Many people who consult with our office will ask straight up whether they need an attorney in the first place. That is an excellent question, and even though I am well aware that I make my living representing people injured in collisions, I answer the question based on the particular circumstances of each case. Here are some of the general thoughts on whether a makes sense to handle a case on your own. Generally, it's all about how complex the case is.
1. Severity of Injuries
It somebody explains they were in a fender bender, went to the emergency room, and have not followed up with their own physician, I will lean toward advising them that they may be able to handle the matter on their own. However, even if you feel fine two, even three days after the collision, give yourself plenty of to to make sure that you can resume all your normal activities. If you have a tee time on Saturday, or you go for your weekend walks, make sure you can do these things without any trouble before you think about resolving your case.
If you have a more nagging injury, or a serious issue, then there are many pitfalls associated with handling your own case. First, there may be issues about who and how medical bills will be paid. If a private health plan pays bills, they will want to be reimbursed, and you have to make sure everything is lined up correctly with the applicable insurance policies. If the negligent driver had insufficient insurance coverage, there are specific steps you must take to first figure out whether you have an underinsured motorist claim, and how to perfect the claim. The more serious your injury, the better off you will do having an attorney on your side.
2. Sufficient Insurance
As I touched upon above, many cases, especially those involving serious injury, may include an issue about whether there is enough insurance to cover all the claims. For example, you may be facing a serious injury, but the driver who caused the collision has minimal insurance. We have also seen cases where several people are injured in one collision, and there is only one insurance policy available to cover and compensate all of the injured parties. In these kinds of cases, several different issues come together, and having an attorney to navigate through the claim could significantly affect your outcome in a positive way.
The term "liability" simply means who is responsible for causing the collision. In some cases, the liability is exceedingly clear. The most common example is the client he was stopped at a traffic signal, and hit from behind. However, other cases are not so clear. Examples that come to mind include intersection collisions, or collisions involving pedestrians.
Insurance companies are in the business of minimizing their "exposure," which means paying as little as reasonably possible under the circumstances. If an insurance adjuster sees an opening on the issue of liability, she will take it. That is her job. and she cannot be faulted for doing her job.
If you have a claim involving disputed liability, having an attorney on your side may be helpful because he or she will likely have the tools available to properly investigate the case, and prove liability if it can be proven. If an attorney looks at the case, and declines representation because liability is too difficult a hurdle, you should at least know that up front, and as I tell all potential clients that I decline to represent, get a second legal opinion.
4. If You Do "Do It Yourself"
So, if you have a case that you can handle on your own, the main thing is to simply stay organized.
First, make a separate file for each part of the case that you're dealing with. If you have personal injury protection coverage, which in Washington, is optional, make a PIP file. The adjuster on this file will be different than the other adjusters on the claim.
If you have property damage coverage on your auto insurance policy, make a separate folder for this part of the claim. You may have the same claim number, but the adjuster you will deal with a different adjuster.
With your claim against the other driver, you may also need to make some separate folders. If you are resolving your property damage claim with the other driver's insurance company, make a property damage folder simply for that part of the claim. You can then make a separate folder for the personal injury part of the case. You are dealing with two different adjusters on two different issues.
On the front of each folder, include all of the contact information for the adjusters that you are dealing with. If you can get an electronic mail address, even better.
Finally, the best advice I have ever heard is to simply "get it in writing." I am always thrilled to see a client come in with a simple journal memorializing all of the telephone conversations with the adjusters. It gives me a very good idea of where things are with the case.
Also, if you get a commitment from an adjuster, like a promise to authorize a rental car, or pay certain amount for your car's repair or replacement, confirm that commitment in writing. If there is a dispute, you have proof, especially if the adjuster did nothing in response to your letter or email.
In many cases, I will meet new clients to have made a valiant effort to represent themselves on the claim, but for one reason or another, feel like it is best to finally hand the matter over to an attorney. If you are at that spot, or even if you just have questions, call us at 503-325-8600. We can provide you guidance, and if you feel comfortable, take the load off, and handle your claim.