Below are some common issues I have seen throughout my career in handling personal injury cases. Although they represent the most common issues that arise, there are many other circumstances that can effect the proper handling of a personal injury claim. This posting is intended to highlight the importance of consulting a lawyer in order to avoid the many traps and pitfalls that can be devastating to your injury claim.
1. Don’t delay seeking medical treatment.
Delay in seeking medical treatment is probably the most common problem I have faced with personal injury cases. If you are injured in an accident, then common sense dictates that you would seek medical attention within a reasonable time. You would either go to the emergency room, make an appointment with your primary doctor, or find a doctor to help you. The longer you delay in seeking medical treatment, then the more difficult it becomes to convince someone that you were really injured or that injuries were caused by the accident. However, so many people still delay in seeking medical treatment for many reasons. One common reason is that the injured person hopes everything will just get better on its own. However, a few days turns into a week, which turns into two or three weeks. Before you know it, a month or more has passed. The best practice is to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If your injury is serious enough, then go to the emergency room by ambulance from the accident scene. Others may choose to go home first, and then decide later that day to either go to the emergency room or make an appointment with their doctor. Either way, the injury has at least been documented close in time to the accident.
2. Don’t quit your treatment or fail to follow your doctor’s advice.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous issue. Again, if you are legitimately injured, then you will be expected to follow up with your medical treatment and follow your doctor’s advice. Always be truthful with your doctor about your complaints and be sure to follow his advice about your treatment. If you are unable to keep an appointment, then it is fine to call the doctor and reschedule. However, don’t just stop treating on your own and try to be as consistent as possible with your medical treatment.
3. Don’t give a written or recorded statement.
Let’s assume you are involved in a car accident. You then receive a call from the other driver’s insurance adjuster who states that he needs to get your “recorded statement” regarding the accident. You either believe, or are led to believe, that you are required to give this statement. Likewise, you give the recorded statement. In the statement, you inadvertently say something wrong or leave something out. You have just hurt your case. The recorded statement can now be used against you in the future. Here’s the basic rule-of-thumb: NEVER GIVE A WRITTEN or RECORDED STATEMENT WITHOUT CONSULTING A LAWYER. You are not required to give a statement of any kind to the other person’s insurance company. However, you might be required to give a recorded statement to your own insurance company. Either way, the best practice is to have the benefit of legal representation before deciding whether to give a written or recorded statement.
4. Don’t try to handle the case yourself.
Another common problem is that many clients decide that they would do better to handle the case themselves. That’s like bringing a knife to a gun-fight. Only a lawyer knows your legal rights. If you choose to handle the case yourself, you are at a huge disadvantage when dealing with an experienced claims adjuster. If you handle the case yourself and then later decide you need a lawyer, you might run into some difficultly finding a lawyer that will take your case since there is a good chance that the case is now “tainted” by something you might have said or done. I always tell potential clients that they are more likely to do more harm than good when choosing to represent themselves. That makes it more difficult for a lawyer to help them in the future.
5. Don’t wait too long to hire a lawyer.
Many people wait too long to hire a lawyer. Many times this is because the client tries to handle the case themselves or because the client is intimidated by the legal process. Delay causes a multitude of problems, such as evidence getting lost or destroyed, and eye-witnesses relocating. But even more important is the “statute of limitation.” Every personal injury claim must either be settled or a lawsuit filed within a certain period of time or else your legal rights will expire. If you wait too long to hire a lawyer and the deadline is quickly approaching, many lawyers may decline taking the case because he is now pressed for time in properly investigating the case, gathering the evidence, preparing and filing the lawsuit, and serving the defendant with the lawsuit. Therefore, you run the risk of being left without proper representation as the statute of limitations approaches. The best approach is to hire a lawyer as soon as possible so that you have the advantage of an experienced professional helping you from the very start.