In the state of Arizona, it’s possible to file a pain and suffering claim without a lawyer and come away with a satisfactory result. This is especially true if you have experience handling your own legal matters, or if you’re up to the task of representing yourself in a court of law. However, not every victim wants to venture into a lawsuit without the guidance of an injury attorney.
When deciding whether self-representation is your best option, be sure to consider the timeline for filing a pain and suffering claim. Also, take into account if you’re mentally and physically prepared to go to bat against the insurance company.
When Should You File a Car Accident Claim Without a Personal Injury Lawyer?
You may choose to represent yourself in a car accident claim. When deciding whether or not self-representation is your best option, there are two key factors to consider: the severity of your injuries and if there’s clear liability.
1. The Severity of Your Injuries
The severity of your injuries refers to the extent of bodily harm you experienced. Minor injuries typically include scrapes, bruises, mild whiplash, or any injury that can heal within a few weeks to a month. Severe injuries generally take longer to heal and include broken bones, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and any type of injury that requires surgery.
Chances are, you can represent yourself if you only sustained minor injuries. However, if you experienced severe or life-altering injuries, you may want to consult with an attorney. The more severe the injury, the more significant the damages, which means the stakes increase for everyone involved.
Consider it this way: Imagine you slipped and fell in a grocery store and suffered minor bruises. In this case, you probably wouldn’t rack up an intense amount of medical bills treating your injuries. So, the store likely wouldn’t put up much of a fight against compensation. They could offer you a quick settlement to cover your medical expenses and the inconvenience.
Now, imagine you were involved in a serious truck accident with a grocery store distributor. In this incident, you suffered severe injuries and had to undergo extensive medical treatment. You lost a fair amount of income and experienced significant pain and suffering as a result of your injuries.
Instead of facing the grocery store alone, you should at least seek legal advice from an experienced injury attorney to ensure you receive maximum compensation for your suffering.
2. Clear Liability
Liability is defined as the state of being responsible for something, particularly financially. In a personal injury case, the individual who is liable for the injuries is responsible for providing compensation for the damages. In order to secure a settlement, the victim must be able to prove the other party was liable.
Some cases have “clear liability.” This means it’s obvious which party was responsible for the injuries. An example of clear liability is if an injury victim was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light. The victim was stationary and abiding traffic laws, so the other driver was clearly at fault. Therefore, the other driver is liable for the victim’s damages, including pain and suffering.
When it’s obvious another party was to blame for your accident, you’ll have an easier time proving liability. This can grant you a relatively quick settlement. When it’s unclear what the primary or proximate cause of an accident was, you may want to hire a personal injury attorney.
The other party may point the finger back at you and accuse you of being liable. In this case, you could ultimately become responsible for paying your own damages. In any situation where liability is unclear, it’s ultimately worth the attorney’s fees.
First Steps in Building a Personal Injury Claim
If you’ve read the sections above and are thinking, “Okay, I can handle this myself,” it’s time to start building your personal injury claim. There are several steps to take before you can file a lawsuit in Arizona. Most importantly, you have to gather all applicable evidence of your bodily injury and pain and suffering.
Be sure to receive the medical treatment you need as soon as possible. Not only is medical attention essential for your healing process, but medical records from doctors and nurses can form the foundation of your injury claim.
Take pictures of your injuries, any property damage, and the accident scene if possible. Likewise, be sure to obtain a copy of the police report.
If you require extensive medical treatment, use any personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage to pay your initial bills. Then apply your health insurance. You must maintain all copies of every bill and record you receive. Consider creating a dedicated folder for all of your personal injury documents. Be sure to include the amount of money you spent on out-of-pocket expenses as well as examples of your pain and suffering. Additionally, if you end up filing a suit, this folder will come in handy during the discovery phase.
As you build your claim, do your best to steer clear of social media. Whatever you do, do not write about your accident on your social media pages. Your information can leak to the other party and be taken out of context. This can damage your claim and even minimize your settlement value.
Determine the Statute of Limitations for Your Claim
Before attempting to file a pain and suffering claim, make sure you understand the time limits for your case. In Arizona, statutes of limitations are in place to dictate how long a victim has to bring charges against the at-fault party. The personal injury statute of limitations includes auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and falls, and even pedestrian accidents.
You have two years from the date of the accident to file an accident claim. If you’ve been injured due to the actions of one of Arizona’s public institutions or public employees, you have just a 180-day window to file a claim. For wrongful death cases, such as a car accident case that killed a loved one, you have two years to pursue damages on behalf of the deceased.
If your statute of limitations window is shrinking, you may want to consider contacting an attorney to stay on track. Similarly, if you’re pursuing damages on behalf of a loved one, a trusted attorney can help secure the damages your family is owed.
How to Estimate Damages for an Insurance Claim
The only way to receive compensation for medical care, lost wages, and pain and suffering is to estimate your damages.
There are two types of damages in most personal injury claims: special damages and general damages.
- Special Damages: Damages capable of exact calculation, like medical bills
- General Damages: Damages not capable of exact calculation, like pain and suffering
How to Calculate Special Damages Without an Attorney
Special damages are also referred to as economic damages. These are expenses that have a specific dollar amount tacked onto them. For example, if it cost $1,500 to repair your vehicle, that’s economic damage.
Special damages include:
- Lost earnings and lost earning capacity
- Medical bills and future medical treatment
- Property damage or the cost to fix or replace your car after an accident
- All other financial losses attributable to your accident
Economic damages are capable of exact calculations and can be determined quite easily. Simply keep a running tally of your medical care, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and more. The total amount is your economic damage.
How to Calculate Lost Wages or Lost Earning Capacity
Lost wages are exactly what they sound like. They consist of how much money you lost, and how much more you stand to lose, as a result of your injury. Let’s say you originally earn $50,000 per year, but you experience a serious herniated disc that puts you out of work. When you return to work, you can only work part-time, earning you a new salary of $25,000 per year. You have lost earnings of $50,000 (your old salary) and a lost earning capacity of $25,000 per year.
Aside from lost earnings, you can calculate a variety of alternative lost wages including:
- Hourly wages
- Sick and vacation days
- Perks, such as a company-owned vehicle or cellphone
In all transparency, it can be difficult to calculate lost wages without an attorney. This is especially true if you’re a contract employee or rely on tips to make your living.
Consider speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney to assure you’ve accounted for all lost funds.
How to Calculate Pain and Suffering Without a Lawyer
General damages are compensation for overall suffering. In a personal injury case, these damages include the pain and suffering and mental anguish that results from injuries. There are no exact guidelines to determine the settlement amount for a victim’s pain and suffering.
When attempting to calculate pain and suffering, an insurance company takes the following into account:
- The nature and extent of the victim’s injuries
- Whether the jury or insurance company believes the victim
- Whether the victim is reliable and provided trustworthy witness statements
- Whether the victim’s medical treatment appears to be “soft,” meaning the vast majority consisted of physical therapy or chiropractic treatment instead of physician or hospital bills
Then, the insurance company rates your pain and suffering on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the mildest and 5 being the most severe. That rating is multiplied by your economic damages to calculate the total worth of your pain and suffering claim. To calculate your own potential settlement, multiply your economic damages by the rate you believe your pain and suffering to be worth.
How to Send a Demand Letter for Pain and Suffering
The first step in the settlement check timeline is to send a demand letter. This document outlines exactly what you expect the insurance company, or at-fault individual, to pay. Before you send anything to the insurance company, be sure to request all of your medical bills and records, document your lost wages, and calculate your various damages.
In your demand letter, you’ll be detailing:
- Exactly why the insurance company or defendant is liable for your injuries
- The nature and extent of your injuries and necessary medical care
- Your financial losses that stem from the accident and/or your injuries
- Any other losses you’ve incurred, including your pain and suffering
Provide your records in an indexed package that chronologically orders the documents from the time of the accident to the time of the demand letter. Take a thorough look at the impact of your injuries on all aspects of your life to make a reasonable valuation of your injury claim. Include any particularly important facts about your injury, including your emotional and physical pain and suffering, but keep it brief.
How to Counter or Accept a Settlement Offer from the Insurance Company
Your demand letter is the jumping-off point for various settlement negotiations; it is your “first offer.” After sending a demand letter, the insurance company can either accept or counter your first offer.In most cases, the insurance adjuster will low-ball you at first. Keep this in mind as you send your demand letter. Don’t be alarmed if your first offer is a bit on the higher side. This leaves you room to negotiate.
If the insurance company doesn’t accept your first offer, they’ll send a counter-offer instead. Consider the secondary offer and ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the offer address all of your damages?
- Does the offer fairly address your pain and suffering?
- Does the offer account for the impact your injuries have had on all aspects of your life?
If it does, take the money and sign a release. Your settlement check will typically be released to you within a month. If the counter-offer doesn’t provide a fair settlement, you can send a counter in return.
Bear in mind, if both parties cannot come to an agreement, you risk needing to file a personal injury lawsuit in court.
If your case escalates to this point, swallow your pride and contact a qualified accident attorney. A strong attorney-client relationship can help you receive the compensation you deserve. Plus, a lawyer can be helpful when reviewing either party’s insurance policy.
How to Communicate with the Insurance Adjuster
The truth is, most insurance claims are negotiated and settled out of court. The majority of claims adjusters are more than willing to help you settle your claim if you are polite, reasonable, and provide evidence. However, you will need to show clear liability and records of all your injuries before they can settle with you.
When speaking with an insurance adjuster, make sure you:
- Remain truthful and never lie
- Only reveal as much about your case as necessary
- Keep records of every conversation
- Document all damages and any recognition of damages by the adjuster
Seek a Free Consultation for Extra Confidence
If you decide to handle your own case, remember that the majority of personal injury attorneys offer complimentary consultations. So, consider giving one a call before pressing send on that demand letter.
If you’re not up to the task of handling your own pain and suffering claim, call a trusted personal injury law firm in your area. Personal injury attorneys require no cost down and don’t get paid unless you get paid—and their job is to get you paid.
Ultimately, if you lack legal experience and choose not to hire a lawyer, there’s a very high probability you’ll get burned by the insurance company. Or your inexperience could cause irreparable harm to your case. When your compensation is on the line, contact a personal injury attorney for that extra confidence.