Do I need a personal injury attorney?
Have you been injured in an accident and thinking about handling your own claim? Are you asking yourself, "Do I need a personal injury attorney?" Although legally, you do not need a personal injury attorney to represent you for an insurance claim, we don't recommend handling a claim on your own, unless you can't find an attorney to handle it for you.
If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence, but an attorney won’t take your case, this article is for you. Learn how you can handle a personal injury claim without a lawyer and settle it privately, by representing yourself pro se.
What is Pro Se? Pro Se is the legal term for representing yourself in a legal action.
3 options on how to handle a personal injury case without a lawyer (or represent yourself pro se)
To begin to handle a personal injury claim without a lawyer from start to finish, you should first understand your 3 options when representing yourself in court.
Caveat Emptor: We strongly encourage injured persons to retain a skilled personal injury attorney to represent them in their personal injury lawsuit. However, when it is not profitable for an attorney to take a case, possibly because the claim is too small, but the injured person still wants to pursue a lawsuit, the injured person has 3 options.
- Represent herself in small claims court (if the damages are worth no more than $12,000 in Philadelphia), or
- Represent herself in arbitration (if the damages are no more than $50,000), or
- Represent herself in trial (no monetary cap).
Small Claims Court
If you had a minor car accident and are looking for a non-injury or minor injury accident settlement, you may want to go to small claims court if. Small claims court is only if your lawsuit is not worth any more than $12,000. Please note that the cap is $10,000 in some other Pennsylvania counties, so check to see what the cap is in the county where you file suit. Typically, you will file suit in the county where the incident occurred. Small claims court was designed for non-legal-educated persons to handle the matter on their own. Philadelphia offers help in the form of a Small Claims Court pamphlet, and additional phone assistance through the Philadelphia District Judicial Court at 215-686-2901. If you are going to Small Claims Court, also be sure to check out the Fox Law video tutorial, "How to win in Philadelphia small claims court."
Arbitration is a wonderful option for pro se litigants because it is far more casual and lenient than a trial in a courtroom with a judge. Arbitration is a suitable option for cases not worth more than $50,000. Instead of a judge, three randomly selected attorneys serve as arbitrators and oversee the case exactly as a judge would. There is no jury. The trial is performed exactly as it would be if it were in front of a judge and a juryo, except that medical testimony is presented through narrative reports rather than live testimony. At the end of the trial, the arbitrators deliberate, and make a determination as to who won, and what the monetary award should be, if any. It’s important to know that arbitrations are not binding. This means that if you do not like the arbitrators’ ruling, you may appeal (there is a fee to appeal) to have your case heard by a judge and/or jury.
Court of Common Pleas – Trial
This is the option that most pro se litigants are going to want to avoid at all costs if they can. Attorneys have spent years learning and then additional years training to get the witness to say what you want them to say, remembering everything you need your own witness to say, figuring out how to get certain information out to the jury when the attorney objected to the way it was initially introduced, rehabilitating the character of one of your key witnesses after the opposing counsel made him look untrustworthy, and the best, most entertaining and clear way to present your case to the jury without violating any rules of evidence.
Building Your Case
Regardless of which option you decide, you will have to first “build your case.” The meaning of that phrase is not “make up injuries”, “exaggerate”, or any other nefarious implications. “Building your case” means gathering organized evidence that documents the proximity of your injuries to the incident and your continued treatment so there can be no question as to whether the accident caused the injuries claimed. Building your case also means that silent suffering is not rewarded. Most of my clients are hard workers; they work through the pain and do not want to complain because they do not want to bring others down. But when it comes to trial, they are ready to tell everyone how it has really been. But unfortunately, defense attorneys prepare for this and refers to the plaintiff’s medical records showing how little pain was reported. The defense attorney might then ask, “when were you lying, then or now?” In sum, consistency is very important.
Learn more: How to settle an insurance claim privately?