Every day, hundreds of people in California are involved in car accidents. Often times these are mild rear-enders, or “fender benders.” People often ask me whether it’s worth it to get a lawyer in such circumstances.

You may be surprised to hear this, but it’s not always worth it to get a lawyer! If you find yourself in this type of situation, you have two main options – either retain a lawyer to handle your case, or try to deal with the insurance companies directly.

First, let’s look at what usually happens if you deal with the insurance companies directly.

The Insurance companies will want to evaluate your injuries, so they will usually ask you for the following: 1. A recorded statement of what happened, 2. Copies of your medical bills and records, 3. Signed medical releases so the insurance company can obtain all of your medical records and bills, 4. Signed employment releases so the insurance company can determine how much work you missed.

Once the insurance company has all of these things, they will evaluate your case, and usually they will either offer to settle with you for a certain amount of money, or reject your claim, if for instance, they think the accident was your fault.

Now let’s look at what happens if you get a lawyer.

Usually your lawyer will recommend that you DO NOT give a recorded statement, and that you DO NOT sign any releases. Instead, your lawyer will usually gather the relevant information, and send the insurance company a “demand packet” explaining 1. What happened 2. Whose fault it is 3. What your injuries are 4. How much time you lost from work, and 5. a demand for settlement.

The advantage to this approach is that the lawyer will do most of the work, allowing you focus on healing. In addition, since you won’t have to do a recorded interview, you don’t have to worry about saying something that may hurt your case. Also, your lawyer will only send the insurance companies your relevant medical records, so you don’t have to worry about disclosing private medical histories.

These are all nice services, but most people’s main concern is How much is this going to cost me?

Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means that they will receive a percentage of your ultimate recovery – usually somewhere from 25% to 40% depending on the attorney and on the case.

The advantage to the contingency fee is that you don’t have to pay your lawyer an hourly fee. The disadvantage, is that it will ultimately reduce the amount of money that will end up in your pocket.

On the other hand, often times insurance companies will be more likely to settle, or willing to settle for a higher amount once you retain a lawyer. This can balance out the attorney’s fee, or sometimes even result in you receiving more money that if you had settled directly.

So to review, both options have their pros and cons.

Settling with the insurance directly
Pros: Often faster, you don’t have to pay attorney fees.
Cons: More work, you may disclose private records.

Retaining a lawyer
Pros: Easier, protects your privacy better, can increase value of your case, resulting in more money for you.
Cons: Often slower, you will have to pay the attorney a percentage of your recovery.

In the end, each case will be different. Luckily, most reputable attorneys will offer a free consultation. If you have a case that you are not sure about, you can always go in for the consultation, and then decide to go it alone. Many people don’t realize it, but many attorneys prefer not to spend their time and effort on small cases anyway. If you have concerns that you may be better off on your own, ask the attorney during the consultation! Most reputable attorneys will be honest with you, and let you know when you would be better off alone.

This article is not legal advice.

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