There is no law that mandates hiring a personal injury attorney to file a civil injury claim or lawsuit. Unlike in the criminal justice system, where indigent defendants are guaranteed public defender services, civil injury claim litigants are not provided with free or low-cost personal injury attorney services. That can have many would-be plaintiffs scrolling through copious “Do-it-Yourself” legal guides available with just a few clicks. That is strongly inadvisable, especially if your injuries are serious, impact your ability to work and have left you scarred/in debt from medical expenses. The importance of hiring a personal injury lawyer comes down to one thing: Results.
Extensive research shows that personal injury plaintiffs who hire a lawyer statistically have better odds of success AND tend to receive higher settlements/verdicts than those who represented themselves.
So, a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Guarantee I’ll Win My Case?
No personal injury attorney can guarantee a definite favorable outcome. Still, the benefit of hiring a civil plaintiff attorney who is diligent, skilled, knowledgeable and responsive is indisputable, especially for cases involving substantial injuries, emotional trauma or wrongful death.
Anecdotal evidence of this is abundant but consider a recent analysis published in the Pepperdine Law Review. Study authors reviewed existing empirical data on whether personal injury lawyers obtain more favorable outcomes in civil disputes.
“We conclude that the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that (legal) representation benefits clients,” researchers wrote. “The vast majority of the studies provide evidence that represented parties obtain more favorable outcomes than unrepresented clients…”
Among the evidence researchers cited:
- A large survey of personal injury plaintiffs found that those who hired a personal injury lawyer were more likely to have received payment than those who did not have an attorney.
- A study on auto insurance injury claims revealed that the presence of an injury lawyer working on behalf of the injured plaintiff was one of the strongest predictors of recovery amounts (with higher damages awarded in cases where plaintiff had legal representation).
- Drawing on multiple state databases of closed auto insurance claims, researchers found that injury plaintiffs who had hired a personal injury lawyer following a crash had a better chance of receive any payment at all, as well as a higher average payment compared to pro se claimants (those who represent themselves). They also found that this increase in damage awards was often sufficient to offset attorneys’ fees – and then some.
Even if a layperson shows up to court and makes a plausible argument, chances are slim he or she would grasp the full scope of litigation tools available to them or the complexity of litigation procedure. Beware that if you choose to bring your case pro se, neither the civil defense attorney nor the judge will cut you much slack, if any. Even those who are qualified attorneys know it’s unwise to represent themselves in these actions.
Types of Cases Personal Injury Lawyers Take
Personal injury lawyers provide legal representation for individuals seeking compensation for injuries sustained as a result of someone else’s negligence. Negligence is defined as the breach of one’s duty of care to another person, resulting in an injury and monetary losses. Most people immediately think of claims for things like:
- Car accidents
- Trucking accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Slip-and-fall accidents
- Workplace accidents (against third-parties)
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home falls
But these cases are often much more complex than they initially appear, and plaintiffs working with car accident lawyers often end up successfully filing claims they didn’t realize they even had.
In some cases, for instance, it’s possible to file claims against third parties for sexual assault committed by someone else. That’s because property owners owe a duty of care to patrons they invite to keep the site reasonably safe from foreseeable hazards. So if a hotel fails to background check staffers entrusted with guest room access and one of those staffers with a violent criminal record gains access to a room and sexually assaults a guest, the hotel can be held liable. That’s just one narrow example, but there are many. Schools, hospitals, nightclubs, nursing homes, shopping centers – all have been held liable as a third party for sexual assault.
While such cases might initially seem within the sole purview of criminal courts, personal injury lawyers can help victims of sexual assault assess and related crimes review their legal options in the civil justice system.
What if I Don’t Have the Money to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
This is a question that arises often – understandably, considering most people weighing whether to file a personal injury lawsuit are struggling to stay afloat financially after being out-of-work and behind on medical bills and other expenses.
Courts are supposed to provide an even playing field for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Because civil courts don’t appoint legal representation to plaintiffs who can’t afford it, personal injury lawyers are instructed to take cases on what’s known as a “contingency fee basis.”
What that means is there is no upfront payment for attorney fees. Plaintiffs may still be responsible to cover things like court costs, filing fees and expert witness compensation regardless of outcome, but they are only required to pay attorneys’ fees if the case is decided in their favor. Attorney fees are drawn from the damages awarded.
Sometimes courts will order the defendants to pay a plaintiff’s attorney fees too. This incentivizes a personal injury lawyer’s selection of caseload based on merit, not one’s ability to pay.
What If I Don’t Want to Go Through a Trial?
Very few civil injury lawsuits go to trial. The National Center for State Courts calculated that in a single recent year, approximately 17 million civil cases were filed in state court and another 260,000 in federal district courts. More than 60 percent of those cases resulted in a settlement prior to trial. Another 14 percent ended in a default judgment (usually because one of the parties failed to respond). Another 10 percent were dismissed for failure to prosecute (plaintiff failed to pursue the case to its conclusion). The remaining cases ended in:
- Summary judgment (grant of a motion by either plaintiff or defendant asking the judge to decide the case or some element of it in their favor).
- Transfer to another court.
- Arbitration award.
But even if you don’t want to go to trial, that may not be something your attorney will share immediately with the defense. You want an injury lawyer committed to negotiating a fair settlement for you AND who can save you the time and stress of a bureaucratic runaround. Without an attorney, it is the injured person responsible for ensuring not only that proof burdens are met, procedural rules are followed and the totality of damages is accurately calculated, but also that it’s all done in a manner that is proper and timely according to the laws of that jurisdiction.
A personal injury lawyer is YOUR advocate, and your best shot at a successful civil claim.