Dear Dale: My wife and I were rear-ended in a car accident in October. We didn't get hit too hard, but my wife went to her doctor because she was a little sore and she also wanted to get checked out because she was two months pregnant. She didn't receive any other treatment. I've had some conversations with the other driver's insurance company, but they don't want to pay me much more than the medical bills. Do I need an attorney?
Trying to figure out a fair settlement in a personal injury case can be tricky. Everything from who paid the medical bills to the price tag put on pain and suffering comes into play. It's an extremely tough environment for people who have been injured in car accidents because the insurance companies often play hardball.
Normally my default position is that you'll fare better by retaining an attorney who will take the case on a contingency fee arrangement than you will by yourself. Attorneys who handle personal injury cases deal with these issues every day and have a sense of the value of the claim. Trying to handle a claim on your own can be difficult and a hassle if you have no frame of reference.
First, you'll have to gather the medical records and bills needed to substantiate your claim. You also may end up dealing with your health insurance company, which may seek reimbursement from the settlement for any money it paid for your treatment. Throw in trying to figure out how much you should be paid for the pain the accident caused and you start to understand why many people wave the white flag and take whatever the insurance company dangles in front of them. An attorney can take care of those issues for you.
The pain and suffering component is particularly difficult because it's an entirely subjective number. It's not uncommon for older attorneys to talk about the good old days when cases routinely settled for three times the cost of the medical bills. Those days are long gone. Settlement offers below the cost of medical bills aren't rare, especially on the minor-impact, soft-tissue injury cases like you're describing.
So, do you need an attorney? It's certainly worth talking to a few lawyers to see if they think you need help. But the truth is that if you and your wife weren't really hurt, your case isn't worth much. The intensity and duration of your pain and the ways in which it impacted your life help guide the value of that component of a settlement. If you and your wife didn't receive any treatment beyond the initial visit, it's fair for the insurance company to conclude you didn't have much pain.
If you can get your medical bills paid and get some money on top of that for any pain your wife experienced, you might want to consider resolving the case on your own. I would caution you to wait until your baby is born to make sure the accident didn't cause any problems. In this case, you have two years from the date of the accident before you'd have to file a lawsuit, so you have some time to make a decision.
Dale Emch practices law at the Dale Emch Law Office, LLC, in Toledo. In his column, he will discuss general legal principles and answer readers' questions. Neither Mr. Emch nor The Blade present or intend his column to be taken as legal advice. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with an attorney. Readers may send their questions to 615 Adams St. Toledo, OH 43604. His blog is at toledocaraccidentlawyerblog.com.