Here is how it works.
At the moment you are injured in an accident, you face a thousand questions, making it hard to determine what is best for your long-term health and wellness. “A personal injury case is a game of hurry up and wait,” says CEO of Kirk-Pinkerton, PA and personal injury attorney Bill Robertson. What is the first step? Hurry up and hire a lawyer.
“It is a race, in some respects,” says Robertson. “Insurance companies are always trying to get ahead of you. At the end of the day, even your own insurance company is going to be driven by its own self-interest, and not your best interest.”
As soon as an insurance company is notified of an accident involving injury, its investigators and adjusters pull out all the stops to mitigate — or even eliminate —benefits payouts. Their methods can include gathering evidence of questionable liability or embellished injuries, contacting you for statements that may undermine your case or even offering cash in exchange for a full release from further payments before you ever know what your claim is worth.
Robertson recalls a story of a family whose car was totaled in an accident; the insurance company gave them $7,000 for a new car, in exchange for a full release of claims. “That was going to be a $200,000 case, and there was nothing I could do for them,” he says. “With every case like that, the insurance company knows they have just saved themselves thousands of dollars, playing on this poor person’s financial need.”
This onslaught of attention from the insurance companies can start the day of the accident, maybe before you even get home.
While these tactics may overwhelm you, an experienced personal injury attorney can easily counter them on your behalf. Robertson, who has been practicing personal injury law for 32 years, says, “I tell my clients when they leave my office, ‘Your only job is to get better.’”
Besides, you may not know just how long that recovery will take. “Your injury could be a lifelong issue,” says Robertson. “If there is contested liability and differing versions of what happened, you have got to preserve evidence and your claim right away. Having a lawyer from the start gives you an advocate, someone on your side to take over the part of the case that is confusing. An attorney keeps you from being led astray into signing your rights away without you knowing it. “Be skeptical,” Robertson says. “The insurance companies ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND.”
Even if you are uncertain of liability or have any other questions regarding your situation, the consultation with a personal injury attorney, like Robertson, is free. Furthermore, personal injury law works on contingency fees, which means the lawyers don’t get paid unless they win even more money for you. By hiring a personal injury attorney, “You get a free lawyer on your side and do not have to pay me anything unless you receive a settlement,” says Robertson.
Still, he adds, be sure to find a lawyer who makes you comfortable, and one who has requisite experience in personal injury cases. “It is like a doctor,” he explains. “If I had skin cancer, I would not be going to an ophthalmologist. Lawyers these days have to be highly specialized. You cannot do everything. The law is too complicated.”
Experience and one-on-one attention are also important. “Some firms will send out a paralegal to sign you up, and you will not see or talk to a lawyer until your deposition, when they will walk in and say, ‘Hi, I’m Joe, your lawyer,’” says Robertson. “You cannot represent someone in a case with injuries if you do not know them or know what their injuries are. It is not, in my opinion, appropriate. You are not getting what you deserve. If your lawyer is too busy to talk to you, then he or she is too busy.”
And remember, even as you are hurrying to find a lawyer, what follows is the waiting. Cases can take months or even years to resolve, so be sure to find a lawyer you trust and who makes you comfortable. Before papers are signed, Robertson encourages his prospective clients to take the documents home, read them over and ask him any questions. “I answer my own phone,” he assures them.
Personal, one-on-one attention allows you to get through the “hurry up” part of the process even more efficiently. After that, the waiting will be the easy part.