suffered a significant injury, my guess is the value was over $100,000. Right now the client has zero. Again, the Personal Injury Attorney would not have cost, it would have paid. That client would have been able to get a substantial recovery. Now there are some issues about how a personal injury relationship works. Well, it is a contingent fee relationship. What that means is the attorney fee is contingent on me successfully winning the case. To Claim Your Justice, attorneys have to win. The win is contingent on getting paid.
This creates what I describe to clients as a partnership. We are in this partnership together, the more I am able to recover for my client, and the more I am able to make for our firm. It’s not just self-serving. It is a benefit that pays to the client. I have every incentive to not settle the case for a shorter value, or in a shorter time to get out of the case and make a quick buck. That is not our goal. Our goal is to maximize recovery. It is number one in the client’s interest, because the more money I could collect for the client, the more money I earn for the firm. It is contingent, it is a win-win relationship.
As for the pitfalls, you can suffer when you are trying to negotiate a settlement yourself. Some are obvious, right, we have already discussed it, you are going to recover significantly less than your case is worth. That is bad. You cannot unwind that clock, you cannot un-ring that bell. Once you sign the release document, case closed, you’re going to get a check, you’re going be talking to someone along the way afterward, you’ll say “Look at me, I represented myself and got $7,000.”
The person will say, well, I know a little bit about personal injury, I think your case was worth upwards of $25,000. It is a sad day, but it happens all the time. Who wins in that situation, the insurance company. Not the injured party. You could also miss out on recovering what you might need for coverage for future medical services.
Let’s say you have a scar where your injury was, and eventually, you need plastic surgery to reduce the visibility of the scar. You signed that release … case over, if you did not include the value of those future medical services in your settlement, that surgery will not be covered.
You also have issues of not being able to properly evaluate if other insurance coverages apply. Let’s say you’re in a car accident, and the other side has a $25,000 minimum statutory insurance policy, and the insurance company offers that $25,000 for your injury. The problem is if you don’t have experience and knowledge in dealing with this, maybe you forgot to notify your underinsured motorist carrier. Maybe you forgot to see who the owner of the car was. If it’s a company, maybe they have a larger policy.
You get my point, hopefully. Then there is the, usually very minor issue of lost wages. Let’s say you missed a week or two of work and you didn’t get paid. You likely won’t know that you’re supposed to include those lost wages in your claim. Again, the insurance company wins, and you lose.
Another benefit of having a personal injury attorney represent you in a personal injury case is that after the case, we will frequently get involved in negotiating the medical bills. If there’s not a sufficient amount of money to cover all the medical bills, we will help you. There may be a $19,000 hospital bill that we could reduce down to $11,000. It’s a big number, these numbers matter.
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