If the victims of a traffic accident held you responsible for their property losses and injuries, would you be prepared to defend yourself against their personal injury lawsuit? Would you have the knowledge and skill to protect yourself and your assets, or should you call a personal injury attorney?
As you weigh your options, consider two fundamental facts: First, the plaintiffs would not have filed a personal injury suit against you unless they had a substantial case. The attorney for the plaintiffs collects approximately one-third of the award when he prevails in court, but he would not invest the time, effort, and talent in litigation if he did not believe he could win. Second, the plaintiffs’ claim for damages puts your assets, personal property, future earnings, and reputation in jeopardy. If the plaintiffs seek both compensatory and punitive damages, you stand to lose everything. Moreover, you cannot protect yourself by filing bankruptcy or transferring assets, because a judgment entered against you remains in effect until you have satisfied the obligation. Do you feel adequately prepared intellectually and emotionally to defend everything you have now and most of what you will earn in the future. If you do not feel quite up to the task, call an experienced, aggressive personal injury attorney.
Can you manage the rules of evidence?
In civil trials, the plaintiffs bear the burden of proof. They must show by a preponderance of the evidence that you acted negligently, recklessly, or irresponsibly, so that they suffered serious bodily injury and extensive property damage. As you defend yourself, you do not work to create “reasonable doubt”; instead, you focus on discrediting their evidence and testimony, building the strength of your own case by introducing evidence that supports your claim you did everything in your power to prevent the collision and mitigate its consequences.
The plaintiffs would not take their case to trial unless they felt confident they had evidence and witnesses to support their claims. You reasonably my expect they will have photographs, charts, diagrams, animations, and physical evidence that prove your negligence. You also should expect that everyone injured will testify at the trial, and the plaintiffs almost inevitably will call automotive engineers to testify that your recklessness caused victims’ injuries. Therefore, as you ponder whether or not you should call a personal injury attorney, you must ask yourself whether you feel prepared to introduce bigger and better pictures, charts, graphics, and forensic evidence that the plaintiffs’. Can you impeach the witnesses’ testimony, and can you discredit the plaintiffs’ expert? Do you have time and expertise to mount a zealous defense?
For the sake of perspective, weigh one last fact: Unless the specialize in personal injury law, most attorneys do not represent themselves in civil trials.