You’ve been in a minor car accident; do you really need a lawyer?
As seen in the Hamilton Spectator, “Spotlight on Business” section, Wednesday, October 3, 2012.
No risk in getting good advice first
You’ve been in an accident. It’s not a “bad” accident—no one was catastrophically injured or died. But you’ve suffered what are called “minor injuries”, perhaps a painful sprain, an incomplete muscle tear or a partially dislocated joint. Now you’re faced with a decision: Do I need a lawyer or can I represent myself?
“The first thing you need to know”, advises Allen Wynperle, founder and personal injury lawyer at Wynperle Law in Hamilton, “is that your decision isn’t ‘do I a need a lawyer’; it’s a question of ‘should I consult with a personal injury lawyer?’ And the answer to this question is always, yes, you should.”
“Consulting with a personal injury lawyer doesn’t harm your position,” he adds, “and it won’t lead to some irrevocable action you can’t undo. But it does mean that you’ll be better equipped to know what to do next.”
An injury lawyer that you can trust will advise you honestly and realistically, even if it’s not what you were hoping for. Whether you need a lawyer or not, whether to bring a claim or not – these are important decisions.You don’t need a lawyer who will say anything to get your name on a retainer agreement. “The information you walk away with is yours to keep”, he explains. “At least now you can make an informed decision.”
It’s like trying to fix your own car
Personal injury is a specialty area of law just like real estate, corporate, commercial or criminal, and over the past 20 years there have been significant regulatory changes that can dramatically affect benefits and how they’re awarded. Anyone who’s been in an accident—even though they feel it’s considered minor—should speak with a lawyer who specializes in this area of the law.
Mr. Wynperle compares trying to represent yourself in a personal injury matter to attempting to do your own car repairs. “Just like you can’t fix your own car these days because of technological changes, it is very tricky to represent yourself in a personal injury case and navigate through the red tape in the system. Even someone like myself acknowledges it is extremely complex, and I’ve been steeped in personal injury law for over two decades.”
New Minor Injury Guidelines do affect you
Gathering trusted information is more important than ever given the recent changes to Ontario’s no-fault insurance. For minor accidents, new Minor Injury Guidelines (MIG) are now in effect. Although designed to speed access to rehabilitation, improve utilization of health care resources and provide more certainty around cost and payment for insurers and regulated health professionals, the MIG already is creating new challenges for accident victims and their families.
Firstly, you have to know how to apply the new MIG correctly. Already numerous disputes are arising over the many uncertainties in the new legislation. Secondly, there has been a dramatic reduction in amount and typical duration of benefits available under these new MIG. You need to be able to know how best to protect your rights. For example, if your injury is covered by the MIG, your access to medical treatment and rehabilitation benefits is limited to $3,500.00, even if you have purchased optional insurance. There also are circumstances in which a motorist who suffered a minor injury may not be subject to the MIG. The new legislation also anticipates that your treatment will typically not exceed 12 weeks. And benefits, such as the availability of Attendant Care, are impacted if your injuries are subject to the MIG.
No charge consultation a no lose proposition
The above, all leads to the value in seeking trusted advice from an expert. Mr. Wynperle emphasizes that there is no risk in setting up an initial consultation except the time it takes and making sure you meet with an expert in this area of law.
“You also need to check ahead to see if there is a consultation fee,” he advises, “most decent firms don’t charge for this but make sure you ask. And make sure you seek the niche expertise of a personal injury law firm—there are several excellent firms here in Hamilton to choose from. You do not need to go to Toronto to get top notch legal advice.”
General guidelines and what to expect
Every person injured in a motor vehicle accident has the right to sue and claim damages for pain and suffering, past and future income loss, expenses incurred and cost of care.In general, the decision of whether or not to pursue legal action depends on the financial impact of your accident. For example:
• You’re not working at the time of your accident or in the year leading up to it;
• You are having a dispute with your own insurance company on the amount or the benefits; and/or
• You are having significant out of pocket expenses that you’re not being compensated for.
Deciding to use a lawyer will mean a dispute, which is “not an enjoyable process”, warns Mr. Wynperle, “but in some cases necessary in order to make sure that your claim is settled in the fairest and most beneficial way possible.”
“Some people make the mistake of wanting to hire a lawyer after an accident because they are angry or upset”, he adds,“this is understandable, but it’s not why you seek legal action. The real issue at stake is the protection of your rights and financial future.”
“You can’t go back and change the fact that an accident occurred, but you can go forward and address the loss, and make sure that loss doesn’t affect what happens next. A good personal injury lawyer will help you answer, what does the future hold? And then help you get there the best way possible.”