When it comes to personal injury law, there’s a lot of information and misinformation floating around out there. In this blog I address some of the myths I’ve heard from clients and others over the years.
1. “I’ll get just as much money from the insurance company on my own as I would if I hire a lawyer.”
No you won’t. Well, not if you hire a good one, that is. Would a non-doctor do as good a job performing a tracheotomy as a trained physician would? While that comparison may be admittedly strained, the unshakable reality is that in the eyes of the almighty insurance company, an unrepresented claimant is easy pickings. Insurance carriers have entirely separate staff, evaluation systems, and oftentimes entirely different buildings and geographical locations to process claims with no attorney as they do for claims where a lawyer is involved.
I say this not only as a lawyer who has battled for clients against insurance companies for many years, but also as one who worked for the insurance companies, trucking companies, and large corporations for several years before that. If there’s no lawyer, there’s no threat of a trial where a jury of 12 strangers—and not the insurance company itself—decides how much to award. And without the threat of a jury verdict, the insurance carrier has no incentive to offer a fair amount to resolve your claim.
2. “If the police report doesn’t blame the other driver, you can’t win your case.”
A skilled lawyer rejects this premise. While it is true that the investigating officer’s determination of fault can carry considerable weight, it is by no means the deciding factor of civil liability. The Plaintiff has the burden to prove his injuries were more likely than not caused by the negligence of the Defendant. And when the Defendant driver is cited, it might help, but depending on the disposition of the charge, the jury may not even be allowed to hear about any citations at all (more on that in the next paragraph). Ultimately, an attorney with skill and experience can prove why the other driver was at fault regardless of what the police determined during their brief, after-the-fact investigation.
3. “We can just show the jury the ticket the other driver got for causing the crash.”
Not so fast. Any document (or other piece of evidence) that comes in at trial must first meet all the requirements of the Georgia Evidence Code before it is admissible. In the context of a citation for a traffic violation, the citation is only admissible in court if (1) the person who received the citation pled guilty to the charge; and (2) you have a certified copy of the disposition of the citation (NOT just a certified copy of the citation itself) to present to the court. If the at-fault driver was cited and pled guilty in open court, OR was found guilty by simply paying the ticket or via bond forfeiture (e.g., they failed to appear), then you can admit the certified disposition. But if the outcome of the charge was anything else (even, incredibly, a jury trial resulting in a guilty verdict), then the criminal charge is not admissible.
4. “After I settle my case, I have 72 hours to change my mind.”
I don’t hear this often, but I have heard it a handful of times, generally from people who call me with buyer’s remorse after settling their case under their previous attorney, and now want to know their options for getting out of the settlement. People can want out of a settlement for any number of reasons: friends or family convince them the amount they accepted wasn’t enough; they had a mere change of heart; or, in the rarest and worst-case scenario, their attorney settled the case without the client’s full authority (which even then cannot negate the settlement, but may give rise to a claim for malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty).
Georgia contract law governs whether a claim has been settled. A settlement occurs once there has been a “meeting of the minds” through a valid offer and an acceptance of that offer. Unless there is some evidence the settlement was induced by fraud or misrepresentation by the opposing party, once you (or your lawyer, who has apparent authority to act on your behalf) accept the offer, it is legally binding and you usually will not be able to get out of it.
Call a Georgia personal injury lawyer at The York Firm today at 404-990-3388 for a free consultation about your potential legal claim.