Every accident is unexpected. Most people have little first-hand experience with what to do after an accident. If you were injured in an accident and it is someone else’s fault, you may feel like something should be done about it, but maybe you don’t know what. Maybe you can ask the person that injured you to pay your expenses from being injured. Maybe you can file a claim with the person’s insurance. Maybe you should hire a lawyer and sue.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer after you’ve been injured in an accident is always an option. If the accident was the other person’s fault, you may have a legal right to recover for your losses, and a lawyer will help make that happen.
But sometimes hiring a lawyer is not a good idea.
In the following situations, it’s probably not a good idea to hire a personal injury lawyer:
1. You weren’t really hurt.
Not every accident results in injuries. Sometimes accidents leave you shaken up, but nothing else. Sometimes collisions happen at low speed and even though contact is made, no one gets hurt. Sometimes your injuries after an accident are extremely minor and get better in a day or two. Sometimes accidents just result in damage to your car, bicycle, or personal belongings, but you are not injured physically.
If you weren’t hurt in an accident, or if your injuries were extremely minor, you probably don’t need a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers will tell you the same thing if you call them. If you are physically just fine, but you need to get your car fixed, you can probably work directly with the insurance companies yourself. If your injuries are very minor, you might still have a personal injury claim if it was the other person’s fault, but you can probably handle this by yourself, too. A lawyer’s expertise and experience isn’t going to help you out much in these situations and the lawyer’s fee might make any added value disappear. The bottom line is that there is little or no benefit to hiring a lawyer if you weren’t injured.
2. You don’t want to be paid for your losses.
Some people take the attitude “let bygones be bygones.” While I’m not sure how often this happens in real life, I have seen it in movies; two cars get in a fender bender, the owners get out, chat briefly, and then wave goodbye to each other and drive home for supper. It is easy to take this attitude if you weren’t injured in the accident. But sometimes even if you suffered a minor injury or property damage, you may feel that it is no big deal. If your injuries are significant and if you are having ongoing problems, this is probably not the attitude you take. However, if you find yourself saying the accident was “no big deal,” then it is a waste of both your time and the lawyer’s time to pursue the at-fault driver.
3. You are savvy about insurance.
A lot of people know how to buy insurance. Just jump online, type in your personal info, get a quote, and then make your premium payments. Far fewer people know how to use insurance; knowing what is actually covered, knowing what the provisions in insurance contracts actually mean, and knowing how the claims process works. An even smaller group of people know how different types of insurance policies, such as health insurance and automobile insurance, coordinate coverage. To make matters more complex, insurance policies are subject to different laws depending on the state jurisdictions. In the Washington, DC area, there is a high probability that you live in a different jurisdiction from where the accident occurred and where the at-fault person lives. Insurance can get complex pretty fast.
But, if you are savvy about how to use insurance (not just how to buy it) and what the provisions of an insurance contract mean and how state law affects insurance coverage, then you might be able to handle your own claim, even if your injuries are significant. A lot of injury claims are resolved without litigation. So even if you aren’t a lawyer, if your insurance knowledge is sharp you can proceed with your claim and attempt to handle it yourself. If you fall into this category, you might not need an attorney to help you. Also, if you fall into this category, I would like to have a drink with you sometime because I can never know too many people who enjoy insurance law.
4. You have plenty of free time to pursue your claim.
Even if you suffered significant injuries, you can still pursue your own claim without a lawyer if you want to put in the time. What personal injury lawyers do is not rocket science or brain surgery. Expertise and experience help a lawyer do the job better and more efficiently, but this doesn’t mean handling a claim is beyond the scope of your abilities. Given enough extra time, the do-it-yourself type of person could probably learn enough to represent herself in a claim against the at-fault party. You can teach yourself the steps in the process with some searching and study. Most of the basic tasks involve making phone calls, obtaining relevant documents, following up on the little details, and taking on the demeanor necessary to let the insurance company know you aren’t a pushover.
If you have extra hours (maybe tens of hours) per week to deal with your own claim, over the course of a year or two, you might be up for the challenge of representing yourself. Some people derive immense satisfaction by taking on new tasks or projects. If you are one of them, you probably don’t need to hire a personal injury lawyer.
5. The accident was your fault.
If you caused the accident, you probably don’t need to hire a personal injury attorney. If you caused the accident and you have insurance, your insurance company should provide you with an attorney to defend you. Lawyers that defend personal injury claims usually have close relationships with insurance companies (sometimes the lawyer is an insurance company employee). This defense is provided to you without charge, because it is a benefit of your automobile insurance (although, your insurer may raise your rates).
If you caused the accident and you suffered your own injuries, you probably can’t make a claim against anyone else. Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia all follow the doctrine of contributory negligence, which means that if you were the cause of your own injuries, even just a little bit at fault, you cannot recover against anyone else. Contributory negligence can be tricky, so if your injuries are significant, it is a good idea to talk with a personal injury attorney. However, if it is clear that the accident was your fault, contributory negligence is likely to bar you from recovering in Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland.
Conclusion: Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer Is Not Always a Good Idea
For most people, being involved in an accident is a new, quite unpleasant experience. A personal injury lawyer can help guide you through the process, protect your interests, tackle the complexity, and recover money to compensate you for your losses. But as I have elaborated here, there are many circumstances where hiring a personal injury lawyer is not the best idea. If you are not sure, you can always give a personal injury lawyer a call to discuss your case.