You certainly can, BUT the chances of a meaningful recovery are vastly diminished based on all published statistics over using a lawyer, or not using a lawyer. NOLO, Martindale-Hubble, and various bar association affiliated type groups have crunched the numbers and the recovery overall is on average at LEAST double what a pro-se, or un-represented person can squeeze from an insurance company when trying to settle a case. The Bureau of Justice periodically releases statistics regarding nationwide tort claims that show a stark issue with someone navigating a case if litigation is required. For example: There is a question of fault, or a question of what the true medical or pain and suffering damages actually are. If you believe the amount is $500,000.00, but the insurance adjuster assigned to your case believes the damages are $75,000.00, your only options are to either a.) accept pennies on the dollar of what you’re actually owed (insurance companies love this), or file a lawsuit. The issue becomes that once a lawsuit is filed the nationwide average is that it takes at least 20 months for such a suit to be brought to a trial (if it’s one of the few that goes the distance which is under 5% nationwide).
Typically, in the time period after a lawsuit is filed, there are written discovery requests back and forth between the injured party (plaintiff), and the insurance company’s counsel representing whoever caused the injury (defendant). Once those requests are responded to, and all issues about those requests are litigated, the next step is typically depositions where the parties meet at a mutually agreed location and take oral testimony from witnesses, treatment providers, the injured party, and the defendant. In some cases this part of the case makes liability so overwhelmingly provable that an insurance company will opt to settle short of going to a trial if their client has little chance to prevail at trial. BUT if the case continues beyond that point, it could be an issue that the insurance company would rather make an injured party prove their damages to a jury if they want a complete recovery, or conversely the plaintiff may have testified inconsistently with their injuries, or failed to disclose a previous injury in testimony at the deposition that does exist in their medical records as the sole cause or contributing cause of pain in the current case. Such a disclosure could make a jury believe that the plaintiff is not credible, or that the damage award should be reduced. Since the Defendant would be able to argue that about plaintiff’s omission, the insurance company may decide that going to trial is worth it unless the plaintiff will accept a low value settlement offer.
With popular culture painting plaintiffs as “Money hungry”, “greedy”, “opportunistic”, etc., there is a burden to overcome as a plaintiff in a legal sense (preponderance of the evidence – meaning you must show by 50.01 to 49.99 that the other party is responsible for the injury), but also in the mental sense that when it comes time to talk about what the outcome should be to a jury, that you are concise, and know how to handle the mental hurdles certain jurors may have against awarding a large award to an injured party. A layperson likely will not have the skills to filter out potentially bad jurors during voir dire, or know how to structure arguments aimed at curtailing preconceived biases and notions of jurors that end up sitting on their panel/jury. It’s a simple fact that you won’t get 12 people on your panel that 100% are on your side, you or your lawyer will need to convince many of them during the course of a trial. There are actual injury lawyers who do NOT file lawsuits, simply because they are not trained, and not well versed in trial techniques or strategies to maximize verdict returns for their clients. We have been hired by clients who have come to us because they initially found a, “settlement lawyer”, that does not go to court. We’re in court every day, of every week taking your case the distance is planned for, not something to be avoided.
On the other side of this coin, if you have a lawyer that is known for filing lawsuits and arguing cases, the insurance companies track this information internally. If you are unrepresented, or if you have a “settlement” lawyer that won’t go to court for your case by filing a lawsuit, the insurance company knows you are playing poker with your cards face up. If they see that you have hired a lawyer that goes to court, and will make life difficult for the insurance company and the attorney they have to hire to defend the case, you have a better chance of resolving your case with a fair settlement just because they know you have someone that will hit them back if they try to run you over with a bad settlement offer. So, yes you can handle your own personal injury case. BUT the chances that you can self teach all of the nuance that goes into making a strong claim pre-suit, asking the right questions during written discovery and during depositions, then being able to back it up with the proper voir dire, opening statement, direct and cross examination of witnesses, and closing arguments at a trial would be difficult for a non-lawyer. In a recent motor vehicle accident case we had a client who was facing a significant injury that was not at fault in the crash. The insurance company for the Defendant, prior to us being involved told this client, that the client was the one who caused the crash, not the other driver. Once hired we immediately ordered the crash report, FOIA requested the police reports, looked up what citations had been issued to the at-fault driver, and quickly established our client was getting treated badly by the insurance company. Ultimately that client received the maximum value under the policy of $100,000.00 when they may have received absolutely NOTHING from the insurance company if they had not hired us.