When we get calls from folks, inevitably the main question they have is: “Do I need a lawyer?”
Unfortunately, there is no blanket response that will fit every person who reads this blog post. The considerations that an injured person faces in trying to achieve some closure after the fact are myriad, diverse, and daunting when fully considered. If you find yourself in a situation… where you are being pressured to settle before you are well, regardless of the severity of your injuries – you may want a lawyer to deal directly with the insurance companies contacting you.”
The purpose of this post is to simply give readers an idea of the types of things they should consider before they try to settle their claim – however, it would not be possible to outline everything an injured person must consider and this post is not legal advice. If you have any doubts about whether or not you need an attorney to represent your interests after you've been injured, the only complete and correct answer to whether or not you need a lawyer is, “Talk to a personal injury lawyer.”
With that caveat out there, here are some potential considerations for whether or not you may need a lawyer:
- Location: Where did your injury occur? In what state? Where did you buy your insurance policy? The location where certain things occurred may determine what rights you have and what laws apply. If you want or need a clearer idea of what rights you have as against the person who injured you or an insurance company you feel is treating you unfairly – an attorney can help you define those rights. This question of location is also very important with respect to timing (the following bullet point).
- Timing: There is a limitation period which applies to each case, and if you do not act within the limitations period, you will be precluded from presenting your case in court. In Washington, you generally have three years from the date of the injury to file a negligence lawsuit. In Oregon, you generally have two years. There are exceptions to these general rules, so if you have any doubts about how much time you have, you should talk with an attorney.
- Government Involvement: When you bring a claim against a government agency, you first have to file a special claim (called a “notice of tort claim”) with the government office or agency and then wait a period of time before you file in court. For personal injury claims in Oregon, you must file your administrative claim within 6 months of the date of the injury (there are a few exceptions and the statute of limitations for government claims can be complicated to figure out, so talking with an attorney would be prudent).
- Liability: Who is at fault? What if there is no police report? If liability is disputed and there was no fault determination by the police, you may need to prove you were not at fault. Where the police are involved, they are public servants and do great work, but if you were deemed at-fault in a police report – all hope is not lost. Additionally, where an insurance company is telling you they have determined you were at fault – this is not the end all, be all. If you believe strongly you were free of fault in a given incident or have any burning questions pertaining to liability, a lawyer can help you investigate and explore those questions and potentially assist you in correcting a mistaken fault determination.
- Property Damage: In most cases, settlement with an insurance company relating to the damage to your car is a straightforward determination and, where it is, you likely do not need an attorney. However, there are many instances where people's lack of awareness of their rights in this situation can work to their disadvantage.
- Injuries: You may have insurance adjusters telling you that, in a low-impact crash, you should be better after a minimal amount of treatment. This may be distressing to you, where you know and feel that you are still in pain. If you find yourself in a situation like this or in a situation where you are being pressured to settle before you are well, regardless of the severity of your injuries – you may want a lawyer to deal directly with the insurance companies contacting you. Settling your case prior to reaching maximum medical improvement from your incident-related injuries can leave you without recourse in the event things get unexpectedly worse.
- Insurance Coverages: Many people who come to us aren't aware that they have some very valuable insurance coverages available to them under their policy, for example Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Underinsured Motorists. A lawyer can read your insurance policy and declarations page and clarify for you what your rights are under the policy, i.e., getting your medical bills paid, recouping some of your lost wages, etc.
- Pre-Existing Conditions: Don't assume, just because you had neck and back pain prior to an incident and worse neck and back pain after the incident, that you have no right to recover for the worsening. This is a situation where the advice of an attorney may be particularly illuminating.
- Bankruptcy: If you have or are planning to declare bankruptcy, this could have serious repercussions as to any potential personal injury claim you might be wanting to pursue. Talking with an attorney is highly recommended in this instance.
Again, this is an illustrative summary of the types of things you should consider before you try to settle your claim – this list is not exhaustive. When in doubt, consult with an attorney. Personal injury consultations are free with our attorneys, and we will do all we can to help and inform you regardless of whether or not you ultimately hire us to represent you.