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Personal Injury Claims: Is It a Good Idea to File a Lawsuit Without an Attorney?


Have you been involved in an automobile accident? Perhaps you have suffered an injury at work? Maybe you've been a victim of medical negligence? Whatever the case may be, you've come to the decision of filing a personal injury claim.

You're not alone in that regard. Each day, many US citizens are filing lawsuits because they believe they've been wronged in some way - whether by a person or entity. The main aim for any claim is typically to receive compensation for the physical and psychological distress caused by the injury.

Due to the financial ramifications involved on both sides, the process is often a long and complicated one. This is why most people decide to hire an attorney to carry out most of the work. Yet there are various reasons why someone might decide to go it alone, with avoiding attorney fees often being cited as the biggest one.

However, is it a wise choice to file a personal injury lawsuit without an attorney? This guide will provide a comprehensive look at how an attorney-less lawsuit functions, including the steps that need to be taken to receive a successful judgment in your favor.

Points to consider before filing a lawsuit

You may have your heart set on going down the lawsuit route, but there are several factors to ponder before doing so. To ensure you don't waste any unnecessary time filing a fruitless case, consider the following points:

Attempt to resolve the case first

Before anything else, you should explore the possibility of resolving the issue before it turns into a lawsuit.

Even though you're suffering with a personal injury, this doesn't necessarily mean the other party is aware of the damage caused. As a result, tell them about it. They could be willing to find a resolution for their part in the case, and this means you no longer have to go through the arduous nature of a lawsuit.

Is the case still within the statute of limitations?

One stumbling block with any potential case is the statute of limitations. If you don't file the lawsuit within a set period of time from the date of the personal injury, you can go no further with your case.

So when does the statute of limitations run out? This is dependent on two different elements: the type of case and the state where it happened. Take Colorado as an example. For a personal injury, the statute of limitations runs out after two years. However, this is bumped up to three years for any injuries that were the result of a motor vehicle accident. This means if you were involved in a car crash four years ago, you've run out of time to file a lawsuit - in Colorado, at least.

The time and money that needs to be invested

Court cases are not known for their efficiency and affordability. In fact, they have a reputation for being time-consuming and expensive - and this is the situation in a lot of cases.

As a result, you have to be prepared to invest time, effort, and money into the situation. Some cases are known for dragging on for years, so be prepared to put in a long-term fight before you have a chance of receiving any type of compensation. 

Can the defendant cover your compensation?

Think about it: if the defendant fails to possess any cash or assets, how are they going to cover your compensation bill? The answer to this is simple: they can't pay for it - or if they do, it'll be a slow trickle once their finances are in some sort of order.

This is why, when an attorney analyzes a case, they will always check if the other side has the resources to pay. This means you also have to do the same if you're going to complete the lawsuit independently.

A general rule of thumb is that if an insurance company is involved, then yes, you will be able to receive a lump sum in the end. If you're dealing with a private party, you'll need to investigate their financial situation.

The seriousness of the case

Did you know that in most states, you can take a personal injury case to a small claims court if the desired compensation is less than $5,000?

In addition to this, a small claims court is made for those who don't want to hire an attorney. The reason: you cannot actually bring an attorney into the courtroom. There's also no jury that needs convincing of your case. Plus, it goes without saying that an attorney won't get out of bed and represent anyone seeking a minimal recovery of, say, $1,000. Nevertheless, you can meet with an attorney beforehand to better prepare for the case.

Even though it's a much more laborious and expensive procedure, you'll have to file a state/federal court case for more serious personal injury matters that require compensation greater than $5,000. For this type of case, it's recommended to hire an attorney due to the added risk involved. Fortunately, if your case is strong enough, an attorney will take it on a contingency fee basis. This means you don't have to put any money down upfront. If they win your case, they'll take an agreed percentage of the compensation. If the case doesn't go your way, you pay nothing to the attorney.

Filing a lawsuit without an attorney

If, after going through all of the above points, you have come to the conclusion that you still want to file a personal injury lawsuit without an attorney, now is the time to get started.

The good news is that any United States resident has the freedom to file a lawsuit on their own and represent themselves in court - known by the technical definition of pro se litigation. As mentioned above, this approach is even recommended if you're going to small claims court.

As you would expect, there are various measures you need to take if you're representing yourself. With the right preparation, you'll have a much better chance of winning your case and receiving the compensation amount you deserve. Here are a few steps to take:

Learn as much as possible

It's simple, right? Well, while it's an obvious point to state, actually learning about litigation and the whole legal process is anything but simple. There's a lot to take in, and it can be difficult to understand for those without a legal background.

Thankfully, there are many different resources available on the internet. For instance, American Courthouse is an all-in-one platform that can answer your personal injury-related questions, let you know how you stand to earn via the claim calculator, and more.

Utilizing a claim calculator is highly recommended. This way, you can find out if the effort of filing a claim is actually worth it in the long run.

Know the five W's

Now you're probably wondering, ‘What are the five W's?' Well these are:

  • Who
  • What
  • Why
  • When
  • Where

When you gain an understanding of these five W's, you're in a much better place to proceed with filing your claim. Here's a breakdown on each point:

  • Who: While it may seem clear, you have to identify who your claim is being filed against. Say you're injured in a collision with another car. Now the initial feeling will be to file the claim against the driver of the other vehicle. However, if the driver isn't the titleholder of said vehicle, you could file against the actual owner. Another option is to target their insurance company.
  • What: You need to establish what grounds you have to file the lawsuit. Was the other party completely to blame for your personal injury? Did other factors come into play that will see it being viewed as an accident rather than negligence from someone else?
  • Why: Simply put, why are you looking for compensation? For instance, the injury might have caused you extensive medical bills, and you're looking for compensation to cover these costs. Alternatively, the psychological damage from the injury could have caused you to be unfit to work, and you're seeking money to cover your loss in wages.
  • When: You have to know when the injury occurred. As mentioned previously, you're dictated by the statute of limitations. As a result, you only have a relatively limited amount of time to go down the lawsuit path.
  • Where: The last point is where the lawsuit will be filed. This doesn't necessarily only mean if you're going to small claims court or higher up the legislative chain, either. If the case is going to be tried, you can even decide on the geographic region in certain cases. This is because you can file the lawsuit either where the personal injury happened, or where the defendant lives. This can come in handy if the statute of limitations expired in one state, but is still valid in the other option you have.

File the petition

The basis for any lawsuit begins by filing the applicable petition. This petition has to feature details that are pertinent to the case.

Along with basic personal details such as your home address and phone number, it's essential you identify the person - or entity - you plan to sue. You also have the option of adding their residential or business address.

As part of the petition, you need to present your case and explain why a lawsuit is the best course of action. This can be supported by supplying evidence, if possible, including any reports of your injuries, signed witness statements, and photos from the accident scene.

Another important facet of the petition is listing your compensatory damages. Are you suing due to lost income? Is it down to medical bills? Maybe it's simply the pain and suffering you have experienced? Remember that you can list more than one point as part of your compensatory damages.

Getting the other side of the story

If your petition is accepted, you will eventually be presented with the opportunity to request case-relevant information from the defendant. Typically, you are given a total of 30 days to claim these details.

What's the purpose behind getting the other side of the story? Well, you can learn about how the defendant views the case from their point of view. You can also gain details about witness testimony they possess, along with other pieces of evidence and documents. This information can strengthen your case, but, on the other hand, it may make you realize the lawsuit doesn't have the required support to win.

Going to trial

When you don't have an attorney to do the heavy lifting, going to trial can be particularly intimidating. Even if you know you're in the right, you will likely feel under pressure to properly present your case - and avoid it being misconstrued by the defendant's team. Fortunately, the vast majority of cases are resolved before going to court.

Although if you do end up going to trial, you can find several resources online that can guide you through the process.

Judgment day

Ultimately, it is the court's decision as to whether you will obtain the damages you sought.

If they favor the defendant, or you're not satisfied with the compensation amount received, you could have the option to appeal the decision. For this to happen, you need to either have suitable justification that the judge wrongly interpreted a piece of evidence, or supply evidence the court initially ignored.

So, is it worth representing yourself?

Simply put, it's an unwise decision to represent yourself - at least in most cases. As already established, if you're going to small claims court, it's actually the recommended protocol to go it alone. 

However, the expertise of an attorney can be especially beneficial. Not only will they give your case a greater chance of success, but they could also ensure you receive a much larger settlement. Rather than accepting the first offer that an insurance company throws your way, an attorney can use their expertise to maximize your compensation amount.