The thought of hiring an injury attorney can be unsettling for many people. Some victims even choose to “go it alone” rather than make the financial and emotional commitment to a lawyer. While the law allows you to act as your own legal representative in a court case, most experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyers wouldn’t recommend it.
What Will I Need to Do If I Represent Myself?
In addition to all of the legwork that goes into building these cases, victims will also have to fend off insurers and inquiries from defense attorneys, all of whom have done this thousands of times before. It will take considerable time, knowledge, and effort to get the financial recovery you need to move forward—and if your injuries are severe, your legal duties can take away the precious time you need to heal.
That said, there are some vital steps to take if you go ahead with self-representation. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may need to:
- Know the statute of limitations. You only have a limited period of time to sue someone after you suffer an injury, known as the statute of limitations. In most Tennessee injury cases, the deadline for filing a lawsuit is one year. If you do not file your lawsuit within this time, you will be unable to seek damages permanently—regardless of how severe your injuries are.
- Decide who to sue. The person who owes you compensation for your injury may seem straightforward, but there are often two (or more) parties that could share liability. For example, if you were struck by a car while riding your bike, you would likely have a claim against the driver who hit you. However, if your injuries were more severe than they might have been because your brakes failed or your helmet didn’t provide enough protection, you could also have a claim against a product manufacturer (called a third-party claim). We always look for any and all parties who could share liability to ensure you receive complete compensation for your injuries.
- Sort out jurisdiction. There could be many possible venues in both state and federal court where your case could be heard, and it’s up to you which eligible jurisdiction to choose. For instance, each jurisdiction will have different judges, court schedules, operating procedures, and cases waiting to be heard. Judges with more trial experience are less likely to make procedural errors during the trial, making it more likely that your award will be upheld on appeal. You might also consider the likely outcome of your case based on previous jury verdicts in each jurisdiction.
- Calculate your losses. In your complaint, you will need to list the amount of damages you are seeking or the total amount of your losses. Keep in mind that once you write this number on the complaint, you will not be able to get any more than this amount (though you could certainly get less). The amount should be enough to cover the full cost of your economic damages (medical treatment, wage losses, and out-of-pocket expenses), plus an amount for pain and suffering if your accident has caused inconvenience or permanent disability.
- Defend yourself from insurance agents. You may be the victim in this case, but the insurance company that could be on the hook in your claim is going to attack you any way they can to avoid paying. Some common tactics include taking recorded statements (to get you to admit fault or damage your credibility) or getting you to sign a medical records release to get access to your entire medical history. Unfortunately, many victims have been willing participants in these unethical dealings simply because the insurance company has all the power and information on its side.
- Collect physical evidence. It falls to you to find and preserve key evidence in your case. This can include pictures of the crash scene, testimony from eyewitnesses, and even the clothes you were wearing on the day of the accident. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to prove that the crash occurred or even how bad it was—you have to prove that the person you’re suing caused it. You may need the help of a professional accident reconstructionist to testify about certain aspects of the crash, which could be a significant cost.
- Attend a defense medical exam. Most victims will be required to attend a medical exam from an outside doctor paid for by the defendant—so you can guess where the doctor’s loyalties lie. These exams are full of opportunities for the doctor to gather evidence for the defendant, and you will need to avoid any land minds that could hurt your case in court.
- Negotiate your settlement. If, after all this, you are offered a settlement by the insurance company, it’s likely to be far less than you are owed. Not only that, but they might require you to sign a release before taking control of the funds—a document full of clauses like confidentiality agreements, return or destruction of exchanged documents, and release of all liability for any future injuries related to the crash that may not manifest until later.
Please keep in mind that since our law firm offers free consultations and contingency fees, it will cost you nothing upfront to get the representation you deserve. Contact GriffithLaw today through our online form or give us a call at (615) 807-7900.