Our clients and potential clients are smart. They realize that in some circumstances, it doesn't make sense to hire an attorney. They have already talked to the insurance adjuster of the at-fault driver, and the adjuster has been really friendly and may even have already offered some settlement amount. If they're already offering to pay, why would you hire an attorney who is just going to take a portion of the eventual settlement? When does it make sense to hire an attorney, and when does it make sense to do it on your own?
The answer, of course, depends.
When You Don't Need an Attorney
As a general rule, you should at least consult with an attorney. Consult with more than one if you want. Even the best and highest-demanded personal injury attorneys will usually sit down with you for free to review your case with you. You'll get an idea of the legal landscape in your jurisdiction and hopefully get information that will help you make a decision.
Here's some of that free advice:
If the insurance adjuster is offering you the full amount of the at-fault driver's policy, then you don't need a lawyer because the lawyer is probably not going to be able to get any more than what the insurance company is required to pay (there are exceptions to that rule, and there may be other insurance available beyond that of the at-fault driver, which is why it is good to at least consult with an attorney, even if you don't hire one).
In Nevada, all driver's are required to have at least $10,000 in coverage for property damage (like to fix your car), $15,000 in bodily injury coverage per person (to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.), and $30,000 in bodily injury coverage per accident (which is the total that has to be shared among all injured persons in a crash).
Unfortunately, Nevada's legislature repealed a law requiring insurance companies to disclose the insurance coverage of the at-fault driver they're insuring (read more about that here). That means you probably won't know if you're getting the full amount. Which takes us back to at least consulting with an attorney.
If you weren't injured in the crash, you probably don't need an attorney. This is one you want to be careful of, too, though. Often symptoms don't manifest after a collision for a couple of days. Thus, it is always a bad idea to sign a release (or anything) that the insurance adjuster gives you right after the accident. Instead, I would recommend always getting checked out. If the doctor gives you a clean bill of health, then send the one doctor's bill to the insurance company.
When You Need an Attorney
In any other car crash case where you were injured, you are probably better off hiring an attorney. Of course, I am an attorney, so I would say that, right? I may be biased, but I wouldn't say it if it weren't true. But don't take my word for it, consider the following:
Don't let insurance adjusters take advantage of you
There are two types of people who deal daily with car accident claims: injury attorneys and claims adjusters. They both know the rules, and they both try to use them to their advantage. The injury attorney tries to get a fair settlement—one that reflects the actual losses, and the insurance adjuster tries to save the insurance company money by paying as little as possible. If you don't hire an attorney, the insurance adjuster—who does this every day—is going to take advantage of your ignorance.
Make sure you can get medical treatment
Did you know that there are a lot of doctors who will not treat you if they know your injuries were caused by a car accident? I've had a number of clients who were not planning on getting an attorney but couldn't get medical treatment without one. Apparently some doctors refuse to treat car crash victims because they know there is a possibility they might get called as a witness, and they don't want anything to do with that.
Most attorneys are hooked into a network of doctors who specialize in treating car-accident victims and who are not afraid to testify on behalf of their patients. They also typically don't charge the patient for treatment (not even a copay) and instead reach an arrangement with the attorney and the patient together to get paid once the claim is settled.
Get a Fair Settlement
The attorney gets paid, too—usually a percentage of the total recovery. So some astute potential clients ask themselves if the lawyer can increase the settlement amount by enough that the lawyer pays for him or herself.
Consider these statistics gathered by the Insurance Research Council in 1999:
- 85% of everything paid by insurance companies for bodily injury claims are paid to clients represented by an attorney
- Injured victims represented by an attorney receive, on average, 3.5 times more in settlement than their unrepresented counterparts
That's a staggering statistic—3.5x more if you have an attorney. That's not because attorney's inflate the value of your claim. Rather, insurance companies take advantage of unrepresented parties and devalue the claim.
Here are some figures that reflect average actual payouts for specific injuries, adjusted for inflation (1999 figures adjusted to 2016 values):
Average Settlement Value
Besides protection from insurance adjusters, medical treatment, and better settlements, when you hire a lawyer, you have peace of mind. You can let the lawyer deal with the adjuster, gather your medical records, order the police report, negotiate a settlement, and if necessary, pursue the claim in the courts (the ace up the attorney's sleeve—and a reason insurance companies will more readily settle for higher with attorneys).
Let the lawyer do the heavy lifting while you focus on healing.
Seems like a no brainer, right?
Zachariah B. Parry is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau and is an adjunct professor who teaches torts, contracts, and Nevada practice and procedure for UNLV’s paralegal program. He can be reached at 702-912-4451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.