In few areas of law is the importance of a competent attorney more underestimated than the personal injury context. The common sense logic says “I was hurt and it was clearly the other guy’s fault. They or their insurance company should pay me, so why do I need a lawyer?” From the beginning of your personal injury case, the other guy will have a lawyer, and they will be looking for a way not to do the right thing. You should expect from the get-go that the “other guy” and his or her lawyer will be looking for every quirk in the system that they can exploit to get out of your case as cheaply as possible. In fact, that lawyer wouldn’t be doing his or her job if they weren’t.
From the start, you’ll see that you are not in Kansas anymore when it comes to the court system. Far from being able to simply go before an impartial decision maker and explain the situation, you will find that there are special documents that need to be filed in particular formats by particular dates and they have to be sent to all of the other parties to the case at the right time, or else you risk losing your case. The other side will often use the rules surrounding these procedures to try and delay the case or get the case thrown out of court. Without an attorney to help you navigate these tricky deadlines and requests, there is a good chance that a deadline will be missed and your case will be dismissed, even if you are not simultaneously trying to juggle your family and work life and recover from the injury that got you involved in the court system in the first place.
If you are able to get through the procedures of the court without the assistance of a lawyer, it will be exponentially harder to be successful without knowing the specialized terms and shorthand speech used by attorneys and the courts for certain things. You will find that the clerk’s office and the Judge’s assistants are less than helpful – not because they don’t want to help you, but because they are not allowed to give you any legal advice, and because without knowing the “lingo” of the court system, sometimes you don’t even know the question you need to be asking.
Even if you overcome these hurdles and handle the basic preliminaries of your case without an attorney, you are hamstrung when it comes to the major components of a personal injury case. The statistical reality is that most personal injury cases – in fact most lawsuits in general – never go to trial. They settle. The way these cases settle is because the lawyers on each side develop the evidence in the case, communicate effectively with one another, and negotiate the terms of the settlement – with input from the parties, of course – to reach an agreement that works for all parties. As an individual, you don’t have the professional relationships with the attorneys on the other side of your case, and quite frankly, they won’t take you as seriously in negotiations as they would take another attorney.
When a case doesn’t settle, then the case must be prepared to go to trial. Personal injury cases are usually quite heavy on medical evidence and expert witnesses. A competent personal injury attorney will be well versed in the development of evidence, evidentiary issues, and identifying the expert witnesses that will be most helpful to your case. Not only that, an attorney will also be adept at knowing the right questions to ask to take apart the testimony of the other side’s expert(s) – and they will have an expert – that claims the “other guy” had nothing to do with your injury.
Beyond the practical considerations that make having an attorney just a good idea, you should also consider that any lawsuit is a marathon and not a sprint. At some point in this process you will be exhausted, frustrated, and discouraged. When you hit that wall – and you will hit the wall – it helps to have someone in your corner who is there to guide you through the process and remind you to keep your eyes firmly fixed on your goals.