The claim settlement procedure for an accident requires expert judgment and very fine attention to detail. Without the right kind of attention, the victim of the accident can easily lose out on a major settlement amount quickly. Handling pain and suffering claims without a lawyer are not easy. Therefore, most people would advise you to choose a supportive and reliable law firm for the process. However, the law allows people to fight their own cases if they want to.
If you are planning on fighting your own case in front of a jury, you need to stay armed with all the necessary tools. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to fight the case all by yourself.
Factors to Consider in the Claim Settlement Process
These factors govern the overall amount of settlement as well as the time for processing it. Take the following 5 factors into consideration for the settlement process beforehand to stay prepared for counterarguments.
1. Amount of Pain and Suffering Caused Due to the Accident
You cannot quantify the amount of pain and suffering that an accident caused to your physical and mental well-being. While the medical records can show the harm to your physical well-being to a certain extent, the trauma and mental pain caused due to the accident are completely unquantifiable. Consulting a psychiatrist and a physician for a complete physical and mental checkup is the first thing that you should do after the accident.
Having all the necessary reports in hand while appearing for trial will strengthen your case to a huge extent. If you do not know which documents you need to collect beforehand, consult a professional lawyer or the patient’s ward at the hospital that you were admitted to. The police too might help you in collecting the right documents in certain cases.
If you are presenting your case in front of a jury, you need to convince them that your mental and physical well-being is permanently harmed for the rest of your life. Showing the irreparable condition of the damage will strengthen your case and the jury will rule in your favor with a higher settlement amount.
2. Clarity of the Situation Where the Party was at Fault
Are you sure that the person that you are using was completely at fault? Were you following all the traffic rules and regulations during the accident? If you are completely sure that the third party was at fault for the accident, you have a stronger case. However, if you are even slightly unsure, your case weakens considerably.
Did you turn on the blinker while taking the turn, were you over speeding, or did you take the wrong exit from the highway? Recall all the incidents from the accident before making your case. Make sure that you do not withhold any information while preparing your case. If you have the video evidence of your accident that is evident in the fact that you were following all the rules, your case gets stronger.
Withholding the true information or lying on the stand can put your case into serious jeopardy. You need to rehearse your plea multiple times before presenting the case in front of a jury. Practice in front of an unbiased audience will give you the necessary confidence to present your case in a convincing manner.
3. An estimate of Financial Damages (Medical Bills and Damage to the Vehicle)
Get a clear estimate of the total financial damages incurred due to the accident. Two of the most important parameters that govern the overall financial damage come from the harm to your physical well-being and the damage to your vehicle. Medical bills for an extremely serious accident can easily ramp up to several hundred thousand dollars. Similarly, in such cases, your insurance company may consider the car totaled and beyond repair.
Get the necessary documentation for all the medical expenses incurred after the accident. You can also file the consultation fee of a psychiatrist in the settlement claim. The psychiatrist who helps you deal with the post-traumatic stress of the accident can charge hundreds of dollars for every session. Make sure that you file the consultation fees to get the money back in the settlement.
You can consult the garage or the technicians responsible for fixing the vehicle for a final estimate of the repair. If your doctor or the technician cannot provide the full estimate of the costs, you can ask for a rough projection and file that in the settlement claim.
4. Calculation of Other Financial Damages (Lost Earnings)
The loss of an individual’s earning capacity is an important factor that governs the total amount of claim that he/she can file for. This amount is extremely important for salaried individuals who are living their lives on a regular paycheck. A victim of the accident may lose his/her pay due to the inability to go to the office or performing duties correctly.
Depending on the total time of recovery and duration of hospitalization, this cost may easily go up to several thousand dollars. This amount is especially high for an individual who is paid extremely well at a senior position in a multi-national corporation. For example, if the victim is hospitalized for a period of 2 months, he/she can claim the salary of those 2 months in the settlement costs.
5. Loss of Future Earning Capacity
In severe accidents, the person’s earning capacity is hindered by life. For example, an athlete whose entire career depends on his/her physical well-being may not be able to perform after a severe accident. This hampers the future earning capacity of the individual beyond repair. Under such circumstances, the victim can claim for a loss of future earning capacity too.
Even people with desk jobs can file for this claim if they suffer from mental trauma that hinders their capacity to function properly at the office. This is a sensitive claim and can easily boost your overall amount of settlement by a significant factor. However, if it is misused to extort money, it can easily harm your settlement claim. This is where the expert guidance of a lawyer can help you.
Steps on Handling a Pain and Suffering Claim Without Lawyer
Handling the pain and suffering claim without a lawyer is extremely tough. You need to be more careful than the average individual and take multiple factors into consideration. If you are going to try your own case, make sure that you read enough pain and suffering settlement examples to get a fair idea of the process. It is highly advisable to consult a professional lawyer even if you are the one fighting your case personally.
The following 6 steps should be on the top of your to-do list so that you can step into the court completely prepared to get a pain and suffering claim without a lawyer.
1. Collecting Evidence from the Scene of the Accident
The world’s strongest judicial systems rightly value hard facts, numbers, and evidence over emotions and logic. When you step into the court, you should not leave anything up to logic or chance. Stay prepared for the worst-case scenarios so that you do not get grilled by the lawyer of the defending party. A novice individual can easily get crushed within a few seconds by a professional lawyer. This is the main reason why people recommend getting a professional lawyer for the process.
You can win the case with no experience in legal practices if you have the right evidence in your hand. Just make sure that the defense lawyers do not use the evidence against you. The professional defense lawyers know how to manipulate data and hard facts into their favor. So, you need to stay extremely vigilant in whatever you speak during the trial. Practicing your plea in front of an unbiased audience helps a lot in such cases.
Collect the CCTV footage as well as the statements from the witnesses at the accident scene as evidence. You can also show the report of the damage done to your vehicle as well as physical well-being from certified technicians and physicians respectively to strengthen your case further.
2. Getting the Right Medical Treatment
If you are injured seriously, getting the first aid treatment should be on the top of your list of priorities. However, in the case of a minor accident, you can start collecting the evidence from the moment when the accident occurred first. In case of serious accidents, the police itself usually collects the right evidence for you so that you can fight your case later.
While getting the medical treatment, make sure that you sign the relevant documents for the treatment procedure only. In case you sign a legal release form, you will not be able to file for a claim later. It is a good idea for you to call your lawyer directly to the hospital so that he/she ensures that you do not sign any release forms accidentally.
3. Using Your Personal Insurance Scheme Before the Settlement Process
The overall settlement claim process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Therefore, you cannot wait for the claim settlement amount before getting the necessary medical treatment. In such cases, you need to use your personal term insurance, health insurance or injury insurance scheme to get the necessary treatment.
The initial cost of treatment will hamper your record with the insurance agency even if the accident is not your fault. This will lead to a higher rate of premium in the subsequent insurance policies. You can claim the cost of the higher insurance premium in the overall settlement amount too.
Having a term insurance policy is extremely helpful in scenarios that need a large amount of cash flow. Accidents that cause significant damage to your physical well-being need high-level surgical operations in a short period. These operations can easily cost several thousand dollars. Your insurance policy can cover a significant portion of this medical bill until your settlement claim is processed.
4. Filing a Demand Statement
Once you are out of the hospital and have the necessary documentation with you, it is time to file the demand statement. Filing the demand statement requires you to fill multiple legal forms. Even minor inconsistencies in the legal forms can give the authorities or the defense lawyers an excuse to withhold payment.
In the worst-case scenarios, your document may be stuck in the system for a long time. Under such situations, you don’t have the option to file another document and need to wait for the first one to get rejected. This is where the services of a professional lawyer come to your rescue. A certified and experienced auto accident lawyer can help you fill the multiple legal forms without any mistakes.
5. Fighting the Case at a Trial
Once you have finished the process of filing the demand statement, you and the defendant will get a date for the trial. You will most likely get the date within a couple of hours and the defendant will receive the same in the mail a couple of days later. The police should help you get the address and the contact details of the defendant after the accident.
After the defendant gets the date of the hearing, he/she will most likely get a professional defense lawyer involved in the process. The lawyer will then assess the damage and the situation of the accident and reach out to you. Most smart defense lawyers (who know that their client is at fault), will try and settle the case outside the courtroom. In such situations, the lawyer (or the insurance agency of the third-party) will present a settlement offer.
6. Assessing the Offer and Filing a Counter Offer
Once you have the settlement offer in your hands, it is time to evaluate the settlement amount. Ideally, you should never settle for the first offer that the defendant makes. Instead, you should ask for another offer. Most insurance companies and smart defense lawyers will make a very low initial offer and try to persuade you saying that it is an extremely generous offer. Do not listen to them.
Even if the first offer seems like a huge amount, the defendant can do a lot better. Ask for another offer. A professional auto accident lawyer will help you assess the situation a little better and get you the best deal possible. He/she can carry out the negotiations on your behalf. If you know that the defendant is at fault with certainty, you should always aim higher and ask the defense lawyer to make a better offer. You can leverage your condition and threaten them to take them to the court if they do not plan on making a better offer.
Common Mistakes Conducted by Individuals Trying a Case Without a Lawyer
Individuals with no experience in litigation will most likely commit one or more of the following mistakes while using for their pain and suffering claims without lawyers.
1. Signing a Release Letter at the Hospital
The biggest mistake that will ensure that you end up with no payment from the defendant is signing a release form at the hospital. When you are admitted to the hospital immediately after the accident, you are given the first aid care. Once you regain consciousness and control, the hospital authorities will ask you to sign a couple of forms quickly. These forms contain information about your insurance service provider as well as medical history.
Some hospitals may also ask you to sign a release form in the initial stages. If you see such a form, you should clearly refuse to sign it. If you sign the release form, you are admitting that the accident was not the fault of any third party and that you do not plan on suing anyone. Singing this form will ensure that you cannot sue anyone at a later stage. A professional auto accident lawyer can come to your rescue under such situations are prevent you from signing the form.
2. Assessing the Scope of Damages Wrongly
To get the best settlement amount, you need to assess the scope of damages correctly. Most novice litigators won’t know the different categories that they can file their settlement claims in. On the other hand, a professional auto accident lawyer can assess the damage correctly. He/she can help you connect with the right physicians, psychiatrists, and technicians to assess the scope of the damage.
While dealing with pain and suffering claims without lawyers make sure that you understand the differences between unquantifiable and quantifiable claims. Also, understand the various categories under which you can file for a claim. In the most serious accidents, you need to take the loss of future earnings into account too.
Generate the right medical reports with certified doctors to fortify your case against the defendant further.
3. Not Filing a Counteroffer – Accepting the Settlement Too Quickly
The insurance companies and defense lawyers are extremely smart. The initial settlement amount that they offer will be well below what you really deserve. Even if you think that the amount is significant enough to change your life, it usually is not. The defense lawyer will try and convince you how he/she is trying to get you the best deal. If you are a good negotiator, you will easily identify this play.
The problem of not filing a counteroffer is more common with the bad negotiators. The people who have no experience in litigation or negotiation will accept the first offer without filing for a counteroffer. In such situations, they lose out on a huge chunk of money. A professional lawyer will assess the damage and suggest the right amount for a counteroffer.
4. Lying or Contradicting Own Statements at the Trial
If you are representing your case in the trial, you need to practice your speech well before presenting it to the jury. The defense lawyer will most likely and mercilessly raise questions on your statements during the trial. He/she will try to get on your nerves and make you contradict your own statements. If you don’t realize that the lawyer is trying to lead you or your witness, you can be at a major disadvantage during the trial.
To prove your point, you might mistakenly contradict your statements or lie. If the jury catches your lie on the stand, your reliability goes down and the chances of you losing the trial increase exponentially. A professional auto accident lawyer understands all these tactics and protects you during the trial. Therefore, it is a good idea to practice well before the trial begins.
5. Not Filing the Documents for the Settlement Claim Correctly
Even minor inconsistencies in the document filing process can leave your overall application in ruins. If you do not file the right application and documents at the right time, you face the risk of losing the trial even before it begins. You need to document and submit all the right evidence before the trial for the jury to take them into consideration during it.
A professional auto accident lawyer will not only help you fill the applications and documents in the right way but also help you collect evidence from the accident scene. Most top auto accident legal firms have the right contacts in the market to help you collect and generate the right reports for the trial.
While there is no legal obligation for you to hire a lawyer for a pain and suffering settlement case, you should always get one. You can easily go wrong at one or more of the hundred different checkpoints in the process and ruin your chances of getting a fair trial. Professional auto accident lawyers know how to handle and file the sensitive claims correctly so that are accepted by the judge and the jury.
The main reason why you should hire professional auto accident lawyers is that they know how to negotiate correctly on your behalf so that you don’t end up with an unfair judgment.