Here is how to file a personal injury lawsuit without a lawyer…Step 1: Don’t do it.
Okay, okay, you had to know I was going to write that.
While it’s possible to file a personal injury lawsuit without a lawyer, it’s not recommended.
Why? Because the defendant, an insurance company (or someone represented by an insurance company), will be armed to the teeth with legal expertise. It’s going to be an unfair fight.
A bit of background…
When I started my career in law, I didn’t set out to focus on personal injury. Early in my career, I was lucky to land a great role in the legal department of a large insurance company. I worked defense, defending our bottom line against suits from both victims represented by experienced lawyers, and victims representing themselves.
Every time a victim opted to represent themselves, we would exhale, because we knew it was going to be an easy win i.e. we could likely negotiate little to no settlement, and the victim would go away.
It may have been ‘legal’ but it was blatantly unfair, and after a few years, I switched sides to ensure that more victims could be fairly represented.
To do this day, every time I hear about a victim planning to represent themselves I cringe, because chances are, they lose out one way or another.
It makes no sense to me why people choose to go this route. Consider that most personal injury lawyers don’t take their fees until they’ve successfully negotiated a settlement for you, so you aren’t risking your life savings or mortgaging your home to hire us. There’s very little risk.
All of that being said, if you insist on looking at the mechanics of filing a lawsuit without a lawyer, here’s where most people fall down…
You need copies of every possible relevant document that you can get your hands on.
The police report—including any photographic evidence—insurance reports, medical reports from the hospital, including comments from the paramedics, medical reports from your own physician and any specialists you have seen since your accident.
Also, you will need all of your receipts and invoices for medical services, devices or anything else that pertains to your accident (for example, if you hired someone to help with your kids while you recover.)
In addition, if the question of fault is at issue and the accident was sufficiently severe, you might need to engage in accident reconstruction and hire the services of an engineer, a mechanical engineer or a forensic expert.
Do you have witnesses? You’re going to need their statements and/or cooperation to testify on your behalf. Do you know if the other driver had insurance (assuming we’re talking about a motor vehicle accident)?
You’ll have to do all of this data collection while recovering from debilitating injuries, so there’s that to consider as well.
Skip Social Media
Any lawyer worth their salt will tell you this (I have written about it!) but stay off social media and don’t share information in public forums about you, your condition or your case.
It’s not about hiding information – quite the contrary. The more upfront you can be with information the better, but you do want to minimize the amount of information in the public domain that could be misinterpreted by the insurance companies.
Double Check The Law
Make sure you understand the statute of limitations on your claim and any filing deadlines you need to be aware of. This is a major area that many lay people either don’t know or forget about. If you miss your deadlines, your case is dead in the water.
Do you know what you’re entitled to, based on the law? Do you know how deductibles work? How about the Rule 49? Get educated on those because they will play a part in your final settlement, in fact, my advice is to understand them inside out.
If you want to file a Statement of Claim with the defendant’s insurance company, how do you do that? What if you don’t like the settlement offer they make? What are your next steps?
Going to trial, particularly a jury trial, is a HUGE step in the process and one that should never be undertaken without legal advice. There are times that the insurance company will push for a trial because they believe they’ll win, and they might be right. Bringing in a personal injury lawyer at this stage is always possible, but having one involved in the case from the very beginning is better than bringing one in later on for damage control.
It won’t cost you a dime to talk to a personal injury lawyer; talk to several, if you prefer, to get a sense of whom you would like to work with. The cost of not talking to one, however, could be huge. If you’ve been in an accident and you aren’t sure of your rights, call a personal injury lawyer and get a free consultation. Better to be safe than sorry!
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