When you're injured or your property is damaged in an accident, bills can start to rack up even if your injury isn't all that serious. You could quickly find yourself drowning in high-cost emergency bills (especially if you don't have health insurance), missing out on income due to days off attending to your injury or because your injury prohibits you doing your job… perhaps even temporary (or even permanent) lack of a vehicle or ability to drive a vehicle… and potentially shelling out tons of cash fixing or replacing any property that was also damaged.
The good news is that the law has built-in remedies for getting some or all of that debt covered. The bad news is, the defendant may be unwilling to pay and the insurance company of the person who caused the accident (if involved) is going to try to short-change you and has high-powered, specialized attorneys ready and willing to make sure their client doesn't pay out anymore than they have to.
Retaining your own personal injury lawyer is the best defense. But many people try to handle these things on their own, not realizing just how much a personal injury lawyer can help. A personal injury lawyer can:
1. Take the Financial Burden Off the Cost of Trying the Case
Most personal injury lawyers work on contingency, meaning you don't pay any legal fees, or costs, until after the case is resolved. Moreover, the contingency is generally based on a percentage of the award, which ensures you don't end up with a final bill that just happens to be exactly what you were awarded. If you lose your case, they don't get paid because there's nothing to take their cut from. Essentially, if they do not make a recovery on your behalf, you do not pay any fees or costs.
Basically, the attorney takes a risk on both their assessment of the strength of your case and their skill as a lawyer. That doesn't mean there's zero expenditure. You'll still have to pay some hard costs (basically, any money they have to pay out of their pocket in order to research and try the case… the money you'd have paid anyway if you'd represented yourself), but a reputable attorney will make sure you know what most of those are up front (and inform you as soon as they know about unexpected costs).
2. Assess the Strength of Your Claim
Because accident lawyers handle these claims on a daily basis, they have a good handle on whether the situation is one that constitutes a viable claim. Not only from a legal standpoint, but also from the standpoint of the current legal environment, both locally and statewide. If you don't have a case, they won't take it and can even potentially save you the money you'd have paid to go to court if you'd represented yourself. And most personal injury lawyers will do this in a free one-hour consultation, so you don't risk anything to find out.
3. Sweat the Small Stuff
In Florida, a majority of claims resolve before having to file a lawsuit. However, if you are unable to reach a reasonable settlement agreement, it may be necessary to go to trial.
Trying a case is a long, complicated and arduous process for an individual. Individuals who represent themselves aren't just trying to hit all the little points (filing, research, obtaining evidence, etc.), they're learning as they go. Worse, one little error can set you back months or even cause problems that are impossible to over come — if you miss one little filing deadline, you could be barred permanently from bringing your case in some situations.
A personal injury lawyer will handle all those small details, making sure there are no mistakes along the way and that everything is prepared at trial, which will take the burden off you while you're trying to heal, and let you more efficiently move on with your life.
4. Handle Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are notorious for giving you the run-around and not fully paying claims. Your lawyer can deal with that and make sure you aren't taken advantage of. In fact, we recommend limiting your conversations with the insurance company as much as possible to avoid making any statements that can later harm your case. If you do have to talk to them before you hire an attorney, repeat the mantra, "Just the facts, ma'am." Only answer questions they ask you and never tell them anything subjective (like how you feel or how your boss is reacting). What initially seems like a minor injury can take a serious turn for the worse later, but if you tell them you're fine, they may later use that against you. If your car is damaged, it's none of their business that you work within walking distance of your home or that you and your spouse work in the same building for the same hours.
5. Assess and advise on settlement offers
You're likely to be offered a settlement by the defendant's attorney. They can assess what a fair settlement value is and prevent you from taking less than you realistically deserve or if any settlement demands you're making are unrealistic.
6. Work with Doctors to Assess Your Current & Long-term Medical Needs
No, they aren't doctors, but they've seen injuries like yours a hundred or more times before. They know what questions to ask your doctor to assess what the true final and long-term cost of care will really be and may be able to recommend medical tests that may impact the strength of your claim.
7. Provide Legal Expertise, Experience & Experts
Few cases are simple enough to just be looked up on Google. Many involve multiple defendants and perhaps even multiple matters of liability. How everything and everyone fits together within your case can be difficult to determine. Suing the wrong person will get you nothing and not suing everyone or missing a significant detail about your claim can cost you money. Personal injury lawyers have legal expertise and experience to ensure each and every stone is uncovered. They don't just understand federal, state and local laws; they're trained in legal strategy and proper techniques for presenting and arguing a case, both of which can be make-or-break even in the simplest of cases.
Additionally, they have proven expert contacts in specialty fields like accident reconstruction and know when it's a good idea to bring them in. Those experts can often not just prove your case, but may uncover additional details that affect the seriousness of the negligence (which may affect how much you're awarded).
8. Navigate the appeals process
If one or the other party is dissatisfied with the verdict, a motion of appeal may be filed. The other party will most like follow a motion to dismiss the appeal. Your attorney may advise against an appeal if he thinks you're unlikely to win (and may refuse to continue representing you if you move forward). But if you decided to try the case yourself and aren't happy with the verdict, it's not necessarily over. You may be able to find an attorney who thinks your case was strong enough and that your inexperienced representation is what caused the issue.
Note that once you decide to represent yourself, it's unlikely that your lack of experience will in and of itself be terms for granting an appeal. Not liking the outcome isn't grounds for an appeal either. To qualify for an appeal (whether you represented yourself the first time or used a lawyer), you must be able to find that the court made an error in law or that there was some kind of impropriety (i.e., jury misconduct).
Should I Represent Myself?
That's a difficult question to answer. From the standpoint of legal advice, the answer is "no." Even attorneys rarely represent themselves in court. It isn't just about knowledge of the legal system, but also about your emotional proximity to the details of the case, which can easily cause even the most seasoned attorney to make mistakes with regard to important details or appropriate behavior, strategy and negotiation/arguing skills.
Before you decide to represent yourself, we recommend at least taking advantage of a qualified accident attorney's free consultation. If you've been involved in an accident in the Kissimmee, Florida, area, call the lawyers at Draper Law Offices can help at 866.767.4711 for a free, no-obligation consultation.