This is the second of two columns devoted to providing practical solutions to help people injured in a motor-vehicle wreck avoid common mistakes in handling their claims.

Property-damage claims alone rarely justify the added expense of hiring a lawyer. But do a little research before you settle this claim.

Encourage your regular lawyer to discuss with you a fair amount to settle your property-damage claim, and to do so as a courtesy. You call your doctor’s office every now and then for a little direction, and your doctor’s office does not send you a bill for that direction if you do not come in for an appointment, does it? In my experience, your regular lawyer or an experienced paralegal should help you as a courtesy on this limited inquiry.

When does it make sense to consult a lawyer on your personal injury claim?

If you sustained personal injuries, talk to a lawyer candidly about whether the amount of the claim justifies hiring a lawyer. Will a lawyer likely help you receive more of what my non-lawyer father called “walking out the door” dollars (net of lawyer fees)? If your lawyer feels that you would likely receive more compensation for your legitimate claim if you are represented by an attorney, you should consider hiring a lawyer.

Your lawyer can help you document your injury claim, including any permanent injury, lost wages or other out-of-pocket expenses, and determine how much you may have to pay back to your medical-insurance carrier. Your lawyer can ask your doctor to quantify in writing any permanent injuries you have, and any future medical treatment that may be reasonably foreseeable, which can significantly add to the legitimate value of your claim. However anxious you may be to settle your claim, your lawyer will caution you not to settle your claim until your injuries are fully healed, or you know the full extent of any future challenges or medical treatment that may be necessary.

More and more, it is necessary to negotiate with the medical-care providers about the amount of their lien, particularly health-insurance reimbursement claims, because of recent changes in the law in North Carolina. Lawyers can often negotiate down in good faith these otherwise have-to-pay- in-full liens, which nets more money to the injured party. And it does not increase your lawyer fee, because the lawyer’s fee is generally paid on the gross amount of monies paid to the claimant, not the net dollars you receive.

Another major advantage a lawyer can bring to a claim is finding other insurance coverage that may pay some of your claims, such as underinsurance coverage or other coverage “buckets” to pay you fully for your claim.

One should never be too quick to hire a lawyer about issues that do not merit the added expense.

But if you are injured in a wreck, have a legitimate injury and it continues to create problems for you, you should talk to a lawyer, whether you hire them or not. One insurance study found that people who represent themselves settle their claims for roughly 30% of the true value. A free look to find out if hiring a lawyer is worth it probably makes sense to be sure you are fairly compensated for your legitimate injuries.

If you do not know a lawyer to call, the N.C. Bar Association provides access for a brief conference with a practicing lawyer for $50. (Call 800-662-7660). This will help you determine if hiring a lawyer on your claim will increase your “walking out the door” dollars, or not.

Remember: An informed choice is a smart choice.

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Mike Wells is a partner with Wells Law PLLC in Winston-Salem. His email address is mike@wellslaw.us, and his telephone number is 336-283-8700.

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