Settling a personal injury claim without a lawyer

Perspective clients with personal injury claims often ask me, “Can’t I just do this on my own?”

Despite the singular goal of my profession (to get clients), my response is often, “Sure.  You bet you can.  Absolutely.”  Lest you think I leave it at that, let me share with you how I follow up on that response.

If you are going to handle your own personal injury claim, you will (at a minimum) need to do the following:

  1. Collect all evidence – This may seem straightforward, but do you know what to collect?  Do you need witnesses?  Do you need experts?  If a witness isn’t available, is there a way to get the same information from another source?  How many witnesses are too many?  Too few?  How do I get public documents?  How do I get documents from other people?  Other businesses?  Does the law prohibit me from using any particular evidence?  And when will I have ‘enough’ evidence?
  2. Refute opposing evidence – The at-fault party and/or that party’s insurance company will be gathering evidence that trumps yours – old medical records, witnesses who don’t agree with your position, problems with your evidence (gaps in treatment, over treatment, under treatment), internet posts that make you look ‘just fine,’ and more.
  3. Negotiate the value of your claim – What is your case worth?  How do you determine that?  What do juries typically decide in cases like yours? What do you do with a counter offer?  How much should you come down from your original number?  What does your counter offer communicate to the other side?  When the insurance company says ‘that’s our final offer,’ is it?  What if that number doesn’t even pay for the medical bills?
  4. Potentially sue the at-fault party – Which court?  What do the documents have to say?  What are the rules?  What are the laws?  Is the other side allowed to ask that question?  When do I object?  How do I prove my case?
  5. Keep other ‘interested’ parties away – Who do I have to pay back when I settle?  What are they entitled to?  Why does my health plan get paid back before I do?  Do I have to pay them everything even though I did all the work?  The expert charged how much to testify?  The medical records cost how much to get from the providers?

This list of things to consider is small compared with reality, but it hits the high notes.  So, can you settle your own claim?  Yes, you can…but I don’t recommend it.

Posted in Advice

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