Don't Hire an Arizona Personal Injury Attorney
What You Need to Know
Below is a list of reasons why you may be thinking you don't want or need to hire an attorney. In fact, many times when people call us we explain to them that they actually do not need an attorney and guide them in the right direction. For those who wait too long and fail to hire an attorney, however, it can eliminate all legal rights to compensation in an otherwise valid, just claim. Read further to see if why you think you may not need an attorney and if you are correct or not.
1. An Attorney Will Take 33 Percent of My Settlement
Well, it is true that attorney's fees are 33 percent in many cases. In fact, there are some cases where a lawyer will charge fees of 40 to 45 percent, depending on the complexity of the case, the length of time it is expected the case will take, and the amount of money that will have to be expended and risked by the law firm.
Still, just talking about the standard fee that does apply in almost every case of 33 percent there is no doubt that attorneys do charge for their services. Therefore it is not at all uncommon for us to be approached by people who have been told by their insurance agent, the insurance adjuster, or a friend or family member that lawyers just take a part of their settlement. The problem with that logic is that it assumes that somebody will get the same amount of money with a lawyer as they will without a lawyer. The insurance companies' own studies blow that argument out of the water. Does that mean that a lawyer is necessary in ever case? Of course, not.
If you have a minor impact accident where there is no damage to the vehicle, you probably do not need an attorney. If you have under $2,000 in medical expenses and have returned to your pre-accident condition immediately, you probably don't need an attorney either. That is because whatever increased money a lawyer could get may not be worth the hassle of getting a lawyer.
If you have lost a loved one from an accident or have a serious injury, you should consult with a personal injury attorney. There may still be reasons you do not need an attorney, but the idea that the lawyer takes a fee and therefore the person who is hurt gets less money is based upon the faulty premise that all settlements are the same regardless of whether or not you have representation. In fact, to take it a step further, the reality is that the insurance companies have a great deal of information not only on everyone who brings claims, but on the attorneys. So not only is there a major difference between going forward with a lawyer as opposed to going forward on your own, there is a significant difference in expected settlements depending on what law firm or lawyer you hire.
A good person personal injury lawyer who is experienced in bringing claims should be able to do far better for an injured client than the injured client can do on their own. First, the ultimate settlement should be much higher so that 66 percent of what a good lawyer can get you should be more than 100 percent of what an injury victim could get on their own in almost every case.
Second, when the money is received there will often be medical bills and other lien holders who are trying to get a hold of that money. Without a lawyer to try to reduce those liens even if the settlement was equal the amount of money received by the person who was hurt is going to vary greatly.
Third, an experienced injury lawyers will know where to look for other insurance policies. An experienced and trained personal injury lawyer who helps people who have been severely hurt and helps the families after a wrongful death will have a far higher likelihood of discovering different sources of money that can help pay for and compensate the victim. Woul anybody who is not trained and skilled as accident attorney know where to look for other sources of insurance beyond just the policies that are apparent at first blush? Of course, not. Would they know what experts to hire and whether to look for other resources to help compensate the injury victim? Almost never.
So while it is true that a lawyer does charge a fee for their services, those fees will almost never be enough to come close to offsetting the benefit a lawyer provides to the person who is hurt unless it is a small injury case.
2. The Insurance Company Will Be Fair
To not hire a personal injury lawyer because you believe you can trust the insurance company is not only wrong, it ignores the purpose that the insurance company serves to its own shareholders. Look, as experienced personal injury attorneys, we spend day after day and year after year going up against insurance companies who we feel are not fully and fairly compensating our clients. So, you may believe that we would take the position that all insurance companies are evil. That is not the case. Have we seen evil people within insurance companies? Of course we have. We also have seen very reasonable fair minded people with whom we just happen to disagree. Have we seen insurance companies that are rotten to the core? Yes, on some occasions, but absolutely not for the most part.
The reality is that most insurance companies have a simple and straightforward job to do. That job, like every other corporation in the United States almost without exception, is to make a profit. Insurance companies are worth billions of dollars. Insurance companies are owned by shareholders. These shareholders may be you or me or a neighbor or anybody else in this country. When a shareholder invests in a company they expect that insurance company to do whatever they are able to do and allowed to do in order to make a profit.
And this is the fallacy of this belief that the insurance company will treat you "fairly" and therefore there is no reason to hire a lawyer. That's not what the insurance company is supposed to do. Sure, they can treat you fairly, but what does "fairly" mean? It means something different to everybody. The reality is that there is almost a "zero sum gain" going on here. Every dollar an insurance company pays out to somebody making a claim is one less dollar at the end of the year that goes down to the profit margins of the insurance company. Should the insurance company pay out whatever it is being asked for if they could avoid paying as much? Now, because of the way insurance companies work and the fact that there is a particularly important relationship between their insureds and themselves, they cannot operate without keeping in mind the insured. However, in the end let us be realistic about this? The insurance company will do what they can to not pay out money.
The insurance company is not refusing to pay out money in most cases because they are evil or trying to hurt you. The insurance company is in the game of processing claims. They have experience in processing claims. They have knowledge and database and computers and everything working for their benefit-including billions of dollars-to try to do whatever they can to minimize the payment of claims and increase their profits. Now, considering the incredibly unlevel playing field anybody has with an insurance company, why would they take the risk of trying to negotiate a settlement without at least having a skilled personal injury advocate on their side?
There can be many reasons for not hiring a personal injury lawyer. Not every personal injury case requires an experienced lawyer to help them. However, to not hire a personal injury lawyer because of the belief that you can expect the adjuster on the other side is "nice" or "fair" would be to assume that the person on the other side will not do the job that they were hired to do to benefit somebody who is, in the end, a stranger who can affect the profits of the very company that cuts their paycheck.
3. I've Had the Same Insurance Company for a Long Time, I Can Trust Them
Many people stick with their insurance companies for a long time. Especially with automobile insurance, there seems to be an incredible loyalty that people have towards their insurance company. Usually, this is based upon the belief that if they are ever in need of money from that insurance policy, if they ever have to make a claim, they will have benefited from the fact that they have had the insurance for a long time, they've been with that insurance company for a long time. In fact, many people think that they do not need to hire an injury attorney after an accident because they have been with their insurance company a long time.
It is understandable that people have this belief. It would seem to mix with common sense that we have all learned the better relationship we have with people the more likely we are to be able to work out reasonable compromises on any given issue. However, if an insurance company gave preference and benefit to the insured that has been with them a long time, they would be sued for bad faith. In other words, an insurance company is not allowed to take into account how long you have been with that insurance company at the time they payout a claim. Therefore, it cannot possibly be of benefit to stick with an insurance company for the sole purpose of expecting something better at the time you make a claim. The flip side of that is also clear, if it does not make sense to try to negotiate an injury claim with an insurance company on your own that you have only been with for one day, it equally does not make sense to negotiate a claim with an insurance company that you have been an insured with for ten years, 20 years, 50 years, or more.
The reason the insurance companies cannot take into account how long you have been their insured is because it would be a disadvantage to people who had just joined up with that insurance company. An insurance company has to give equal consideration to any claim. Any valid claim must be paid the same as any other. On the one hand, somebody who has been with their insurance company a long time looks at it and does not think that the new insured - the person who just joined up with the insurance company - needs to be taken advantage of but that they should get some kind of additional benefit or treatment when they make their claim. However, if you flip that around and look at it from the other end, you would see why the insurance company would be in great danger if they ever processed claims in this way.
Somebody who pays a premium and becomes an insured for an insurance company that has a claim on the first day needs to be entitled to the full benefit of that policy. Insurance policies aren't written so that they are more valuable and provide more protection only if you've been with the insurance company a long time. If you switch to a new insurance company tomorrow you should be able to trust - you must be able to expect - that they will treat you and take care of you in the way they are supposed to and process the claims in the way they should process the claims even if on the very first day you have that policy an accident occurs. Therefore since the person on the very first day is entitled to the full benefit of the insurance policy, they cannot be treated any less or be given any less favorable consideration than the person who has been there a long time.
Also, the reality is that the sales department - agent that sells you the policy - is kept completely separate from the claims department in almost every insurance company. One is not allowed to consider the other. The claims people have a job to do and that is to negotiate the claims and, though they won't always admit it in this way, to try to save money at the expense of the claimant. They do not take into consideration - nor should they - in almost any case how long the insured has been with the insurance company. The reality is that the agent that you have known for many, many years will have nothing to do with how the claim is processed or paid on the other end. Therefore, if a case needs a lawyer, it needs a lawyer. This is true regardless of how long the injury victim has been a part of the insurance company.
4. Try To Settle The Case Yourself and Avoid Getting an Attorney Unless you Have to File A Lawsuit
Many people avoid getting a lawyer because they think that they can try to settle the case and they only need a lawyer if they are unable to settle it. In other words, this "do it yourself" approach assumes that it is better to avoid using a lawyer for as long as possible. In this way, maybe the injury victim can get compensated without having to pay a lawyer or hire a lawyer, and if that fails and a lawsuit has to be filed and it gets particularly complicated that would be a good time to hire a lawyer.
It is understandable to not want to run out and hire a lawyer. The reality is, that most seriously injured people never thought they would suffer anything like they have, and they certainly never thought they themselves could be personal injury plaintiffs. Most people do not like the idea of having to hire an injury lawyer and that is understandable. However, to not a hire a lawyer on the idea that you can "do it yourself" and then get a lawyer later is a very dangerous proposition.
First, there are some deadlines in some areas of the law that are as short as 90 days. That means if you do not hire a lawyer or do not know what to do within the first 90 days you could lose all of your rights to proceed with that claim. In other words, when you are busy trying to "do it yourself" you may have not only eliminated your ability to receive compensation but eliminated any possibility that a lawyer could do it for you. Moreover, even for severely injured people where the other side admits they are at fault, there are deadlines that can be as short as 180 days from the date of the incident. This is not 180 days from the time the injury victim or their family decides to make a claim, or the time that the hospitalization ends, or the time that the grieving ends, but the time that the incident occurred. So you can have a situation where the defendant admits they are at fault, the injuries are obviously terrible, negotiations go forward, the 180 days passes and the victim loses all rights to receive compensation forever. It is too late to get a lawyer.
How can somebody know what cases have these deadlines and which do not? Which cases have deadlines of less than six months? One year? Two years? Which cases can be brought for serious injury claims long after two ears under the right set of circumstances?
This depends on a case-to-case analysis that requires an experienced personal injury lawyer. For this reason alone, trying to "do it yourself" can be extremely dangerous.
Another problem with this approach is that it assumes that the settlement that will be received by "going it alone" will be better than the one received by hiring a lawyer. In almost every case this is not true. In almost every case, a good personal injury lawyer will do a much better job than somebody would on their own, as you would expect. Anybody that's good at their job should be much, much better at it than somebody who is an amateur at doing their job. A professional auto mechanic is significantly better than someone who just fixes up their own car, but far, far superior to the person who has never touched a car before. A brain surgeon would do a much, much better job in brain surgery than a medical doctor and a far, far superior job to somebody whose has never been to the first day of medical school.
The same is true with the law. An experienced and skilled personal injury lawyer would do a much better job than another lawyer would at retaining fair compensation after a serious injury. However, the person who has never been to law school and just tries to handle it on their own is the equivalent of the person who has never looked under the hood of a car but tries to fix their engine, or the person who has never been to medical school and attempts brain surgery. Now, personal injury lawyers may not be "brain surgeons" but the reality is that there is a large set of information, knowledge, and experience that help to obtain fair compensation than somebody is extremely unlikely to on their own.
Worst of all, a perfectly legitimate case can be absolutely destroyed in any number of ways by somebody trying to do the right thing. In other words, they did not hire a lawyer because they really didn't want to get involved with a lawyer. They wanted to do the right thing. They wanted to avoid "ramping it up" and getting into a big fight over their claim. However, in the meantime they missed deadlines, failed to collect evidence, failed to get the appropriate experts involved before it was too late, and by the time they approached a skilled personal injury lawyer their case had been greatly diminished or, in the worst cases, completely lost.
Perhaps these people took the position that they would just "tell the truth" and everything would work out. The problem is, the adversary to whom you are "telling the truth" is not part of a search for truth or justice. Their job is to minimize and avoid paying the claim. They're trying to save money for their company that pays them. That is their job. They are not in the "search for truth" and so simply "telling them the truth" is not enough. Of course you have to tell the truth. Any honest reputable ethical lawyer will require that you always tell the truth. However, you must do more than just tell the truth in order to be successful when you are dealing with a personal injury case.
Therefore, while there may be many good reasons to not hire a lawyer in any individual case, the idea of trying to go it alone or "do it yourself" with the eye towards hiring a lawyer later is almost always a bad decision.
5. There's Not Enough Insurance, Anyway.
The common reason people do not hire a lawyer is because they think it is futile. They think there's really no reason to hire a lawyer because the injury was so serious, and there is so little insurance money likely available, that there is nothin a lawyer can do. For instance, some people who have suffered serious injury can have medical bills in the hundred of thousands of dollars. At the same time, a minimum insurance policy limit in Arizona is as low as $15,000.00 per person for a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, in these types of extreme situations where it appears that a person who was hurt is not going to get any money for what they have endured, why hire a lawyer?
The reality is that there are extreme cases like these where a lawyer cannot do a lot for the injury victim. The problem is, that without hiring a lawyer to do the proper investigation there is no way to know whether or not these assumptions are valid. For instance, there are many different places from which insurance can be sought, beyond just that of an at-fault driver in a car accident. However, if someone does not know what questions to ask, if they do not know where to look, if they do not know what resources may exist in addition to the obvious insurance policy, how can they confirm that there is only a minimal amount of insurance available. The same goes for a situation where the other person has no insurance. Even where somebody who caused an accident has absolutely no insurance, they may in fact have been insured by other policies that they do not pay for. There are all kinds of scenarios where the place where an incident occurred may have had insurance, where the person who was injured themselves had insurance they did not even know could cover that injury, where an employer of the person who caused the incident had coverage or responsibility, where a family member or parent had a policy that covered everybody, not just the at-fault person, and a whole host of other options that may provide insurance coverage for someone who's been badly hurt.
So, right away, it is clear that it's very dangerous to make the decision not to hire a lawyer because there's not enough insurance when it wasn't a skilled personal injury lawyer who first did everything possible to find out if there was other insurance.
Now, if in fact there's only $15,000.00, there's only so much even the best Arizona personal injury lawyer can do to help that.
Now, what about the cases that are not quite extreme. What can be done when the bills that are owed whether it's a $15,000.00 policy or a $100,000.00 policy for the severely injured person who has bills that far exceed the money available. Well, obviously there would be a long line of people that will try to get their hands on that insurance money. Doctors, health insurance company, you name it and people will line up. However, sometimes even after severe injury even a smaller amount of money than what should be received could be helpful. A case could be worth a million dollars but the family who is in desperate straits may at least be able to use $10,000.00 to their benefit. Or, a family who is in desperate straits because of the loss of a main wage earner to injury or worse may be able to use even $100,000.00 on a case that should have been worth a million dollars but there's not enough insurance money. However, without a good and skilled personal injury lawyer to try to fend off all of the lien-holders with their hands out, the insurance company or whoever is at fault will simply cut a check to everybody else leaving nothing to the victim. This is another reason why it is dangerous to simply ignore the possibility of a lawyer because there's not enough insurance to cover the amount of bills or to come close to compensating the victim.
This is not doubt that there are times that there is nothing a personal injury can do. There are times when the injury is so severe and the available insurance is so minimal that there is no magic wand. Even the best personal injury lawyer cannot make money appear where there is none, make insurance exist where none had been purchased, or prove people at fault who were not, actually, at fault for the incident. So, in those situations where there's been a severe injury or a death because of somebody else's neglect or recklessness it is understandable to want to give up and not even hire an experienced personal injury lawyer. However, it is a mistake. It is always best to allow a skilled professional to do their job. The job of a good personal injury lawyer is not simply to make sure that they get the most in settlement, but to first try to find every available resource to help in that settlement and, when the settlement is complete, to do everything possible to keep the lien-holders at bay to get the most money that is available to the person who has suffered the actual injury.
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Confidentially reviewed by Attorney Mark Breyer