Do I need a lawyer?
When dealing with ICBC, the answer is probably.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will not only have experience with the litigation process and the many pitfalls that can occur, but they will have experience dealing with ICBC.
The downside to hiring a lawyer is that you will have to pay them. The majority of personal injury claims arising from a motor vehicle accident are done by contingency. What this means is that the lawyer does not get paid until a settlement is reached. The lawyer then gets a percentage of that settlement. Lawyers in British Columbia can charge a maximum of 1/3 for personal for personal injury claims. However, typically, lawyers will charge less than that.
Price alone should not dictate which lawyer you choose. Typically, a good lawyer will be able to get you a better settlement. For example, a lawyer charging 30% who is able to negotiate a settlement of $50,000 will leave you with higher compesnsation than a lawyer charging 25% who is only able to negotiate a settlement of $40,000.
A major advantage to the injured party of the contingency agreement scenario is that the lawyer will typically fund the “disbursements”. Disbursements are the expenses of running the litigation. These can be quite high, as it may be necessary to hire multiple expert witnesses. In order for a plaintiff to build their case, they will need to provide ICBC with expert reports, which may, in turn, cause ICBC to increase their payout as they see increased risk if your matter was to proceed to trial. More expensive experts such as engineers or neuropsychologists can charge $10,000 or more for a single report. A more complex case will require 10 or more experts to be hired.
Additionally, the act of hiring a lawyer alone may change the way ICBC views your case. ICBC – and litigants in general – may view an injured party who does not hire a lawyer as less willing to pursue their lawsuit. When a party is viewed this way, it creates less incentive for ICBC to offer a higher settlement.
There are some situations where it may not be necessary to hire a lawyer. These would be injury cases involving relatively minor motor vehicle accidents and injuries – injuries that produce no wage loss and are very temporary. In such cases, a fair settlement might only be in the range of $3,000 to $5,000, and the advantages of hiring a lawyer vs. the cost become decreased. Even then, it never hurts to speak with a lawyer. The majority of personal injury lawyers (including myself) will provide free initial consultations.
However, it may be worth it to hire a lawyer for the mere fact that once you do hire a lawyer to represent you for a personal injury claim arising from a motor vehicle accident, the other party and their representation – usually ICBC – will no longer be able to contact you directly. All communication will have to go through your lawyer.