The other driver ran the red light. There were three witnesses to the collision. You broke both arms (the ones you use to handle the machine at work) and will be out of work for six weeks. The other driver’s insurance carrier calls you the next day. "We are here to help," says the adjuster from the Big Hands company, "don’t hire a lawyer – that will just get you a third less in your settlement."
What do you do? Why pay a lawyer when the Big Hands guy has a fist full of cash for you? If you can get him to pay you the same amount that he would pay if you were represented, you shouldn’t. The problem is, in the overwhelming number of cases, his final offer will be far less than what he would put on the table to your attorney. But you are anxious. You don’t have much money saved up and the bills won’t stop while you are out of work.
We give the same advice that we would give to anyone who is thinking of foregoing professional help – do so at your own risk. The Big Hands guy is not trying to help you out. He is trying to close out the file by paying the least that he can. That is his job, and he wants to do it as quickly as he can. If he doesn’t want you to hire a lawyer or to wait until you recover to settle your claim – isn’t that a red flag?
Even the relatively simple example presented here has a lot of issues that a lay person has never dealt with. First, there is settling the property damage claim. If your vehicle is not a total loss, you are entitled to recover the amount that would put you in the same position you were in before the wreck. That will include an amount for the diminution in value of your vehicle after it is repaired. How do you figure that out?
What about medpay? That is the amount of money that the other driver’s carrier will pay without regard to fault. Generally, that is worth $1,000, but some policies pay more. If you have health insurance, how are they to be paid back? Some health insurance companies will negotiate. If you do not have medical insurance, how will you get the doctor to keep providing service? What other damages are you entitled to? How much insurance does the other driver have? If it is not enough to cover your loss, will your own insurance come into play?
As you can see, there are lots of things to consider. In this series of posts, I will go into greater detail about all of these issues. I will even include a post that tells you the best way that you can represent yourself, if that is what you choose to do. Just remember the wise old adage, "people who represent themselves have fools for lawyers."
Cum Laude graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Pet Mackey is a civil trial litigation expert who represents plaintiffs in business and consumer tort, contracts and construction, employment disputes and insurance. He is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Certified Alabama Mediator, and an “AV” rated lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell.