Do I Need a Lawyer to Handle My Case?
Should I Hire an Injury Lawyer or Handle the Case on My Own?
Does it make sense to hire a lawyer? After all, the attorney in most cases is going to take at least 33 1/3% of the gross dollar amount that you recover.
Short answer: the more serious or complex the case is, the more likely it is that you will need a lawyer.
In the following instances, you absolutely want a lawyer to review the case for you:
- The other driver was intoxicated; punitive damages can be large and only a lawyer will be able to effectively present that claim;
- Medical bills above $5,000;
- Complex medical care;
- Pre-existing medical conditions were aggravated by the crash;
- Uninsured Motorist claims;
- Tractor Trailer crashes;
- There are medical liens filed by doctors or your health insurer is claiming a right of reimbursement for bills they paid.
In the following instances, you would most likely not need a lawyer:
- Let us assume that you have been in a crash and the other driver received the citation and paid the ticket. In that fact pattern, the question of liability is without debate and therefore that part of the case is simple.
- You went either to the hospital or to your family doctor and the gross total of your medical bills (that is the biggest number on the bill, not your co-pay and not what your health insurance paid) is $2,000 or less. You made a quick recovery from your injury and are feeling better.
- You did not miss more than one week of work.
- If you cannot get your case settled, you will need to file your case in Magistrate Court(small claims court in Georgia). Here is a sample of a Georgia car accident complaint in the State Court involving negligent entrustment of a vehicle that you can model your lawsuit on. There are very few formal pleading requirements in Magistrate Court so if you do not want to copy that format, simply handwriting on the Court’s own form will suffice.
If you called me and asked me to represent you in such a case, I would advise you that you don’t need my services. You are fully capable of settling this case on your own and a lawyer is going to cost more than he or she can bring to the case.
What Advantages are There to Hiring a Lawyer?
If the case is more complicated than the one above, then it probably makes economic sense to hire a lawyer. Why? There are three major skills that a personal injury attorney brings to the table in the pre-litigation stages of handling a personal injury claim.
1. Medical Expertise:
a. Medical Care for the Uninsured:
Not everybody has health insurance and can schedule an appointment with a skilled physician to get the medical care that they need. In the last few years, I have had many clients that come in with fractured bones, mild brain injuries, ruptured discs and with serious scarring and they have no medical care options. Because I have been a personal injury lawyer for many years, I have developed a Rolodex of medical doctors that I trust and that will agree to see my clients on a lien basis. These are expert medical doctors that a patient would otherwise not have access to. If you do have health insurance, go straight through the normal channels and follow your doctor’s referrals.
b. Preventing Medical Care Mistakes by the Client:
There are unscrupulous medical providers and chiropractors in the community that do not see their patients solely for the sake of healing. They view auto accident cases as a profiteering operation and often act with callous disregard for the well being of the client. I have had many clients come to me complaining that they went to a physician and did not know that they rang up a $7,500.00 bill until it was too late. A good rule of thumb is to ask to see the bill for every visit. You will end up paying for the medical care from any settlement you receive. It is your money, keep a close eye on it.
2. Legal Expertise: Liability Disputes and Spotting Unusual Claims
A skilled car accident attorney in Atlanta brings their years of experience to the table. Most cases are not slam dunks on responsibility and it requires diligence to develop facts during the investigation that will arm the client with the facts they need to win the case. Let us go over a few specific examples.
Left Turn Across Traffic on Windy Hill Road in Marietta, Georgia
We have a client who turned left across 2 lanes of traffic on Windy Hill Road in Marietta Georgia. It was 7:20 on a dark and rainy December morning. The other driver admitted to the officer that she had a yellow light as she entered the intersection. Our driver told the officer at the scene that she did not know where the other driver came from. We hired a collision reconstructionist to prove that the other driver’s headlights were not on by examining the filament for the headlight to see if it was deformed. If the light is on, the filament heats up and glows. If it is hot, it is more malleable and when there is an impact it bends out of shape. If it was not on at the time of the crash then it is not deformed. This is one way to prove that the lights were off. We did that and showed by acquiring the troopers dash cam that it was raining out at the same time. We then introduced the Georgia statute that requires headlights during the rain and when it is 30 minutes earlier than official sunrise.
Head-On Collision in Cumming, Georgia
Two cars crashed on a two-lane road in Cumming, Georgia and the eyewitness told the officer that the collision was our client’s fault. We hired a reconstructionist to examine the road and determined that there was a gouge mark from the bottom of the car’s chassis from where it cut the road on impact and determined that the crash happened on our side of the yellow line. Armed with that information we filed suit and deposed the witness. It became clear that she was actually friends with the defendant driver and was trying to help her friend out. Once that was clear the other driver’s insurance company, Geico, gave up and paid the fair settlement value on the case.
Drunk Driver Collision in Conyers, Georgia
We represent a family consisting of two sisters and their three children in a personal injury claim stemming from a terrible collision in Conyers, Georgia. At midnight two years ago, they were t-boned by a drunk driver. The moms were life-flighted from the scene and one of the children suffered a displaced skull fracture and brain damage. The driver was driving his company truck and the company alleged that he had stolen the keys and were, therefore, denying that they had any responsibility nor any insurance coverage. We learned through the investigation that he had been drinking in a Conyers bar. We filed suit against the bar and are presently in litigation to make a recovery. We also determined that the drunk driver had left the state and tracked him down with a private investigator. We learned that the facts were not what the construction company claimed and we are now in litigation to make a fair and just recovery for the family from this horrible accident.
3. Expertise in Sorting Through Reimbursement Claims, Workers’ Compensation Liens and Medical Liens
If your case has medical bills in excess of $1,000.00, you are probably going to need some legal advice on how to handle payment issues. Let us consider the various scenarios:
Situation 1: You Have Health Insurance But They Refuse to Pay For Your Medical Care
This may come as a shock to you, but more and more health insurers are refusing to pay for medical care stemming from auto accidents. They take the position with the medical provider and you, their insured, that they are secondary to medical payments insurance. In many cases that is true, but you may not have medical payments insurance on your policy as so they need to go ahead an make payments to the provider. Most providers have emergency care coverage so that it does not matter if the provider is out of network.
Everything after that though, you need to run through network. Be careful as many plans will not pay for chiropractic care and be careful as many chiropractors neglect to bill the insurance company and instead look to your settlement check for repayment. We coordinate benefits early in the case to maximize the amount of money health care pays out and save the medical payments insurance coverage until the end of the case. Then when the client is faced with reimbursement claims from their health insurer, we use that money to pay those claims off. This maximizes the money actually going to the client.
Situation 2: Let Us Assume That You Don’t Have Health Insurance But Do Have Medical Payments Insurance
In this situation, we would contact the emergency room providers and your other medical doctors and get them to hold off on collections while we negotiate a settlement with the insurance company or try your case to verdict. Then we use the MedPay at the end of the case to pay a reduced amount of the providers bill instead of the original full bill.
Situation 3: If You Have Neither Health Insurance Nor Medical Payments Insurance
Frankly, this is a crummy situation to be in. If you are injured, go to the emergency room. In Georgia, they cannot turn you away for lack of funds. If you have a substantial injury that is identifiable such as a torn ligament or broken bones, there are some medical doctors that will see you on a lien. You must be judicious in who you chose to provide your care.
The Last Mile: Cleaning Up the Reimbursement Claims
At some point, we will get justice for you, either by trial or settlement. At that point, there will likely be various companies looking for repayment. If health insurance paid out, they will want to be repaid for bills that you received money for from the guy that hit you. If you went to the doctor and did not pay, they may have a lien on your case. If you had workers compensation pay for part of your bills or lost wages, they will look for reimbursement. In short, it takes a skilled trial attorney to know what the best options will be for you. The myriad situations we encounter are too numerous to itemize here, but suffice it to say that if your case is this complicated you do need a lawyer to handle your case.
Some Examples of Recent Results
Because over 70% of my clients are able to get fair settlements for their Georgia Injury Cases in the demand phase, many clients wonder what happens when cases go into suit. I thought we would discuss here some of my recent and pending trials.
Disputed Liability Trial Against American Century Insurance Company
American Century is a carrier that writes mostly minimum limits policies with only $25,000.00 in coverage. In this pending case, my client was driving straight when the American Century insured driver turned left across his path in Riverdale, Georgia, causing the collision. American Century denied that their driver was responsible. My client has undergone two surgeries and we are going to take the video deposition of his treating orthopedist to prepare to present the case to the jury. There are no eyewitnesses so this will be a classic swearing contest case. My client has medical bills in excess of $40,000.00 and still has not returned to work. This is a challenging case that I will enjoy trying to the jury but should stand as a warning to people involved in collisions with American Century insureds.
Low Impact Rear-End Collision Claim Against USAA Insurance
I just finished litigating a case with $2,000.00 in property damage from a rear-end collision with a driver insured by USAA in Cumming, Georgia. USAA denied that the collision could have caused a herniated disc in the client’s low back and argued that there were no radiating symptoms until 6 months after the collision. We filed suit and met with the client’s treating surgeon. I showed the surgeon photos of the collision and we carefully reviewed all of the clients’ prior records which proved that he had never had this problem previously. Armed with strong medical testimony, we were able to secure a six-figure settlement for the client just prior to trial.
Lacerated Spleen in Collision With Farm Bureau Driver
In a recent case, our client lacerated her spleen in a serious collision with a Farm Bureau insured driver in Roswell, Georgia. She only had one visit with the doctor at the emergency room and had a medical bill for $12,400.00. By arguing the lingering nature of splenic injuries and the potential for long term harm, we were still able to secure the client a settlement of $27,500.00.
Trial Against Geico Insurance on a Disputed Liability Foot Fracture
This spring I will be trying a case against Geico where our client was ticketed for making a left turn across traffic and the officer blamed our client for this Marietta, Georgia accident. I deposed the defendant and she testified that it was light out and that the roadway was dry and even though it was 7:30 AM in December, she claimed there was no need for headlights. My client contends that she could not see the Geico driver coming through the intersection because the other driver did not have her lights on. We were able to secure the investigating officer’s videotape from his dashboard which proves that the roads were wet and that every other car had their lights on at that time of day. We will prevail at trial and get justice for the client.
Policy Limits Settlement for Client in Her Claim For Injuries Against Farmer’s Insurance
Our client was violently t-boned in a Decatur, Georgia collision and went to the emergency room with a $2,500.00 bill. She underwent $5,000.00 worth of chiropractic care and several visits to an orthopedist. Her prior attorney did nothing on her case. After just 3 months, we were able to secure a policy limits settlement of $25,000.00 and got her medical payments insurance to handle most of her outstanding medical bills.