Having an experienced legal representative on your side is the strongest way to make sure your case has the best outcome when it comes to important legal matters. At The Mejia Law Firm, we have provided legal advocacy for personal injury victims in Houston and other areas of Texas for many years. Based on our experience, we’d like to offer the following information to help injured accident victims understand the pitfalls of handling your personal injury claim alone. Whether you decide to partner with a personal injury attorney or go it alone, knowledge is the best defense against injustice.
Common Mistakes When Handling a Personal Injury Claim
When you file a personal injury claim, your goal is financial recovery. And the fact is, having a good attorney increases the chance that you will obtain the compensation you need to recover your losses. Personal injury lawyers are highly-trained experts who know the pitfalls of a personal injury case and work deftly to circumnavigate them. A trusted attorney can also give you the confidence to pursue justice and the emotional support necessary to help you through a challenging time. Hiring a lawyer can ease the stress of second-guessing whether each move you make is the right one.
No two personal injury cases are the same. You often hear personal injury law firms use words like “experienced,” “practiced,” and “seasoned” to describe their attorneys. That’s because, in personal injury law, experience matters. Inexperienced or just plain unqualified lawyers don’t win cases. They make mistakes, and they don’t protect their clients from the numerous obstacles that can arise at any point throughout a personal injury case.
Whether you’re looking for a skilled lawyer or preparing to handle your own case, there’s no getting around good, solid research. Filing a personal injury claim on your own is a risky endeavor. But if it is one you are willing to take, you should pay attention to a few areas that are most likely to trip up someone without experience.
Calculating the Value of Your Claim
Determining how much compensation you need to recover your losses may seem straightforward, but it is not always easy to do. Lawyers have experience calculating all economic damages (tangible expenses like medical bills) and non-economic damages (less calculable losses like pain and suffering). They also look into any punitive damages that may be appropriate, and they take into consideration any relevant damage caps. Various factors will need to be weighed in order to determine the exact amount you deserve, including:
- Medical expenses
- The level of injury and permanent disability
- Loss of current or future income
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Anxiety and emotional trauma
Calculating damages is not as simple as adding a few numbers together. If you’re handling your own case, you’ll need to assign numbers to intangible losses and project to the future to include damages that have not yet been incurred. For example, you’ll need to examine your company payment policies to account for what pay, benefits, vacation, paid time off, and sick days you may have lost and will continue to lose based on the amount of time taken away from work to recover.
One of the biggest mistakes accident victims or inexperienced litigators make is settling too early. If an insurance company makes an offer—and the number sounds large at first—it may be tempting to take the settlement and move on. But an initial offer is almost never a reasonable amount. Insurance companies know that accident victims are eager to settle and may take anything a quickly offered settlement. Additionally, many medical expenses may not have yet come to light. A settlement may seem adequate, but not when you find out about the surgery your doctor advises.
Gathering Sufficient Evidence To Support the Claim
As you are probably aware, simply stating your story is not enough to prove what happened. Insurance companies demand incontrovertible proof to support your claim. Adjusters will contest even the most minor details that may undermine your account of the incident. Even if it seems obvious that the other party is at fault, you will need to gather an arsenal of proof to defend yourself from unfair compensation. You may need to spend a significant amount of time tracking down evidence like police reports, dashcam footage, surveillance camera photos and video, or even driver and company records and past violations if you were hurt in a semi-truck collision.
Meeting Statutes of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a limit on the amount of time you have to file a personal injury claim after the injury. Every state has its own deadlines for different types of personal injury cases. In Texas, the statute of limitations is usually determined by the date of the incident, but the date the injury was discovered may dictate when that time frame begins. Also, statutes of limitations may vary depending on whether your personal injury case is a car accident or a medical malpractice case one. It’s easy to be denied fair compensation due to a technicality. An attorney’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Managing a case on your own will require you to be fastidious about timeframes and deadlines.
Following Federal, State, and Local Laws
An aspiring personal injury lawyer devotes years of their life to studying laws before they are even able to practice. And after establishing themselves in a career as a civil litigator, the learning does not stop. The term “continuing legal education” (CLE) is used frequently in the legal profession because ongoing education after bar admission is an unending part of a lawyer’s job. Laws and regulations change constantly. Sometimes, the smallest amendment to a bill can completely alter the way a personal injury case needs to be handled.
In addition to statutes of limitations laws, you will need to be knowledgeable about the specifics of all federal, state, and local laws pertaining to your case, and any changes that have been made to them. This may encompass areas such as shared fault rules, caps on type and amount of compensation, and regulations that apply specifically to cases like commercial trucking accidents, oil field injuries, or accidents that occur on a business property.
Conducting Settlement Negotiations
In the majority of personal injury cases, a settlement can be reached out of court. But for this to happen, there is a process of negotiation leading up to a settlement. Expert negotiation tactics are needed to ensure that you are not taken advantage of and undercompensated. The task of settlement negotiation requires a strong knowledge of applicable laws, the details of the case, evidence to support the claim, and the opposing party’s situation and insurance policy.
Insurance companies often capitalize on situations in which accident victims aren’t represented by a lawyer. Insurers tend to exploit the victim’s lack of knowledge in a certain area, often saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
Going to Trial
If an agreement cannot be reached on a settlement, you may find that your case needs to go to trial. It’s often difficult for an untrained person to know when and if it’s necessary to take a case to court. If it is necessary to take a case before a judge and jury, it’s highly advisable that you do not do so unless you have a trusted lawyer to represent you.
Why Should I Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
It’s a lawyer’s full-time job to fight for justice on your behalf. When you take matters into your own hands, it’s often hard to find the time to give your personal injury case the attention it needs to be successful. While you’re juggling your own job, health, recovery, family, and other life duties, adding the all-consuming task of successfully navigating a personal injury claim can be overwhelming, to say the least.
When we meet with our clients, we tell them: It’s our job to win your case. It’s your job to recover. We want our clients to be fully involved in their own cases, but we never want clients to worry that they are personally responsible for making sure forms are filed, deadlines are met, laws are followed, and evidence is documented. We work to keep our clients informed, reassured, and updated on all legal proceedings, while shouldering the workload so they can focus on what’s most important to them.
If you’re dealing with a personal injury case on your own, we want to help. Our English or Español case evaluation form posted on The Mejia Law Firm website is an easy, no-obligation way for you to learn if we are a good fit for your case. Tell us a little bit about your legal matter, and we will be able to offer advice about how we may be able to represent you. We encourage you to bring your most difficult questions to us. Remember, we never get paid unless we win a case for you.
What Are Policy Limits and How Do They Affect My Claim?