Representing Yourself in Personal Injury Matters & Small Claims Court
Some personal injury matters are better handled by the injured party themselves rather than hiring an attorney or a law firm. Many times smaller personal injury or absolutely clear matters can be handled by the injured person quicker, more economically and, many times, more personally satisfying by negotiating the matter themselves or taking the matter to small claims court. Many times, even on absolutely clear matters, the insurance company will not pay the injured party what they will pay the same person represented by a skilled, well-known law firm.
Say your personal injury claim has a true value of $6,000 and the insurance company is only willing to pay $4,000. Your choices are to accept the $4,000, hire an attorney or take the matter to small claims court yourself. Let us assume that the attorney of your choice was able to obtain the $6,000. After paying attorney's fees you are back to $4,000 (1/3 attorney fee); there is no financial gain from hiring the attorney. If you were to take the matter to small claims court and represent your case decently, you should recover $5,000 (the small claims court maximum recovery). You may also get more satisfaction having presented the case yourself and by being able to tell your side of the story in the face of the party who injured you, who also had to come to court. The chances are the case will be concluded quicker by going to small claims court. See below for small claims guides and assistance.
Say your personal injury claim has a true value of $60,000 and the insurance company is only willing to pay you $25,000. Your choices then are to accept the $25,000 or hire an attorney. Assuming the attorney recovers the $60,000, after attorney's fees you'll have about $40,000, much better than accepting the $25,000. This is the type of situation where a skilled attorney can really make a difference for you. However, if the insurance company is willing to pay you $50,000 and you do not have any health insurance reimbursement issues, you would be better off handling the matter yourself, at least financially, even though the insurance company is cutting you short.
Say your personal injury claim has a true value of $60,000 and the insurance company is only willing to pay $25,000, their policy maximum, and you have underinsured motorist coverage on your automobile policy, be sure to get a consultation with a reputable law firm before accepting anything from the opposing party's insurance company.
Say your personal injury claim has a true value of $250,000, you will need a reputable attorney in nearly every case. Get a consultation with a very experienced, reputable law firm before doing anything, even before giving a statement to anyone other than the police at the scene.. Then you can make an informed, intelligent decision.
I strongly suggest seeking the advice of a reputable law firm before deciding to handle any claim yourself. Reputable law firms will give you an honest assessment of your claim, its value and discuss your options with you, including your option to handle the matter yourself and how to accomplish that. Most law firms, including mine, will provide the consultation and evaluation of your claim without any charge or obligation. On claims clearly worth $25,000 or less, or claims that are relatively clear, we will coach injured people in handling the negotiations themselves (without a fee), in order for them to obtain a fair settlement through negotiations with the insurance companies. If negotiations are not successful, we refer the injured party to an attorney we believe is appropriate for them and their case. If the case is large enough for us to make a significant difference for the client, we will offer our services.
Great book on small claims court:
Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court in California
by Attorney Ralph Warner