Is It Worth Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney? (Yes!)
Each day across the U.S., there are car accidents, house fires, dog bites, slips and falls in supermarkets, and many other ways that someone can become injured because of someone else’s carelessness.
Unfortunately, injuries can cost thousands or even millions of dollars. The average cost of a hospital stay is close to $10,000 or more per night, with additional costs for supplies, diagnostic testing, procedures, medication, and the services of physicians and surgeons. There can be months of physical therapy and rehabilitation, weeks or longer where the injured person is unable to work, and a slew of potential psychological impacts of the injury, such as pain and suffering, or loss of the ability to enjoy activities and hobbies that were important to the sufferer.
So, is it worth hiring a personal injury attorney to help you seek compensation for your injuries? Yes!
The Personal Injury Claims Process
When someone is injured due to another’s negligence, they are generally permitted to seek compensation from the at-fault party’s relevant liability insurance policy.
Some of the types of insurance policies commonly involved in personal injury claims include:
- Auto liability policies for car accident claims
- Homeowner’s policies for house fires
- Dog bites and other residential premises liability matters
- Medical malpractice policies
- Property or business insurance policies for accidents involving commercial or public buildings
When a claim is submitted to another party’s insurance as a result of injuries caused to another due to their negligence, it is known as a third-party claim.
When the insurance provider receives this claim, they will assign a claims adjuster to evaluate the claim and determine:
- Is the company’s insured liable for causing harm to another?
- Does the insured’s policy provide coverage for the damage that was done?
- How much compensation should the claimant recover based on the harm they suffered?
Once the claims adjuster reviews the claim, interviewed the parties involved, and studied the evidence and documentation showing how the injury occurred, they can either accept the claim, deny it, or offer to settle out-of-court for less than its value. If the insurance provider does not choose to compensate the claim, it can be filed as a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. This path is a legal request for a judge or jury to hear the case and determine liability and compensation.
It Seems Simple, but It Isn’t
You file a claim, and either the insurance company pays you, or you sue them. How hard can it be? In truth, the personal injury claims process is complicated.
Several issues work against the claimant’s ability to obtain the compensation they need, such as:
- The claims adjuster is an employee of the at-fault party’s insurance provider. Their role is to save the insurance company money on payouts by reducing or eliminating claims. To do this, they often offer misleading information to the claimant, such as telling them they have to accept a low settlement offer or they won’t be compensated at all or telling them they don’t need an attorney.
- Determining a dollar value for a claim that reflects not only the financial costs of the injury, such as medical expenses and wage loss, but also the psychological costs of the injury, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
- Fighting against the high-powered insurers and lawyers representing the insurance company, all of whom have a vested interest in not paying out on the claim.
- Dealing with the intricacies and formalities of the court process, including the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit. For example, personal injury claimants in Missouri typically have five years to file their claim in court, while claimants in Illinois only have two years to file a lawsuit, in most cases. Those deadlines shorten substantially when they involve government entities.
- Understanding the type of evidence needed to prove liability and justify the claim’s value, as well as knowing how to obtain this evidence.
The bottom line is that the personal injury claims process is complex and the information needed to prove the claim is almost always overwhelming to claimants who do not have the benefit of an experienced lawyer and the legwork of a committed legal team.
The Services a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Provide
There are several services that a personal injury lawyer can provide to assist accident victims with their claims. Here is a look at some of these crucial services.
Valuing Your Claim
Personal injury claimants can seek compensation for two costs, with a third type available in rare cases where the defendant displayed extreme recklessness or intentionally caused harm to another.
In the legal arena, compensation received for injury is called damages.
- Economic damages refer to compensation for monetary losses incurred as a result of the at-fault party’s negligence, such as past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss resulting from the injury and the limitations it places on the sufferer’s ability to work, the loss of business opportunities, the cost of hiring someone to perform domestic services that the sufferer cannot achieve on their own due to the extent of their injury, and the cost of repairing or replacing personal property that was damaged in the accident, such as the vehicle the claimant was driving when a car accident occurred.
- Non-economic damages refer to compensation for the psychological harm the claimant endured or will endure in the future due to the injury. This category includes pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, and loss of consortium.
- Punitive damages punish and deter egregious recklessness or intentional acts.
According to a study published in the Washington University Law Review, non-economic damages typically account for 50-80 percent of the compensation awarded by a judge or jury. It is incredibly important that an attorney values your claim to ensure that you’re seeking the most compensation available.
Speaking With the Claims Adjuster for You
As noted, the claims adjuster does not work for the claimant, and they’re not a neutral party either. They are performing a service for an insurance company to protect their bottom line.
An attorney will handle communication with the insurance provider to avoid issues such as:
- Insurance company tactics designed to devalue the claim, such as asking leading questions, demanding more information than necessary to evaluate the claim, or pressuring the claimant to accept a low-valued claim.
- Having the insurance company delay offering fair compensation for the claimant’s injury to wait out the statute of limitations.
- Avoiding having the claimant accept too low of a settlement offer by ensuring that they understand their claim’s value and the finality of a settlement. Accepting a settlement that is too low to completely cover the claimant’s expenses or address their impacts can be disastrous. Settlement agreements include a release from future liability, meaning you can’t go back and ask the at-fault party or their insured for more money if you discover that what you requested for the claim wasn’t enough.
Gathering Evidence and Witness Testimony to Prove Liability and the Cost of Your Claim
Many types of evidence can prove a personal injury claim, and in some cases, the evidence is held by the at-fault party or their insurer and must be preserved while the claimant continues to heal and the claims process is in progress. The claimant will also be expected to show documentation to prove the value of their claim. This includes invoices for medical bills and other expenses, as well as testimony from medical experts about the severity of the injury and the impacts that the claimant will likely experience.
An experienced personal injury lawyer understands the type of documentation and evidence needed and can file motions with the court to preserve this evidence and gain access to it. They also have a legal team to help gather and organize this information.
Settling Your Case
Most personal injury claims will resolve before they ever reach the courtroom, with settlements being the most common resolution. As noted, your attorney will handle communication with the insurer, and a major part of this communication will involve settling your case. The initial settlement offer made by the claims adjuster will generally be far below the claim’s value. An experienced personal injury lawyer will aggressively negotiate on your behalf to get the claims adjuster to increase the offer amount until it provides enough money to fairly compensate your claim.
It is important to note that an attorney will negotiate for you, but they can’t decide on your behalf. They can, however, provide the information and guidance to help you understand how your claim was valued so that you can make decisions about your claim that reflect your best interests.
What If the Insurance Company Won’t Offer a Fair Settlement?
As noted, if an insurance provider fails to compensate those injured due to their insured’s liability, a personal injury lawsuit can be filed. Filing the lawsuit does not mean there is no chance of settling the claim. In fact, this is often when settlement negotiations often begin in earnest, as the claims adjuster knows failing to resolve the claim will result in litigation, which is both expensive and uncertain.
While settlement negotiations continue, your legal team will prepare your claim for trial. Some of the activities involved in this preparation include deposing witnesses, filing and responding to motions, attending pre-trial hearings, selecting a jury, and creating evidence exhibits.
Helping You Get Paid
When your claim is resolved through a negotiated settlement or a court award, your attorney will collect your compensation and settle any medical liens placed on the award by the providers who treated your injury and the health insurers who covered that treatment.
Can You Afford a Personal Injury Attorney? (Yes!)
There are often misconceptions about hiring attorneys, such as the notion that you will have to pay a retainer for their services or that they will take all the compensation you obtain. However, hiring a quality personal injury lawyer is affordable because the contingent fee billing method means the claimant doesn’t have to pay for their legal team’s services until and unless they recover compensation.
Here’s how it works:
- When you hire an attorney, they will ask you to sign a contingent fee agreement. This agreement details the services provided and designates a percentage of your compensatory award as payment for your legal fees.
- You are not billed while your legal team works on your claim.
- When the claim is resolved, your attorney will receive the compensation on your behalf. They will help you resolve any liens and withdraw a percentage of the award for their services. When the remainder of the compensation is turned over to you, you will also receive an accounting of the services provided and the payment received.
In addition to contingent fee billing, personal injury lawyers generally provide a free case evaluation. This evaluation is a no-obligation conversation that you can use to discuss your case with an attorney and learn more about the process.
The bottom line is that the question isn’t whether it’s worth hiring a personal injury attorney to help you obtain maximum compensation for your claim. The question is: How can you afford not to?
I represent individuals in Missouri and Illinois in all types of personal injury cases. In my short time here I have obtained a judgment for $2.5 million and settled a large class action lawsuit for a confidential amount.
I love the city of St. Louis and support it and give back whenever I can. Recently I was appointed by Mayor Francis Slay to serve on the Advisory Board for the Gateway Mall.
I am married to my lovely wife Lauren and we have two beautiful daughters, Mia and Bridget.