You should never try to settle your personal injury claim without a lawyer if you are injured. A personal injury lawyer will get you much more money than the legal fee will cost and protect your rights, which you can easily lose without a lawyer.
Can I Settle My Own Accident Case Without a Lawyer?
Yes, you do not need a personal injury lawyer to settle your own accident case if it only involves damage to your car.
Insurance companies tell you that you don’t need a lawyer because they’ll treat you fairly and take good care of you. But find out why you should not try to settle your own case without a lawyer if you are injured and why you should notify your insurance company if you were not injured.
What Will Happen if I Try to Settle My Own Personal Injury Case Without a Lawyer?
Insurance companies typically settle for 2–10% of your injury value if you don’t have a personal injury lawyer. We call this nuisance value.
One of the tactics insurance companies uses to settle with people before they call a lawyer is a letter about a computer program called Colossus created for insurance companies to evaluate your injuries. It’s a great tool to sell a lowball settlement offer because if a computer computes the value of your injury, it must be correct, right? Of course, not.
Why Will the Insurance Company Delay if I Don’t Have a Lawyer?
If you’re looking for more money, the insurance company will delay and waste time
- so you give in and accept a settlement amount in the lower range
- so a lawyer won’t take your case anymore because too much time has gone by
- so the statute of limitations expires, and you lost your right to get money
You will eventually give up and look for a personal injury lawyer when you find out that the insurance company will not settle for a fair amount.
We have seen people negotiate with an insurance company for as long as 2-3 years before calling a lawyer.
People who waited two years called us after they couldn’t find another lawyer willing to take the case because there wasn’t enough time to work on their case before the statute of limitations expired. Depending upon the type of accident, personal injury lawyers typically want a case at least 6-24 months before the statute of limitations expires.
People who called us three years after their accident found it was too late because they missed the statute of limitations.
Should I Settle My Own Personal Injury Case If I Need a Quick Settlement?
You don’t need to lose out on a lot of money and risk ruining your personal injury case because you need quick money after your accident. When you’re injured in an accident and need quick money, we can get you a lawsuit loan.
One of our clients needed money and wanted to settle his case, on his own, for a broken thumb that was almost amputated, but we got him several cash advances totaling $50,000, and then we settled his case for $1.2 Million!
Will My Case Be Hurt if I Try to Settle On My Own Before I Hire a Lawyer?
Yes. When you try to settle on your own, you risk the following:
- Wasting 6-24 months before you give up.
- Not knowing about some of your injuries (see below about our client who tried to settle for four broken ribs and didn’t know he had a concussion-we got him $1,000,000).
- The insurance company will make you sign a release for a fraction of what your injury is worth. A lawyer will NOT be able to reopen your case.
- Making it harder for your lawyer to obtain a settlement because of statements you made.
- Possibly destroying your case.
- You may find that no lawyer will want to represent you.
3 Examples of What Happened When Someone Tried to Represent Themselves Without a Lawyer
Injured Victim of Hit and Run Lost His Right to Collect $100,000
We received a chat from someone on our website who said he had a hit-and-run accident in his car a year ago. He filed a No-Fault claim himself and never had a lawyer representing him. Now, he needs surgery, so he called his insurance company.
This is what he wrote to us:
“Today I spoke with the state farm insurance, they told me that: claim for damages and injuries is open, the medical claim for any surgery is open.. and they also told me that: the car policy has self-protection [uninsured coverage].”
He decided to call a lawyer to make an uninsured claim, so he searched on Google and found our page about hit-and-run accidents and used our chat feature.
The good news is that because he filed a No-Fault claim, his No-Fault claim is still open, and State Farm Insurance will pay for his surgery and lost wages.
The bad news is that he never filed an uninsured claim, and it’s now too late. The Statute of Limitations for an uninsured claim is 6 years (not 3 years), so he is ok with that, but he needed to file an uninsured claim within 90 days or within a reasonable time after the accident.
We had to tell him that he waited too long to call a lawyer, it is too late to file an uninsured claim, and he lost out on $100,000.
Injured Victim Settled Broken Hip Without a Lawyer for Too Little
We settled a case for $45,000 for a woman who injured her knee in a car accident but did not need surgery. The woman and her husband were very happy. A year later, her husband broke his hip in a car accident when a car ran a red light and hit his car.
He immediately called us, but he only wanted advice because he wanted to settle the claim without a lawyer to save the legal fee.
The insurance company admitted 100% liability. There was a $300,000 insurance policy, and the claims rep told him they would treat him fairly. He believed it and thought they would be fair because their driver ran a red light.
I told him that he would never be able to get as much money as we could, but he insisted on trying. I told him to call me before accepting any settlement offer, and he said he would.
Two years later, he called to tell me that he was very happy that he settled his case for $60,000! He thought that was a lot of money. He actually did quite well for someone who isn’t a lawyer. I didn’t think they would ever pay him more than $45,000.
How much could we have settled for? We probably could have settled the case for the entire $300,000 Insurance policy in just six months without filing a lawsuit because the insurance company admitted 100% liability. $250,000 is at the low end of the settlement value for a broken hip.
How much money would he have received if he hired us?
$300,000 Gross settlement
-$100,000 legal fee
-$1,500 case expenses (approximately $150 to $1,500, but let’s assume $1,500)
= $198,500 to our client instead of $60,000
What if we could only get a $250,000 settlement without filing a lawsuit, and our client wanted to take it?
$250,000 Gross settlement
-$83,333 legal fee
-$1,500 case expenses (approximately $150 to $1,500, but let’s assume $1,500)
= $165,166 to our client instead of $60,000
Missed His Main Injury — He Thought He Only Had 4 Broken RIbs!
In this case, we had a client who broke four ribs and tried to settle his case on his own for three months. He would’ve been happy if he got $40,000, but, fortunately for him, the insurance company wouldn’t pay him more than $10,000.
When he came to us three months after the accident, we realized that he had a much more serious injury, a concussion that caused memory loss. But we couldn’t get the insurance company to pay for that injury because the claim rep said, “I’ve been speaking with him for months, and he sounds fine.”
Three years later, the insurance company offered us only $150,000 to settle, but after another year, we went to trial, and they had to pay $1 million.
Just before the trial, the insurance company’s attorney hired an expert doctor who testified that our client suffered memory loss and was not a faker. He testified that memory loss was due to smoking marijuana for years, but he could not submit any evidence to prove that.
How much more money did he get because he hired a lawyer?
$1,000,000 Gross settlement after trial
-$333,333 legal fee
-$44,619 case expenses
= $622,048 to our client instead of $10,000
Can I Settle My Own Accident Case Without a Lawyer if I Don’t Have a Serious Injury?
You can, but, again, a personal injury lawyer can get you a lot more money, and you may have more serious injuries that you weren’t aware were caused by your accident.
Example with a small injury in a car accident: When Lia was hit in the rear and bit her lip, the insurance company offered her $150. We settled her case for $16,000. That’s 106.66 times more money or a 10,566.7% increase over the settlement amount the insurance company offered.
How much more money did she get because she hired a lawyer?
$16,000 Gross settlement
-$5,333 legal fee
-$0 case expenses
= $10,667 to our client instead of $150
What Happened When a Personal Injury Lawyer Tried to Represent Himself?
Who was the personal injury lawyer who tried to represent himself? Me! Phil Franckel.
As Abraham Lincoln stated, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” And that goes for personal injury lawyers too. Even a lawyer can’t represent him or herself.
I broke my nose in a hit-and-run accident and tried to represent myself. Why? It was an easy case!
I settled dozens of cases with a broken nose, and hit-and-run accidents are easy. It’s an uninsured claim on my own insurance policy, and since no one can testify against me, it’s a 100% liability claim.
The insurance company knew I was a personal injury lawyer (they know who every lawyer is), so they should just pay me what my injury was worth. Right? That’s what I thought, but I was wrong.
Because they knew I’m a lawyer, they made a “generous” (for settling without a lawyer) offer of $7,000 for my broken nose, but I settled that injury many times before for $50,000.
My insurance company would not offer a fair settlement, and I had to hire a friend who charged me a legal fee, but he gave me a 1/3 discount.
See why my insurance company would not make a fair settlement offer in the next paragraph.
Why Won’t an Insurance Company Pay a Fair Settlement Without a Lawyer?
First, let’s look at why my insurance company wouldn’t pay a fair settlement to me even when they knew I was a personal injury lawyer. That’s because they knew I was trying to save the legal fee. The insurance company wants to save that money. They didn’t want to give it to me.
So, if you’re trying to save the 1/3 legal fee, the insurance company will want to keep that money for the company. They won’t give it to you. See what our 1/3 legal fee includes.
That means if you have a claim worth $100,000, the most the insurance company will offer you is $66,666.66 because you wouldn’t get more than that after legal fees.
But wait, the insurance company will never offer you that much.
Since you’re not a personal injury lawyer, they know you don’t know what your injury is really worth, you don’t know how to prepare your case, you don’t know what to do if they don’t offer more, and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.
If the insurance company sees you’re trying to avoid hiring a lawyer, they know they have a good shot at paying you nuisance value, 2–10% of your injury value because
- you’re trying to avoid the legal fee
- you have no idea what you’re doing, and
- there’s nothing you can do without a lawyer
- they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by stringing you along for as long as possible
What Does the Insurance Company Gain if They Don’t Pay a Fair Settlement?
Time, money, and more money. The more time the insurance company keeps your money, the more money they make with your money.
If the insurance company can delay long enough, you may not be able to find a personal injury lawyer willing to take your case anymore, and you may even miss the statute of limitations, legally preventing you from ever filing a lawsuit.
The insurance company will either settle for pennies on the dollar, pay nothing at all, or you will eventually get a lawyer, and the insurance company saved time.
How Much More Money Can I Get With a Lawyer Than If I Settle My Case Without a Lawyer?
Consider these facts from a study conducted by the Insurance Research Council. The Insurance Research Council website says they are “an independent, nonprofit research organization supported by leading property and casualty insurance companies and associations.”
- If you have a serious injury, just speaking to a lawyer about your rights can get you almost 40% more money than not talking to a lawyer.
- If you have a lawyer, you could get 3 1/2 times more money on average from your insurance settlement than without a lawyer when comparing gross settlement amounts.
How Much More Money Can I Get if You’re My Personal Injury Lawyer?
We have always been able to get many times more money than what insurance companies offered our clients and many more times what they offered us, often hundreds of thousands more! Take a look at some of our trial verdicts, arbitration awards, and settlements.
In one case, we got $465,000 for a knee injury when GEICO offered us only $10,000. That’s 46.5 times more money than the insurance company settlement offer!
In another case, our client tried to settle his case without a lawyer and gave up after three months when he couldn’t get the insurance company to pay a settlement of more than $10,000 for 4 broken ribs. We realized that he had a much more serious injury, a concussion that caused memory loss. After a trial, the insurance company had to pay $1 million.
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Can I Settle Without My Lawyer?
This question assumes you are already being represented by a personal injury lawyer and:
- Either your lawyer doesn’t want to represent you anymore or
- You don’t want your lawyer to represent you anymore.
In either case, you should look for another personal injury lawyer. See how to change your personal injury lawyer.
If you don’t have a lawyer yet, don’t even think about settling without a lawyer.
Settling your personal injury case without a lawyer would be a big mistake. For many reasons, the insurance company will never offer you anywhere near as much money without a lawyer as they would offer if you’re represented by a lawyer, including lawyers representing themselves. I know because I tried to represent myself and couldn’t get a reasonable settlement, so I had to hire a lawyer!
If you already have a personal injury lawyer and want to settle without your lawyer, your lawyer will have to discharge you as their client. Your lawyer will be entitled to be reimbursed for case expenses and will likely be entitled to a legal fee.
When Don’t I Need a Lawyer When I’m Injured?
If you can’t find a personal injury lawyer to take your case and the insurance company is offering to settle for nuisance value, usually a few hundred dollars, you don’t need a lawyer.
For example, if you were hit in the rear in a car accident and bit your lip, you may not be able to find a personal injury lawyer to take your case because the injury is too minor. But if your accident was in New York, we’ll take your case!
We took these cases when someone bit their lip. We got $25,000 for this injury when our client bit his lip and $16,000 for another client who only had a mark as small as the one circled in purple. It’s not likely that you can settle your own case without a lawyer and get a settlement like that.
If you have an injury that is substantially more valuable than the limit of the insurance policy(s) of the people responsible for causing your injury, you may not need a lawyer to get your money, but you may still need a lawyer for other reasons.
Example: you broke your leg and had surgery when you were a pedestrian hit by a car with a $25,000 insurance policy.
The car’s insurance company should not give you a difficult time offering the entire $25,000 insurance policy. But you should call a personal injury lawyer who may be willing to give you advice for free or for a small fee.
Other Considerations Requiring a Lawyer
Besides just settling your case, many other considerations may require a lawyer.
Can You Get More Money from Additional Insurance Policies and Assets
A lawyer can determine if there are any other possible insurance policies and whether the driver, registrant, and owner of the car have enough assets to go after. We search for additional insurance policies and assets when our client has a valuable injury.
The release that an insurance company will have you sign protects them very well but doesn’t do anything to protect you.
For instance, the insurance company release will allow the insurance company to pay any company that comes after them for liens, such as reimbursement of medical and other expenses. The release also allows the insurance company to go after you to get that money back. We do not allow our clients to sign an insurance company release without modifications.
Protecting Government Benefits
There may be government benefits affected by your settlement. We have been contacted by people who settled claims on their own only to find out that they either had to repay the money to the government or lose their benefits.
There are ways to protect your settlement money and keep your government benefits, but once you settle your case, it’s too late.
For instance, a lawyer can place your settlement money into a special needs trust or a pooled trust, but this has to be done before you receive your settlement money. You will then be allowed to spend your settlement money on almost anything you want without affecting your government benefits.
We frequently have clients with government benefits such as Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), housing, etc., and we protect their settlement money so they can keep their benefits. Some of our clients have only $25,000 settlements, while others have settlements of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
When our client has a settlement of only $25,000-$50,000, we usually use a pooled trust. We usually use a special needs trust for settlements of more than $50,000. There are many differences in cost and use between a special needs trust and a pooled trust which require a discussion with our client.
What Should I Do if I Was in an Accident, but I Wasn’t Injured?
If You Were Not Injured and Your Car Was Damaged
Your insurance will pay to repair your car if you have collision damage coverage. If you do not have collision damage coverage, you can file a lawsuit in small claims court or hire a general practice lawyer.
You must always notify your insurance company when you are involved in an accident because other people may file a claim or lawsuit against you for property damage or injuries, even if you think it was their fault and no one was injured. If you don’t notify your insurance company, you may lose your coverage and a free lawyer to represent you.
Personal injury lawyers typically do not represent people for collision damage. We will represent you for collision damage if you were also injured.
If You Damaged Someone Else’s Car
Do not try to settle your accident on your own. If you settle an accident claim without notifying your insurance company, you could have a problem if the other person goes to a lawyer later. Your insurance company could disclaim coverage. Just notify your insurance company and let them handle it.
What to Do if You Are Being Sued for Injuries or Property Damage
If you are being sued for injuries or property damage, your insurance company will represent you after a claim is filed and before a lawsuit is started.
Once a lawsuit is started, your insurance company will assign an attorney to represent you. It is rare that you will need to pay a lawyer to represent you in addition to your insurance company lawyer.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Substantial Property Damage?
If you have substantial property damage or damage to your house or building, you may need a lawyer.
How much is substantial property damage? In New York, substantial property damage worth hiring a lawyer would probably be more than $25,000.
You can file in Small Claims Court without a lawyer for up to $5,000. If you hire a general practice lawyer, it could cost several thousand dollars.
If you had property damage of more than $100,000, call us for a free consultation.
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Watch Founding Partner Phil Franckel, Esq. talk about New York Serious Injury Attorneys.com, difficult cases, and the 1-800-HURT-911® Dream Team™
Philip L. Franckel, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York; He has a 10 Avvo rating; Avvo Client’s Choice with all 5-star reviews; Avvo Top Contributor; and a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.
Robert Plevy, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York. Rob began his legal career in 1993 as an Assistant Corporation Counsel defending The City of New York against personal injury lawsuits.