Yesterday’s Austin American Statesman had a story about the government’s efforts to condemn (purchase) land on the US-Mexico border for construction of the border wall. It follows the story of Teofilo Flores, who accepted the government’s $1,650 offer for a slice of his backyard. That didn’t seem like a bad deal until Mr. Flores learned that a neighbor had received 40 times that amount for a similar piece of property and that another nearby farmer had received almost $1 million in exchange for his cooperation.
I won’t bore you with the details of the story, but the general theme was that those who retained attorneys to represent them in the negotiations received significantly more in the process than those without attorneys. Of interest to me – a trial lawyer – those who asked for a jury to decide their cases received settlement checks that were on average 1,200 percent more than the original offers.
It immediately struck me that this is virtually identical to what happens in injury cases. People think they’re saving themselves money by not hiring a lawyer to pursue their claims. But that’s a mistake. Even insurance company studies prove that injured persons who retain lawyers recover more than those who are not represented.
And there are good reasons for that. People don’t know the ins and outs of making a claim, what the fair value of a claim might be, and how to best present the claim. Even if lay people study up on those issues, they still don’t have the hammer necessary to force insurance companies to take them seriously. In our cases, if the insurance company isn’t playing fair, we’ll file a lawsuit and take it to trial, if necessary. That’s the biggest bargaining chip we have.
But insurance companies know that unrepresented people don’t know the process, don’t know the fair value of the claim, and know that if they don’t treat an unrepresented person fairly, there’s not a lot that person can do if the person isn’t willing to hire a lawyer. And because insurance companies know this, you can rest assured that they’ll take advantage of this.
If you or a loved one is injured, don’t try to resolve the claim yourself. At least talk to a lawyer first. You don’t want to find yourself in poor Mr. Flores’s shoes, settling your case and only learning later that you’ve been taken advantage of.