While there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to handle your own personal injury matter, at least visit an experienced lawyer early on to get some good advice.
For some reason, I've recently been getting a lot of calls from people who had accidents many months ago and they are only now reaching out to consult an attorney. They say, "Oh, I tried to handle things on my own but now the insurance company is saying...etc..." There are several reasons you should not wait too long before discussing your options with a lawyer.
First, if the insurance company is denying your claim or offering you a paltry sum to settle your case, it has been my experience that bringing a lawyer on board late in the game does nothing but force the insurance adjuster to dig in their heels even more! Their reaction is basically as follows: "Oh really? You think I'm going to offer you more money just because you hired a lawyer? Think again!" In most cases, a lawsuit will need to be filed.
Second, when clients call me months after they've tried to handle things on their own, I really feel like I'm being brought in to undo all the damage they've done to their case. After your house burns down, there is little to be gained by calling the fire department. For example, in many cases they waited too long before treating, they fought with and yelled at the insurance adjuster (the very same person who might have written them a check), they were spotted dancing at a party the day after the accident, they failed to take photos and get witness information, etc. At this point, I'm being brought in to put out a fire that has already caused too much damage.
In most cases, the clients have done more harm than good by trying to handle things on their own. That doesn't mean a lawyer needs to get involved - only that they should have consulted with a reputable attorney in the beginning.
I understand some clients are afraid to contact a lawyer, and perhaps that's why they didn't call. I can comfortably say that I turn away about 50% of the clients who call. In many cases, there is little I can offer them. Also, in many cases, I give them some advice and they handle things on their own. However, if hiring a lawyer will add value to their case, I will be sure they are made aware of that.
There are some cases when a lawyer can be brought in late in the game and make a difference. This is usually when the insurance company is simply being ridiculous (i.e., they have no legitimate arguments, or the insurance adjuster isn't returning calls or otherwise dropped the ball). Like all things, there are exceptions to the rule. Therefore, your case may indeed benefit from involving an attorney - even late in the game.
Once you get your hands on the police report after a serious accident, you should review it carefully. If there are minor errors and typographical errors, you can let those slide. However, if you notice something significant that might affect an assessment of liability or an assessment of injuries, you should consider filing a supplement. Different police authorities have different procedures to filing a supplement so you should check with them for their procedure.
Here is WHY you should consider a supplement - if you don't, the insurance company for the party at fault will use it against you. For example, they will say, "Well, if you didn't agree with the report, how come you didn't call the police and/or file a supplemental report?" Your reluctance or failure to file a supplement will be viewed by some as implied consent to the contents of the report.
I recently had a case where my client got injured on a motorcycle when another vehicle entered his lane, causing a head-on collision. Well, the police report had the other vehicle crossing the double yellow line but not quite as my client remembered it. I encouraged him to file a supplement to the report, if only to demonstrate he didn't quite agree with the officer's recitation of the facts and the diagram drawn by the officer.
Sometimes, the insurance adjuster for the other party will call you and insist on meeting with you. They say something like, "Perhap we can settle this case over coffee?" So the prospective client calls me and says, "How much should I ask for? The accident happened three days ago and the adjuster is making me an offer."
I explain politely that the insurance adjuster simply wants to close his/her file. Accepting an offer so early after an accident is not a prudent course of action. Generally speaking, it's too early to settle the case because you have no idea what injuries you might have, what injuries might manifest themselves a week later, etc. Also, if you are truly injured, you should not entertain settlement so early for many other reasons.
Sometimes my clients call me while they are still treating for their injuries and wonder, "Hey, when are we going to settle this case?" I explain that we can't settle the case until they are done with their treatment. First of all, only then will we have all the bills and records to present to the insurance company. Also, we need to make sure the client has fully healed. If they haven't fully healed, we need to assess their residual injury and what their future might hold. Will they be in pain for the foreseeable future? Will they need surgery?
In other words, you need to wait until the case is "ripe" before you entertain settling the case. Rarely is settling the case very early a good idea. I understand the temptation is often there to settle early, but it's usually better to wait and fully appreciate what your injuries are, the extent of your injuries, and whether or not you will fuly heal from those injuries or not. Don't fall prey to the insurance adjusters pressuring you to settle. Talk to a lawyer about your case or seek representation and guidance from an experienced personal injury attorney.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.