As the plaintiff in a personal injury case (as with any legal proceeding), you have the right to act as your own attorney. But should you? Or should you instead enlist the help of a personal injury lawyer with more experience and expertise?
To figure out which option is best for you, here are five important things a personal injury lawyer can do that you probably can't:
1. Know What You Need to Prove in Court.
As the injured party, you may feel that you have all the information you need to win your case. But there is more to a personal injury case than just proving you were hurt.
Simply testifying about, or providing evidence of, certain elements of a personal injury case may not be sufficient: For example, you may need to locate and call an expert witness to show the party who hurt you was acting unreasonably. There are also particular rules about hearsay and what types of evidence a court can even consider.
2. Negotiate a Fair Settlement.
A good personal injury lawyer can often spare you the long wait, expense, and uncertainly of trial by negotiating an out-of-court settlement. However, there are many factors to consider before entering into settlement negotiations such as:
- Your chances of winning at trial,
- Verdicts and settlements in similar cases,
- Possible weaknesses in both sides' evidence, and
- The scope of the defendant's insurance coverage and monetary resources.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to gather and scrutinize this information competently and quickly. An attorney can also deal with the other party (and the other party's lawyer), which can be a headache for non-lawyers. (See No. 5, below.)
3. Meet Important Deadlines.
Each jurisdiction has a code of civil procedure that governs civil lawsuits such as personal injury cases. Included in these codes are deadlines for everything from serving the other party to filing the case within the statute of limitations.
Failure to bring a case within the statute in your jurisdiction may result in the case being dismissed. And once the case is filed, there is a litany of further deadlines that must be met. Unfortunately, courts generally have no sympathy for pro se litigants who miss deadlines.
4. Prevent Removal to Another Court.
Recently, several large corporate defendants in personal injury cases have attempted to remove their cases from state to federal court, which are generally perceived to be friendlier to defendants, and are less likely to award large amounts of damages. An experienced personal injury attorney will know how to try to prevent this, and can also tell you when removing your case to another court may actually be to your benefit.
5. Deal With the Other Side.
If you decide to take the pro se route, it is likely that your opponent will retain counsel. This means that throughout the stages of a personal injury case -- discovery, motions, trial -- you will be up against a trained, tested, and (in most cases) experienced attorney who knows the rules of civil procedure, the rules of evidence and the legal tactics needed to serve his or her client.
If your main concern about hiring a lawyer is cost, keep in mind that most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they only get paid if you do. If you have questions, or want to know more about why you may need an attorney for your personal injury case, find a personal injury attorney in your area and ask for a free consultation.