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Legally Speaking

When is it Time to Retain an Injury Attorney?

04/01/2008 - You've just been in an accident, and now you are talking with the insurance company. You believe you may be able to solve this without lawyers. However, it may be time for you to consult with an attorney if:

1) The other party's insurance company won't tell you how much insurance coverage there is.

Be cautious if the other party's insurance company tells you that you don't need to know how much insurance coverage there is. Sometimes, they will tell you there is more than enough insurance, so you don't need to worry. Or sometimes they'll tell you the amount of coverage will not affect their decision so you don't need to know anyway. But if you don't know how much coverage there is, how will you know what is a fair amount? Not always, but often it takes a lawyer to obtain this information.

2) They tell you it is your fault when it is not.

Be cautious if the other party's insurance company refuses to accept responsibility. This is about good faith and fair dealing. You do not have the right to over reach and ask for more than you deserve, and they do not have the right to avoid their legal and financial responsibility. But they may try to shift the fault. They may tell you the accident was caused by you, or they may tell you that because you were involved you are to blame, as well. Therefore, they may claim that they have little or no responsibility.

3) You don't ask the right question so you don't get the right answer.

Even if you are lucky enough to find out how much "liability insurance" coverage there is, often there are other types of insurance which may provide additional coverage. For example, an "umbrella" policy or a "commercial" policy. Yet if you don't know what to ask, the insurance company is not going to tell you. What you don't know can hurt you. Therefore, make sure you understand the total coverage that may be available before you commit to any settlement. You cannot come back later after you have settled. A settlement is final and ends all future responsibility of the insurance company.

4) They offer (too little) too soon.

Sometimes an insurance company will indicate they would like to "wrap this matter up" and they will send a check to you. Be cautious. It is a mistake to settle before the full extent of the injury is known. It's a mistake to settle when you may need future medical care -- but you don't know how much. You need to know the full extent of injuries and the medical prognosis before you settle. Remember...once you settle you cannot come back and get more if you find out you have more serious or additional injuries.

5) They tell you that you do not need a lawyer.

Why, you may be asked, should you hire an attorney and share the fee when you can get all the money yourself? The insurance company may be telegraphing to you that it is worried that an attorney may uncover information that may hurt them. It is true you may get all of the fee -- it may just be a lot less than you would have gotten had all the relevant information been discovered and analyzed.

Every case is different with specific circumstances that should be addressed individually. Should you have a legal question, speak to an attorney who is qualified to answer your specific question.

R. Michael Shickich is an attorney-at-law practicing in Casper.

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