Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do I really need a lawyer to handle my car accident case?

So you've been hurt in a car accident, and some people are saying that you shouldn't hire an attorney. Why pay the fees? You can do it yourself...

Is that true?

The longer I have been representing people in accident cases, the more clear it becomes to me that about 95% of the population is better off hiring a qualified attorney to represent them. Why?

1. Experience in valuing a case. Attorneys that have worked in this area for any length of time learn how to properly value a case. We can look at the history of local jury verdicts and prior settlements on similar cases. We know in detail how insurance companies value your case, and how to get the maximum value from your case.

2. Ability to sue. Very few people who are not lawyers can properly handle civil litigation. The implied threat to sue, the ability to prepare a Complaint properly and get it filed and served, explains why case values go higher when lawyers get involved. Insurance adjusters know that once a lawyer has signed onto a case, we will not hesitate to sue if they won't pay fair value. Hence, offers tend to rise, and get closer to 'fair'. Still, it is not at all unusual to have to sue to get full value.

3. Knowledge of insurance laws and rules. Did you know that for certain types of claims, in Montana you can legally 'stack' benefits higher depending on how many vehicles are on the policy? Do you understand insurance 'bad faith' rules thoroughly? Those rules explain what are, and what are not, allowable insurance industry practices, and if you don't understand them, you are at risk of being taken advantage of.

4. Do you know how to make a claim for advance payment of medical or lost wage costs without being forced to settle the entire claim? This tactic if often crucial to avoid being forced to accept a premature settlement. In Montana, this can be done in any clear liability case by a qualified attorney.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that it is almost always worth consulting with a good lawyer. Most do not charge for initial consults, and most will agree to work on a contingency fee basis. That means you need no cash up front, and that the lawyer's fee is based on whether the claim is successful, and the amount of the settlement.

One final note: although the insurance adjuster may be friendly and seem to be on 'your side', please keep in mind that their job is to minimize the amount of money paid on claims. Period. They are friendly only when that tactic works to get you to settle on the cheap. Please be careful if you represent yourself, and get lots of advice from others, and learn as much as possible before signing anything. Once you sign a settlement, remember that you are done forever. The claim can probably not be re-opened, and if further complications develop, you will be out of luck.

Mike Grayson
The Grayson Law Firm

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Should I give an insurance adjuster a medical release?

I generally tell people not to give out a medical release to an insurance adjuster.

Have you ever read the release most companies use? It is a full, complete release, with no dates listed. That company can get every medical record you have ever had.

The adjuster can go on a fishing expedition for ways to deny or reduce the value of your claim. In one recent case, my client had signed an insurance release before I was retained. She suffered a concussion in the accident, and we finally found out the reason the company wouldn't pay fair value was that they found a four year old doctor record of a single fainting spell the client had previously. They tried to claim this incident showed she had a pre-existing head injury!

Our law firm does ask our clients to sign a release so that we can obtain records related to the injury suffered in the accident. We do not invade people's medical privacy any more than necessary to pursue the claim, or a lawsuit.

Everything an insurance adjuster does to 'investigate' a claim is designed solely to reduce their companies financial payout. Do you think they ask their insured driver to release all their records? Of course not, they are only looking for evidence that works against YOU.

Please be cautious in giving medical information to insurance companies. You have to remember that they are NOT your friends, even if they act in a friendly manner toward you.

Mike Grayson
The Grayson Law Firm