When you are injured in a slip and fall accident and you decide to bring a claim against the owner of the property where you were hurt, there's no law that says you need to hire a lawyer to handle the case.
Once you know the cost of your medical treatment and the amount of time you have missed at work, you probably have a good sense of what you've lost (at least from a financial standpoint). You can notify the property owner about what happened, back up your argument with documentation (maybe even a witness statement or two) and demand a financial settlement. But in most instances, the property owner will turn this demand over to its insurance company, and a representative will respond in an attempt to gain all relevant facts and negotiate a resolution that's in the best interest of the insurer.
If you're comfortable with the claim process, and if you're confident that you can stand up for yourself during settlement negotiations, you might walk away with a decent result. But the odds of obtaining a settlement for the full value of your claim are low unless liability is uncontested and the damages are relatively minor. Here are a few things to consider before heading down the road to self representation in a slip and fall claim.
1. A lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation. Personal injury lawyers are trained to conduct thorough pre-claim investigations that most laypersons lack the knowledge and resources to pursue.
These investigations include steps like:
- hiring an investigator to speak to all witnesses
- engaging experts to determine the presence of defects in the surface that caused the fall
- obtaining and analyzing all of your medical records to assess the nature and extent of your injuries, and consulting with an economist to assist with the development of your claim for damages, particularly in cases where the damages are permanent. (More: Personal Injury Damages FAQ.)
2. A lawyer knows how to deal with insurance companies. Personal injury lawyers regularly interact with insurance claims representatives and are not intimidated by them. They are also in a better position than you are to objectively assess the positive and negative aspects of your case, and are therefore more likely to advocate for a settlement that will be seen as reasonable by the insurance company. It's also true that, right or wrong, the insurer is going to take your claim a lot more seriously knowing you're represented by a lawyer.
Learn more about The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Case.
3. A lawyer can try your case in court. If your efforts at self-representation fail and you do not reach a settlement with the insurance company, you will be at a huge disadvantage if you attempt to file a lawsuit and represent yourself in court. Having a lawyer on your side evens the playing field with the insurance company's lawyer if your case goes to court, and it improves immeasurably your chances of obtaining a favorable jury verdict. Not only will your lawyer be able to fully present all of the facts pertaining to liability and damages, she will also use her skills to cross-examine the opposing party's witnesses and discredit portions of their testimony.
4. Your net recovery will likely be larger if you hire a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers work under a contingency fee agreement, which means they take a percentage of your recovery (typically 25% to 40%), and they receive nothing if no settlement or judgment is obtained. However, a lawyer is likely to obtain a much greater financial recovery for you than you can obtain on your own. As an example, if you can get a settlement from the insurance company of $5,000 and your lawyer can get one for $15,000, you are still way ahead of the game even after paying the lawyer a contingency fee of $4,000 to $6,000.