Is a personal injury attorney really needed after just a minor fender bender? As a personal-injury lawyer, you may be surprised to hear my advice not always. Here is the general rule of thumb: If, after an accident, you are not in pain…then you do not need a personal-injury attorney. Simple as that.But, if you are in any kind of pain or discomfort (typically neck or back pain) that did not exist prior to a fender bender, the answer is YES. To this, I am often met with the following response: But Jason, if I’m only in a little bit of pain, I’ll just go see a chiropractor or orthopedic doctor, get my treatment and move on with my life; so why should I talk to a lawyer who is only going to take a fee from what I would otherwise get on my own!? What most people do not realize is: If, after an accident, you see a chiropractor or other doctor and your (or the other driver’s) auto insurance pays your rehabilitation bills (on time and in full), my firm would not take a dime from those medical expenses. You have, literally, nothing to lose by letting our firm handle your claim. Let me explain further:At the end of the doctor or chirpractor-prescribed treatment process your doctor or chiropractor will eventually say, I have done all I can to help / rehabilitate you, (a term called Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI), which in relatively minor accidents may only take a few months.At MMI, If your doctor finds a permanent injury, your personal injury attorney will then be able to negotiate a pain and suffering settlement…almost guaranteed to be higher than what non-attorneys would get on their own. This may only be a few thousand dollars, but it is nevertheless money to which you may be entitled.
At this point in the discussion, I am again often asked, in a minor accident how can I have a permanent injury? The answer is: its easier than you think. Permanent injuries may conjure images of broken bones, paraplegia or amputations, but in reality – even whiplashes can result in permanent injuries. Take, for example, this hypothetical situation: you are rear ended in a parking lot. The car that hit you was only going several miles an hour. Yet, your head whips back and forth (or side to side) and, even at slow speeds, can result in overstretching or tearing cervical muscle fibers and ligaments in your neck (i.e. whiplash), the full effects of which you may not feel for several days. Therapy can help the situation, but in reality, those ligaments may never fully recover. The result may not be devastating, but will often result in occasional and ongoing neck discomfort, increasing or decreasing – depending on your activity level – for the rest of your life. A doctor, then, may give you, say, a three percent permanent impairment rating. Insurance companies will (as they should) pay for this pain and suffering. Because the injury and resulting permanent injury may not have been devastating, you would not expect a huge sum of money (of course, this varies with each specific case). But you should expect something – and to maximize that something you need an attorney.
In addition, your personal-injury attorney will be there to monitor your therapeutic progress. Remember that first hypothetical example, where the insurance company is paying for your treatment bills, in full and on time (in which case we would not take a fee from the payment of your medical bills)? As you might guess, the scenario doesn’t always play out that way. Sometimes the insurance company will refuse to pay for a portion of the care that you actually need. Let’s say your hypothetical doctor or chiropractor prescribes you a course of treatment – to receive therapy X days a week for several months. Sometimes your insurance company will think they know better than your doctor and assert you need less treatment than what your doctor has prescribed (and refuse to pay for any additional treatment)!
In addition, you will eventually be required to be evaluated by a separate doctor that is being paid for by the insurance company who will administer what is laughably called an Independent Medical Examination or IME – where the IME doctor will virtually always try to cut off or limit the remaining treatments your own doctor or chiropractor receommends.
By having a quality personal injury attorney in your corner, you can be sure that they will keep the insurance company in line and fight for your right to receive the best and highest quality of care.
Bottom line: if you were in an accident and managed to get out injury and pain free, you don’t need a lawyer. But if you hurt, you want a reputable personal injury attorney to monitor your progress, protect your rights, and ensure you get the care you need.