The other day I received a call from a man who wanted to talk to an attorney about his case. He was handling the case on his own and had apparently been fighting with the insurance company off and on for some time. He spoke with my assistant and refused to provide her with much information. He would only speak to an attorney. He informed my assistant that the statute of limitations on his case was going to run out in approximately four days and wanted to run the settlement offer past an attorney.
When I got the message after coming back into the office from a deposition I spoke to my assistant and quizzed her about whether she got the date right on the statute of limitations. She nodded and confirmed that it was going to expire in just a few days. I told her that there was no way I was going to call this guy back and she thanked me profusely. This makes me sound like an uncaring and lazy attorney. In reality, only a very desperate attorney would ever consider taking a case under these circumstances for a number of reasons.
First, attorneys fill out detailed questionnaires when they apply for professional negligence coverage. One thing all insurers ask and insist upon is that the office will not accept cases within 60-90 days prior to the running of the applicable negligence statute of limitations. Attorneys also agree that they will send letters out to potential clients in the event they decide not to take a case. Even speaking to this individual about his case could have been construed as creating an attorney-client relationship. There are so many things that could potentially go wrong in taking a case like this that an attorney would not only be jeopardizing his own insurance coverage, he may also be buying a claim. No experienced personal injury attorney is going to touch a case presented to him or her less than a week before the statute of limitations runs.
A second reason I would not take this case is because of the high likelihood that numerous mistakes in handling had occurred. This is especially true in light of the fact that the potential client had handled his own personal injury case for the entire two year limitations period. Personal injury attorneys understand how to handle car accidents and navigate the innumerable land mines laid out by the insurance company. Without the experience and knowledge of a seasoned personal injury attorney a case can be damaged beyond repair. I feared that it was highly likely a number of mistakes had been made that would make the case too difficult for me to be successful. Taking a case like this puts unnecessary stress not only on me, but on my legal assistants as well.
Finally, I want to make my clients happy. There was no way I was going to be able to settle this case without filing a lawsuit. I would be incurring expenses from the outset. Personal injury cases often require experts and there are numerous procedural issues that have to be addressed immediately upon filing. It was likely this case would drag on for a long time in litigation. Clients rarely want to go to trial. They want a quick and fair settlement. In considering this particular case I knew that I was likely to end with an unhappy and dissatisfied client.
The moral of the story: Never, never, never try to handle your own personal injury case. Personal injury attorneys have the skill and experience to increase your settlement. In extremely rare cases I tell potential clients I cannot add value to their case and because it is so minor they can probably negotiate a settlement on their own early on. In the vast majority of cases, however, a personal injury attorney can help you successfully obtain an injury settlement without filing a lawsuit and do much better than you could ever do on your own.
If you do decide to try to handle a case on your own, definitely do not wait until a week before the statute of limitations runs to contact a personal injury attorney. You could lose your rights altogether. Consultations with a personal injury attorney are nearly always free (at least they are with me) and an ethical attorney will steer you in the right direction.
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