Knowing how, when, and where to find legal help regarding your situation can be difficult or confusing. Here are our “Top 10 Mistakes” people make when choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer and how you can avoid them.
Not hiring a lawyer
If you’ve been injured in an accident, a Personal Injury Lawyer can help you navigate all of the complex issues, and ensure that you don’t miss any important deadlines, or miss out on any benefits or compensation that you may be entitled to. If you need access to treatment, but cannot afford it, the right lawyer can help you. If you are unsure about your rights, a lawyer can explain them to you. Most Personal Injury Lawyers offer free consultations, and “no win, no fee” arrangements also known as “Contingency Fee Agreements”, so there is little to no risk in discussing your claim with a lawyer, even if you’re not sure if you want to hire that lawyer. Some lawyers will also pay for any costs to run your Personal Injury claim, also known as “Disbursements” and may or may not charge interest to you on these costs. Do your research and, if in doubt, ask your lawyer for a clear outline of any fees or charges.
Not asking friends and family for a referral to a Personal Injury Lawyer
When it comes to choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer, often times your friends and family can offer invaluable advice if they have used a lawyer in the past. Prices between Personal Injury Lawyers tend to be similar, so they end up competing on service. It is difficult to determine what kind of service you might expect from a Personal Injury Lawyer just by that lawyer’s advertising or website. Ask around, and try to get a personal recommendation. It also helps to look for a firm that is well established in your community, and that has many years of experience in Personal Injury Law. The Law Society of Alberta prohibits Alberta lawyers from claiming to be the “top” or “best” lawyer in a given area, and also prohibits claims that a lawyer is an “expert”, “specialist”, or even “aggressive”. If you see advertising from a Personal Injury Lawyer that references these terms, it would be best to look elsewhere.
Trusting your own insurance company
Many people think of insurance companies as service companies that exist to serve their customers. In reality, insurance companies are in business to make money for their shareholders. Unfortunately, many people do not come to this realization until they have had an accident and need to deal with their own insurer. Insurance companies often fight with their customers over property damage, and benefits available under the policy. The right Personal Injury Lawyer can help you deal with your own insurance company, as well as that of the defendant.
Trusting the defendant’s insurance company
If you’ve been involved in an accident, you may end up speaking to a representative from the insurance company of the person or company responsible for your accident and injuries, the defendant(s). This person is commonly referred to as an adjuster. An adjuster will want a statement from you, perhaps some photographs, and maybe even some supporting medical information or employment information if you’ve missed time from work. The adjuster may seem kind and understanding, but make no mistake; the adjuster’s job is to pay you as little as possible to settle your claim. Courts in Canada have ruled that adjusters have no duty to be fair to you. This means they can be untruthful or misleading, or let important deadlines pass without informing you. They may understate the severity of your injuries, or tell you that you are entitled to much less compensation than you really are. The best thing to do is to avoid talking to a defendant’s adjuster at all, as the things you say may later be used against you. Instead, consult a Personal Injury Lawyer to make sure your rights are protected. If you settle a claim on your own for $4000, you won’t owe any lawyer’s fees, but the claim may have been worth $40,000.
Not claiming accident benefits
Many people who are injured in an accident are entitled to receive accident benefits, but never claim them. This usually occurs because the injured person is simply unaware of the benefits available to them. The right Personal Injury Lawyer can help you get the benefits you deserve, to help you get the treatment you need, or even to supplement your income if you’ve been off work.
Not keeping track of expenses related to the accident
If you have been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to claim for certain expenses related to that accident that you’ve had to pay for out of your own pocket. For example, you may have filled a prescription or had to purchase a medical device, or you may have put many kilometres on your car driving to and from your doctor. The right Personal Injury Lawyer can help you keep track of these expenses, and get them paid.
Not going for the medical treatment you need
The most important thing an injured person must do is to get the treatment needed to get better. People lead busy lives, and it’s easy to forget to take time for yourself, to take care of your health. Some people require psychological help or counselling, but don’t go because of the negative stigma of mental illness. Often doctors or other treatment providers don’t provide the help or the understanding an injured person requires, particularly for those suffering from soft-tissue injuries. The reasons are many, but the importance of getting all the treatment you need cannot be overstated. Without proper treatment, you will take longer to recover, and may also lower the amount of your compensation, as the law recognizes that an injured person must take their recovery into their own hands.
Taking out a settlement loan
When a person is injured in an accident, it can also mean pain in the pocketbook. Injuries may prevent you from working, and even if you are receiving benefits from your employer or your own insurance company, it may not be enough to cover all your regular bills, not to mention any additional medical or housekeeping costs you are facing. The defendant’s insurance company is empowered by law to make advance payments to injured plaintiffs, but in practice, this rarely happens. Faced with mounting bills and dwindling funds, many injured plaintiffs look for short-term financing as a solution. There are many companies that will gladly lend money to a person who is involved in a lawsuit and is expecting to receive a settlement. The problem is that these companies charge interest rates far beyond what a bank would charge because they know that banks won’t make these types of loans. An injured person who borrows $2000 from a settlement lender could end up owing more than twice that in just 2 years. The best Personal Injury Lawyers encourage injured plaintiffs to exhaust every possible avenue for financing before going to a settlement lender, whether through a bank line of credit, mortgage refinancing, or borrowing from friends and family.
Settling too early
When a person is injured in an accident, the injuries can dominate that person’s life to such an extent that it can feel overwhelming. The pain, suffering, depression, anxiety, and uncertainty can occupy your every thought. The goal is for you to get back to normal, to live life as it was before the accident, but this can be difficult to do while a lawsuit is ongoing and injuries are at the forefront of your mind. Instinct might tell you that the best thing to do is to settle your lawsuit as quickly as possible, so that you can move on. But by settling quickly, before your body is fully healed, or before your doctor has a good idea of your future health and healthcare needs, you could be missing out on the compensation you deserve. Your health may worsen, or you may require costly medical care that should have been paid for by the person who injured you, but that will now have to come out of your own pocket. The right Personal Injury Lawyer can help, by dealing with your claim so you don’t have to, and by letting you know when it is appropriate to settle your claim.
Choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer based on rate alone
Personal Injury Lawyers usually work on a contingency fee (no win, no fee) basis, and charge similar fees. Some Personal Injury Lawyers have graduated fees, which means that as your lawsuit goes on, the fee increases. The initial fee may be low to attract clients, but as the lawsuit reaches each important step, the fee goes up, and can eventually end up much higher than the average fee for Personal Injury Lawyers in the area. When choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer, experience, reputation, service, and personal recommendation are all considerations which are much more important than the fee. If your Personal Injury Lawyer practices exclusively in that area of law, and has been in business for decades, and has a great reputation in the community, it is likely that they are worth their fee.