RTL’s Real Truth About the Law # 4: Why Contacting a Good Attorney ‘Before’ Is So Much Better than ‘After’
Why call an attorney BEFORE your insurance company after an accident? This answer should be readily apparent, but I am continually surprised by the number of cases I see that get compromised from the very start because of this basic pitfall. And time and again I have conversations “after the fact” with people who don’t realize how much they truly reduce their chances of recovery by giving “off the cuff” explanations of an accident as their first call to their insurance company. And that’s simply another real truth about the law.
The ‘Truth’… What Do We ‘Really’ ‘Know’?
When I was an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi, my favorite kickoff subject to incoming freshmen was “Truth – What Do We ‘Really’ ‘Know’?”. Remember, the ‘truth’ is not a self-evident concept. There is no such thing as ‘immaculate conception’ (a favorite paraphrase of philosophy professors). What we ‘know’ in any given situation is a synthesis of differing points of view and perceptions taken as a collective where information is both included and excluded. We ‘include’ what we think is reliable and we ‘exclude’ what we think is unreliable.
And… It’s Not Just ‘Philosophical’
But it actually goes farther than just a ‘philosophical’ question. Because even when synthesized, the ‘truth’ isn’t simply a ‘cut and dry’ idea of our personal beliefs. That’s because our ideas of ‘truth’ often have impact beyond simply our own impressions. They can directly impact how we run a business or parent our children and, as such, impact others in ways that can be beneficial or detrimental. It’s a product of a process of validation where how ‘right’ we are is measured in large part by the consequences of our own decisions.
Why ‘Conflicts of Interest” Are So Important
But in a situation with competing interests, it’s even more complex, because each side is looking to ‘stack the deck’, either consciously or subconsciously, to serve their own interests. It’s the classic condition of a ‘conflict of interest’ and it’s why attorneys cannot represent clients with whom their own personal interests conflict with that of the client’s. It’s a judgment call for lawyers in many regards, but attorneys are wise to err on the side of caution anytime a client’s interest could be compromised by an attorney’s personal connection to a legal matter. It’s wise because, as an advocate, an attorney must ‘put himself in his client’s shoes’ as much as he can in the most basic exercise of what the ‘power of attorney’ represents. In a ‘conflict of interest’ situation, the ‘truth’ is never a ‘self evident’ concept. It always requires uncompromised advocates on both sides to be sure both sides are equally represented.
When Is a Fight a ‘Good’ Fight; When It’s a ‘Fair’ Fight
I know it’s hard sometimes to hear ‘lawyers’ and ‘fair’ in the same sentence… but that’s actually exactly the point. Zealous advocates in a debate insure that all interests are adequately represented. It ‘levels the playing field’ to a ‘fair’ contest. The court system is based on this premise and it is that court system into which your claim will enter to be judged. It’s not about what ‘really happened’ as that is a naive concept for the reasons already mentioned. It’s about what people ‘say’ happened (testimony), and all such accounts will be made by flawed human beings ‘recalling’ their ‘version’ of the ‘facts’. What ‘facts’ get emphasized depends in large part by who is doing the emphasizing. A ‘fair’ outcome is where both sides are advocated with equal weight such that the errors and shortcomings of both are made known by the other side.
‘Truth’ And ‘Justice’
Folks often remark about how the American justice system is flawed when it comes to seeking the ‘truth’. But, in actuality, it is our concept of ‘truth’ and how it is determined that is most often the culprit. Courts don’t seek their own ‘version’ of the ‘truth’. They simply try to refine the process of getting to the ‘truth’ as much as possible to assure fair outcomes. That can become a very tedious endeavor indeed when rule upon rule is established to cover all the contingencies for a given issue. And like it or not, that requires advocates, and it is not a system into which you wish to be entering without a good one. If it were not so, there would be no need for attorneys… And as pleasant as that imagining may seem, there must be some reason there are so many of them (mostly bad) making so much money (a lot of it undeserved)… Did I say that…?
A Claim Negotiation Is Not a ‘Pleasant Conversation’ – It’s a War for the ‘Truth’
In any court battle (and don’t kid yourself; your claim IS a battle) an insurance company will ‘line up’ the facts to benefit them the greatest. It’s what any good ‘for profit’ business would do. Don’t you want to ‘line up’ yours too…? They will have experts whose professional careers and consequent experience are based on maximizing their company profits. Don’t you want someone advocating for you from the same position of strength…? Do you really want to go into such an exchange completely unarmed? Do you really want to rely on an insurance company’s promise to ‘take care of you’ when that very company has a vested profit motive in exactly the opposite…? Put as simply as possible… do you really want to leave the fox in charge of the hen-house…?
What This Ultimately Means to You
So, why is it so important to have legal representation BEFORE you contact an insurance company? Simply because your accident has now inherently created an adversarial relationship with a business institution that has a vested economic interest in reducing or rejecting your claim. That is a classic ‘conflict of interest’ scenario. Such a company will use your initial contact and conversation as possibly it’s only chance to glean the information they need, which they are counting on to be incorrect, to deny your claim. They can do this precisely because, as an unrepresented claimant, you are unknowingly willing to give information against your own claim, often inaccurate inconsistencies, that an insurance company can then use as your ‘facts’. And this is done simply by asking you to relay your ‘off the cuff’ subjective and unintentionally inaccurate recollections to them without benefit of an advocate to warn you that you are, unknowingly, destroying your own chances of recovery!
Insure that your claim profits YOU, not the insurance company. Don’t make the mistake of handling any part of an accident claim, no matter how ‘insignificant’ you may ‘think’ it is, without sound legal representation. A good attorney can often increase a good claim by several fold. And if you think that’s ‘windfall’, then it just goes to show how little people realize the true ‘value’ of an average accident claim. And when you settle for less, it’s your money you’re leaving on the table. Never settle for less than you deserve. And that’s simply another real truth about the law.