Many people involved in an accident don't think their case is big enough to call a lawyer. Even without contacting a personal injury attorney, many injured victims fear they will be turned away because their case does not involve enough money. Rather than prejudging the value of your case, it is important to remember you have nothing to lose if you decide to contact a local personal injury attorney for a free consultation.
Alternatives to Using a Lawyer
If you feel you would rather deal with the process yourself, you don't have to just accept what the insurance company tells you. You may still have a legal claim against another driver or individual for causing your injury. For claims with less than $5,000 in damages, individuals may file their case in small claims court.
In the District of Columbia, you have the option to represent yourself in small claims court for personal injury or property damages involving an amount in controversy of $5,000 or less. This generally involves submitting a “Statement of Claim” and “Information Sheet” to the Small Claims Clerk's Office. The person filing the claim is the plaintiff, and the person they are bringing suit against is the defendant.
After submitting the claim and paying the required fees, the plaintiff has to serve the defendant. "Serving" refers to properly notifying the defendant of the filing of your claim. This could be done by using a process server, or sending a letter through certified or registered mail. However, in some cases, the defendant can refuse to accept a letter, which may then require a process server to give the documents to the defendant directly.
A troublesome defendant can make matters difficult for the plaintiff, hoping they will give up pursuing their claim. A defendant can try and change the court date, making the plaintiff have to request multiple days off of work. They may even show up to court with an attorney who will look for small defects in the way you filed your case to get it dismissed.
Even if you get lucky and find that the defendant did not show up to court, you may still have an uphill battle. While the court may enter a default in favor of the plaintiff, you will still have to go through the process of collecting the judgment. This can be difficult, and may require the use of a collections agency who will take a large percentage of any money recovered.
A “Small Claim” May Be Bigger Than You Think
Before you decide to file your case in small claims court, calculate the true cost of your accident. You may find that your damages quickly exceed a few thousand dollars. For example, a car accident is not just about how much it will cost to get your car fixed. A car repair bill may be a temporary fix, but you may find other car problems down the road that were linked to the accident, but not readily apparent at the time.
Similarly, damage to your own body may seem minor at first, only to be revealed as a more serious problem later on. Stress injuries involving your neck or back may first appear as a simple ache, but later turn into chronic back or neck pain. This could require regular treatment such as medication, physical therapy, cortisone shots, and even surgery. The cost of medical care for a long-term back injury can easily top $5,000.
Other damages may not be so explicit. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering associated with the accident and subsequent recovery period. An accident may also take its toll on your mental health, as well as on your family. Don't discount your injury just to make it easier for the insurance company; make sure you are compensated for your injury, so you can focus on getting life back to normal.
District of Columbia Personal Injury Attorneys
If you are considering filing a small claims case in Washington D.C., consider first consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney who can offer guidance on the right path based on the circumstances of your case. If you or someone you love has been injured, please contact the team at Gilman & Bedigian. We offer a free consultation during which our experienced staff will assess the circumstances of your situation and advise you on the best way to proceed.