Why Should I Even Hire A PI Attorney?

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Just because you can do something yourself, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best option. Remember back in 2020 when everyone was trying DIY haircuts at home? It was a fun TikTok trend for a while, it solved a problem during social distancing, and some home haircutters really liked the results. But most people went back to their hair salons or barbers as soon as it was safe to do so. Why? Because haircutting usually turns out better with knowledge, skill, and experience.

Of course, if you get a bad haircut it will grow out eventually. If you make a small mistake in handling a personal injury claim, it could cost you thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars. Even if you’re successful in pursuing a claim and receiving a settlement, you may miss out on more damages you’re entitled to receive. Nolo surveyed users of its legal help website who had filed a personal injury claim and found that 91 percent of those who engaged a lawyer received a payout, versus only 51 percent of those who handled their own claim. Moreover, those with a lawyer received, on average, about $77,600 in damages, while those who did things on their own averaged about $17,600.

Why The Disparity In Outcomes Between Hiring A Personal Injury Attorney And Not Hiring One?

There are multiple reasons why securing legal representation both improves your odds of receiving a settlement and increases the likelihood it will be a higher amount:

Dealing With An Insurance Company Is A Tricky Situation

In most personal injury cases, the first step is to make a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier. This is true not only with motor vehicle accidents but with most other circumstances where a person is hurt due to another’s negligence. If you trip and fall at a friend’s house, their homeowner’s insurance may cover your damages, for example. So no matter what kind of injury you had, it’s likely you’ll need to file a claim on an insurance policy.

Insurance companies are like any other business – they exist to make money. In the process, they provide a valuable service that people need, but their goal is always to maximize profits (no matter what the friendly animal mascot says in their commercials). Of course, if they never paid any claims, they wouldn’t stay in business very long. So they pay claims, but they look for excuses not to pay as many of them as possible. Sometimes this takes the form of pointing to a clause in their policy and saying, “See, it says here we don’t cover X.” This clause may be a run-on sentence that takes up half the page and makes very little sense to anyone who didn’t go to law school. Does it really mean your claim isn’t covered? Who knows?

An experienced personal injury lawyer knows.

There is another trick insurance adjusters use to wash their hands of any responsibility for your claim: They say the accident was actually your fault. This is especially problematic in our state, because:

North Carolina Is A Contributory Negligence State

States have different ways of dealing with fault in car accidents and other personal injury claims. Most states use some type of comparative negligence model, which takes into account that not all accidents are black-and-white cases of one party being at fault and the other party being totally innocent. Instead, a party who is less than 50 percent at fault can still collect damages, but the percentage they are at fault will be deducted from their award.

North Carolina, on the other hand, uses pure contributory negligence, a model where a party who contributes to the accident by even one percent can’t collect any damages. Naturally, insurance adjusters are aware of this, which makes the fault argument even more popular for claims in our state.

What can you do if the insurance company denies your claim because they think you were at least partly at fault? Many people choose to call the insurance company and argue with them, but this doesn’t always end well. Insurance companies like to record their phone calls, and adjusters can be very creative about how they interpret what you say. They could easily misconstrue something you’ve said to mean you were at fault in the accident. They’re also very well-versed in the laws surrounding insurance policies, as well as skilled at projecting an air of confidence. Unless you happen to be an insurance industry expert yourself, it can be extremely hard to win an argument with your insurance adjuster, and it’s easy to unintentionally make things worse.

Your personal injury attorney, on the other hand, is also very knowledgeable about the laws regarding your situation. Additionally, the insurance company representatives know they can’t fool a skilled lawyer. Getting a call from your attorney lets the insurance company know that not only do you take your claim seriously, but you have the ability to put up a fight should your claim go to court. The insurance adjuster may also know that it’s one thing to claim an injured party contributed to an accident, and another to actually prove it in court against an experienced personal injury attorney. Sometimes being contacted by a lawyer can help the insurance rep rethink their stance on offering you compensation. If it doesn’t, your attorney will still be there to fight for you in court.

People Who Handle Their Own Claims Often Settle For Too Little

One of the reasons that plaintiffs wth lawyers are awarded much larger settlements is because it can be very difficult to figure out how much compensation you should be getting in the first place. Some people only ask for their current medical bills and car repair costs, and those are certainly valid damages in a personal injury case. But they may be missing other bills or damages they haven’t thought of:

  • Medical expenses. Sometimes people forget to consider future medical costs. Or they may overlook related expenses, like buying or renting a wheelchair, hiring someone to do cleaning or other household tasks they can’t do because of their injuries, receipts for prescription medications, travel expenses if they have to travel for treatment, physical therapy costs, etc. For example, many people think their health insurance will cover all the physical therapy they need, but the typical health insurance policy only covers about 20 sessions a year. What if you need 30? You’ll get a bill starting at session 21.
  • Lost wages. If you had to take time off work due to your injuries, you’re entitled to compensation for the pay, or paid time off you lost.
  • Pain and suffering. Many accident victims either don’t think of this when filing a claim or have no idea how much money to ask for. But you deserve to be compensated for both your physical and mental suffering after an accident, whether it’s severe pain from an injured back, anxiety or PTSD from the trauma of the accident, or both. Your attorney can calculate how much compensation is appropriate after going over your case and learning more about your difficulties.
  • Permanent disability or chronic pain. Sometimes no amount of medical treatment can return you to your pre-accident state of health. If you’ve become permanently disabled or suffered permanent scarring from your injuries, you are entitled to seek damages. You will want to seek compensation for lost earning potential if your disability prevents you from returning to your job permanently. Chronic pain that does not resolve with treatment should also be considered in your pain and suffering compensation, so be sure to let your attorney know about any chronic issues.

The insurance reps know that most individuals aren’t aware of all the compensation they’re entitled to seek, and guess what? They’re not going to tell you. They’re most likely going to make you a lowball offer that barely covers your current submitted bills, and hope that you sign the agreement releasing them from any further responsibility.

If You Have A High-Value Claim, You May Need To Consider Multiple Claims

Even if things go smoothly without a lawyer, you may find that your damages exceed the limits of the insurance policy. The minimum requirement for car insurance in North Carolina, for example, is only $30,000 in bodily injury liability. Assuming the insurance company pays every bit of that without question (which is unlikely), you’re still going to have a problem if you’ve got $80,000 in medical bills. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to identify any other potentially liable parties (such as an individual who caused the accident or a defective product manufacturer) and help you seek compensation from them, if possible.

Hiring An Attorney Doesn’t Mean Paying Them Up Front

We get it: You’re dealing with medical bills and probably missed some time at work. You don’t have a lot of money lying around to pay a lawyer. That’s one major reason people often consider handling their own claim. But almost all personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis – we don’t charge you anything upfront. Your consultation is free, and if we offer to take your case and you accept, you don’t have to pay anything until after we win your case. Then we simply take a fee from the damages you’re awarded. If we don’t win your case, it won’t cost you a thing – but we always aim to win, and we’re very good at what we do.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured, it’s worth taking a few minutes to call Tatum & Atkinson at (800) 529-0804 for a free consultation. There’s no obligation, and we can answer any questions you have about your claim. Don’t wait – for personal injury cases in North Carolina, you only have three years (sometimes less) from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. The sooner you get the process started, the sooner you can receive the compensation you deserve.