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Do You Need a Lawyer if You Were in a Car Accident?

There is no law that says you need to hire an attorney to file an accident claim when you’ve been in a car crash. However, when the insurance companies who pay out claims don’t want you to hire a lawyer, you have to wonder why.

In 1995, Allstate, the nation’s largest publicly held insurer, issued a training manual that urged its adjustors to try to convince injured claimants to handle their claims without a lawyer. Allstate cited statistics to support that strategy: in claims under $15,000, unrepresented claimants only recovered an average of $3,464. But claimants who hired an attorney averaged $7,450. That’s more than double. As Allstate’s training manual explains, when an attorney gets involved, insurers know they’ll be paying out two to three times as much compensation as they would if the claimants represented themselves.

Then in 2003, the Insurance Research Council produced a study for its member insurance companies showing that while only 47 percent of claimants hired attorneys, they accounted for 79 percent of liability payouts. That means the 53 percent of claimants without lawyers only got 21 percent of the payouts.

But there’s another indicator as well. When an insurance company makes its “final offer” to a claimant, what happens next? An unrepresented claimant might decide that any more haggling is a waste of time and settle for a paltry amount. But if the claimant has a lawyer, he can reject the offer and move forward to trial. It’s not always necessary to take the case all the way to verdict, but the mere threat of a trial is often sufficient to get the insurer to up its settlement offer.

Of course, the represented claimant eventually has to pay the lawyer, and depending on the contingency fee agreement and the litigation expenses, that can run anywhere from 33 to 45 percent of the recovery. So, is hiring a lawyer cost-effective? Let’s look at an example using numbers from Allstate’s 1995 manual.

Suppose you had a $10,000 claim that you handled yourself and settled for $8,000. If you had hired an attorney, Allstate’s study suggests you would have recovered 215 percent of your settlement, or $17,200. Out of that $17,200, you would pay your attorney roughly 40 percent or $6,880, leaving you with $10,300.

That’s $2,300 more in your pocket. And you got it without having to deal with the insurer. You were able to focus on your physical recovery while your attorney did all the legal work. Now, no attorney can guarantee results. Every case is different, and there are many factors that can tip a case one way or the other. But it is safe to say that, in general, auto accident claimants who have legal representation do significantly better than unrepresented claimants, even after deducting for attorney fees and costs.

Let an experienced auto accident attorney at Crane Flores, LLP help you get the maximum possible recovery in your personal injury claim. Call us today at (805) 628-4967 or contact our offices online to schedule a free consultation.