DO I NEED A LAWYER FOR A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM?Feb 16 2015
Almost every week, I meet with someone who has been injured in a car accident for a free consultation. One of the most common questions people have is: “What does hiring a lawyer do for me?”
Most people, when they come to see me, don’t want to know how much money they will get. They are not as much concerned with money as they are concerned about the process of dealing with ICBC, and whether or not the insurance company is trying, or has tried, to take advantage of them.
Don’t get me wrong, money is important in all injury cases. It’s important that every injured person receives fair and appropriate compensation for their injuries to the extent that the law allows.
If a person is injured in British Columbia, through no fault of their own, whether it’s in a car accident or some other non-work related mishap, they are entitled to be compensated for their losses and damages. That includes damages for pain and suffering, out-of-pocket expenses, wage loss, loss of opportunity to earn income and potential future income losses and future medical expenses.
When people come to see me it is usually because they’ve grown frustrated in dealing with ICBC or because a friend has told them of their prior difficulties with BC’s auto insurance monopoly. It’s very common, when people first come to see me, to learn that the ICBC adjuster has come to the conclusion that they “should be better by now” and have made an offer. The trouble is that 99% of people who have been injured in car accidents have no idea how much their claims are worth or what’s involved in properly quantifying a personal injury claim. Sure, the ICBC adjuster will tell a person what he or she thinks it’s worth but how does a person really know? Is the ICBC adjuster telling them the truth? Has the ICBC adjuster thoroughly investigated the claim? Has the ICBC adjuster accepted at face value everything the injured person has told them? Has the ICBC adjuster asked all the right questions? Chances are the answer to most of those questions is “no”.
As a lawyer, whose preferred area of practice is personal injury law, it’s my job to look into every aspect of my client’s life as it may have been affected by injuries caused in a car accident. When you engage a lawyer, that lawyer should be looking out for your best interests, not the best interests of ICBC or some other insurance company. Every case has an upside and a downside; meaning, your case could be worth as much as a certain amount of money or as little as a certain amount of money. It is not in ICBC’s best interests to tell you what the upside is. The trouble is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Most people have no way of knowing how much their own case is worth, but the ICBC adjuster will urge you to trust them. They advertise that you can trust ICBC. However, in my experience, they will usually make you an offer at the lower end of a person’s entitlement and often it’s well below an amount that, in my opinion, is appropriate compensation. More importantly, ICBC will often make offers to people who are not yet fully recovered or where their outcome is uncertain.
A PERSON SHOULD NEVER SETTLE A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM EITHER BEFORE THE PERSON HAS FULLY RECOVERED OR BEFORE A CLEAR MEDICAL PROGNOSIS CAN BE GIVEN BY A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PRACTITIONER; NOT THE LAWYER AND CERTAINLY NOT THE ICBC ADJUSTER.
The process of hiring a lawyer is not complicated but there are a few fundamental rules you should keep in mind:
- Ask what kind of experience your potential lawyer has in dealing with ICBC claims;
- Ask if your potential lawyer also works for ICBC in addition to working for plaintiffs. You may not want to hire someone who also works for the other side;
- Ask what kind of trial experience your potential lawyer has (not every case goes to trial but you want someone who has the skill and experience to be able to conduct a trial if necessary; more than 95% of all injury cases are settled out of court but, if necessary, you want a lawyer who is experienced in Court, as well as at negotiating);
- Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer about the potential for recovering peculiar or unusual losses that may be unique to you;
- Try to gain some rapport with your potential lawyer. It’s important to have a good feeling and sense of trust in the person who is going to be your advocate in this process;
- Ask questions about the process such as when and how are legal proceedings commenced; what kind of medical information needs to be collected; is it important or necessary to collect medical information dating back before the accident, and how long before; is your lawyer prepared to get involved in coordinating rehabilitation efforts with medical treaters and with ICBC’s Rehab department;
- Does your lawyer get paid on a contingency fee basis? Most lawyers do operate on this basis but the amounts different lawyers charge can vary depending upon the nature of the claim and the risks involved.
In my experience it is almost always better for a person to hire a lawyer to pursue any claim for injuries that are longer than a few weeks or a few months and certainly where there is an uncertain future as to whether there will be a full recovery or not.
In my firm, we work very hard to represent the very best interests of our clients and to ensure that they receive a full and fair compensation for their injuries. We work closely with healthcare professionals to coordinate ongoing treatments and to make sure that ICBC pays for those treatments on an ongoing basis where it’s warranted. We try to take the worry out of the claims process for every client we represent.
Doug Lester is a partner at RDM Lawyers and practices civil litigation in the areas of personal injury law, labor and employment, human rights, insurance law and commercial litigation.