Why use an Attorney?
No one is required to hire an attorney in a personal injury or wrongful death claim, although court approval is required for settlement of death claims and the personal injury claims of children or incompetent persons. Proving the negligence of a wrongdoer, evaluating the value of the claim, and gathering all possible sources for recovery are skills which the average person may not possess. These are the basic reasons for hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer.
A number of years ago, a very well-known insurer calculated that it had to pay up to double or triple the settlement money to people who used lawyers to represent them vs. those who were not represented. A further study by that same insurer established that if people could be dissuaded from seeing a lawyer for 11 weeks or longer, they typically would not seek advice. Using these and similar studies, the insurance industry tries to influence people not to consult with an attorney.
Delay in consulting an attorney works to the advantage of the insurer. Recommending delay in consulting with an attorney until a “fair” offer is made means that it is less likely, as time goes on, that the injured person will ever consult a lawyer. One national insurer is well known for the adjusting motto, “Delay. Deny. Defend.”
As the old proverb says, “He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Lawyers themselves hire their own attorneys when they have to personally deal with matters which they don’t routinely handle. They know the effort involved in dealing with unfamiliar legal territory, as well as the personal consequences of blundering, makes it worthwhile to hire someone who knows what he/she is doing.
A “best” offer seldom comes before detailed proof of loss and extended negotiation. Starting a lawsuit may be required to bring about a “best” offer. The same dollar amount is definitely not on the table with or without representation, except in cases of tiny claims or claims where the damages so far exceed the coverage that there is no hope of a successful defense by the insurer.
Insurers bank on injured persons not knowing the true value of an injury claim. Insurance adjusters have no obligation to independently determine if their insured carries other available coverage, such as umbrella coverage, coverage under separate liability policies in someone else’s name and the like.
If an injured party accepts a settlement without an appropriate legal document reserving rights to make additional claims, the injured party may be completely barred from making later claims. The courts routinely hold that a person who signs a release does so knowingly and may have to live with the consequences.
Tactics to keep injured people from representation
- Tell claimants that they don’t need a lawyer. Encourage them to handle it themselves
- Claim that the same dollars will be offered with or without representation
- Point out that an attorney will take a percentage of any recovery which can be avoided if one represents him/herself
- Recommend waiting to see a lawyer until after the insurer makes a “fair” offer