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How Should You Settle Your California Personal Injury Case: Alone or With Attorney?

After an accident your life has likely changed dramatically. You’re living with the physical and emotional trauma of your accident, and you likely need money for medical bills and time you’ve lost at work. Pursuing a personal injury case may be your best option.

But how should you do it? Should you handle it yourself or hire an attorney? Read on to learn some of the factors you should consider: why you might choose to forgo an attorney, how you would go about working on your own, common pitfalls, and more.

Do It Alone? The Big Question

When people pressing personal injury cases want to do so without the help of an attorney, they usually have a few reasons for doing so:

They’re worried about money. Many people, especially after an accident, don’t have the money to pay a lawyer up front. They may not know that the vast majority of personal injury attorneys don’t demand payment up front and that they take a negotiable cut of the settlement or other money earned aftaer the case is won instead.

They think they don’t need an attorney or can do better on their own. As you might imagine, this is incredibly risky for reasons this article will discuss. You may be smart and knowledgeable, but your lawyer is a trained professional with plenty of experience. On these grounds alone, they will almost always do better than even a clever, well-read layperson.

They’ve already spoken to an attorney who won’t take the case. Especially when you’re dealing with the emotional effects of your accident, it’s easy to get discouraged after one lawyer turns you down. But when one lawyer turns down a potential client, there’s no reason to believe other lawyers will do the same. So don’t give up just yet. At the bottom of this article there is a link to read a post on why attorneys say no and what you can do about it.

If You Go Solo

If you’ve decided this is the route you prefer to take, you need solid advice. Here’s how to make sure things go as smoothly as possible:

Think hard about what your case is worth. Trying to put a dollar amount on your pain and suffering can be difficult, but this will help you determine the minimum settlement you’re willing to accept. If the insurance company won’t accept your minimum, you may need to take them to court. If they start out by offering you money near your minimum, you’re in luck and can revise the number upward.

Document everything. As soon as you can, start gathering evidence of your claims. Keep copies of all your bills. Go to the doctor and get a check-up as soon as possible after your accident, and document time you’ve had to take off work. Be sure to keep hard copies of all communication with the insurance company, too, and don’t hesitate to ask for everything in writing.

Write the best claim letter possible. I really like the one that Rosenfield Injury Lawyers in Chicago provides for free. You will need to remove their logo, so just copy and paste the text into a Word doc. Here’s the pdf download.

Don’t jump at the first offer the company makes. They’re likely lowballing you, and in some cases their initial offer will be laughably low. Be prepared for at least two or three rounds of negotiating before you find an amenable amount that’s in-between what you’re asking for and what they say they’re willing to give.

Reasons to Accept Help from a Personal Injury Attorney

As you can probably see, it’s not easy to go it alone. Here are some more reasons why it’s so important to seriously consider paying an attorney for their services.

It’s David versus Goliath. For most personal injury lawsuits, you’ll be working against an insurance company. Insurance companies are literally professionals at denying your claim. If you go it alone, you’re pitting yourself against their entire staff of adjusters and lawyers whose success is based on them denying you. Your lawyer, by comparison, is a skilled professional who knows how to navigate the insurance company’s trickery. (Read more about why you need to be careful dealing with insurance adjusters.)

Your lawyer knows the territory. As a layperson, you don’t necessarily know certain essentials about your own situation. You don’t necessarily have a good sense of what your pain and suffering are worth which means you’re more likely to walk off with an unsatisfactory settlement. You don’t necessarily know what the other party is liable for either. But an attorney has plenty of experience working cases like yours. They’ll know what you can reasonably get if you ask for it, and what liabilities you can reasonably pursue. (Read how I do this for you.)

Your lawyer is scary. While your lawyer may be friendly and personable to you, they’re the insurance company’s worst nightmare. Your lawyer will fight tirelessly so you can receive the best results — something you may not have the courage or tenacity to do on your own. When you bring a lawyer in, the insurance company knows you’re serious.

A Cautionary Tale

If that weren’t enough, many lay people make serious errors when pursuing a personal injury case on their own. These can damage the case they’re trying to make, and in some truly tragic cases, they may settle for far less than their case is worth.

Here’s a quick example taken from the story of a real accident victim. She had a head-on collision with a drunk driver which totaled her car. It was an extremely serious accident, and the woman’s two-year-old son who was riding in the car with her ended up needing extensive facial reconstructive surgery to recover from the accident.

Within a few days the company literally had an agent show up at her doorstep. They offered to cover the medical bills plus an additional $5,000 for pain and suffering. At the time, this sounded like a fair settlement, so she took it.

She had no way of knowing how the accident would affect the rest of her life — and her child’s. She began showing symptoms of whiplash which her chiropractors have since told her are permanent. As the woman’s son grew up, the scars from his plastic surgery began to stretch, profoundly affecting his appearance and influencing his quality of life.

If the woman had known this, she would have insisted on far more than $5,000. Lawyers are better equipped than you are to keep fighting until you get the money you deserve. Plus, they have a far better understanding of the pain and suffering that can unfold over time after an accident, and they’re better able to assign a dollar value to it.

So What’s the Best Answer?

While it’s possible to go it alone in pursuing your personal injury claim, you’re far more likely to get the results you need if you hire a personal injury lawyer like myself. I have many years of experience going after insurance companies and can get you the money you deserve – usually much more than you can get on your own.

Even if you’ve been turned down by other lawyers, there still may be a good reason I can take you on as a client. If you’re in Contra Costa, Alameda, or San Luis Obispo counties, contact me now. I offer a free case review to get started, and there is no fee until we win your case.

And while we talk, if I discover that you can get more going it alone, I will tell you and advise you on what to do. 

P.S. If you want an attorney, but no one will take your case

Finally, if you’re reading this because you think going it alone is your only option because you’ve been turned down by attorneys, please read our post on why attorneys turn you down and what you can do about it. No is not always the only answer!

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Tom Sokat

Tom is a personal injury attorney with over 30 years experience. He has two offices in the East Bay, one in Danville, another in Pleasanton, and one now in San Luis Obispo. He is passionate about being the champion for the little guy and getting them compensation for their injuries when due.


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