What Do We Really Know?
We live in the "information age," with just boundless amounts of information available to us on nearly any subject one could think of or wonder about.
Many potential clients contact me after researching their issue on the Internet. This provides the consumer a wealth of information. A quick glance at nearly any injury attorney's blog or website should yield plenty of "how to" information, from what to do in the event of an accident to how the process of workers' compensation works. This is generally a good development that gives the potential client a head start on understanding the process, the issue they are facing, and a primer on the background of the attorney they are contacting.
Not to play the spoilsport, but this is not always a good thing. Some people, either because we live in a DIY age, or because they used a You Tube video to determine how to change their oil in their car, figure they can learn how to do anything and everything themselves. After all, it saves money, time, and cuts out the "middle man," in this case an attorney.
Why is this not necessarily a good idea?
Well, the example I always use is asking people if they want me to perform brain surgery on them or fix their plumbing. Certainly, you don't want me helping to prepare your income taxes either. There are "experts" and professionals who generally are more knowledgeable and better at doing certain things than the average person, no matter how many books for "dummies" or videos they watch.
There is another reason this is not always a great idea. In the land of personal injury claims, for example, insurance companies and their defense counsel are experts at defending claims. They know everything about how the system works, the lingo, the buzzwords, the time limits, and how to use those to their advantage. You, the consumer, and person who is injured, are not an expert in these areas.
Another reason not to go it alone is that the information out there on the Internet is often skewed, and unless you understand the inherent bias, you will rely upon something that might actually be contrary to your interests. One typical scenario people present is wondering why they have "full coverage" auto insurance but it will not cover them for a specific incident. Many of us have been lead to believe, by the often entertaining commercials for mainline insurance companies, that they are in "good hands" or that because Flo is so friendly, they must be all okay just having bought that insurance. Unfortunately, as in most transactions where a risk assessment is involved, the one assessing the risk has set up the system so that the house usually wins. If you really understand every aspect of your insurance policy, you are clearly one of very few people. The policies, terms, and language used are deliberately meant to be less than obvious to the average person. In short, you may not quite understand what it is you are buying or why one policy is less costly than another. Simply, don't assume you just buy insurance and all is fine. It doesn't work like that. Sometimes it helps to seek out information explaining how it all works. My blog has several posts that explain some of this: https://www.hofflawyer.com/general/why-does-insurance-exist, https://www.hofflawyer.com/uncategorized/revisit-your-insurance-liability-limits, https://www.hofflawyer.com/uncategorized/uninsuredunderinsured-automobile-insurance-what-you-need-to-know-about-your-auto-insurance-policy.
Don't even get me started about what rights you have if you are an injured worker (and this includes you, the sales associate who gets rear ended on the way to an appointment with a customer!). The simple fact is, very few people who are not workers' compensation lawyers can explain what rights an injured worker has, what he is entitled to, or how the process works. In Illinois, while our system is better than many states, it is still very hard to understand with all types of arcane rules and procedures that are completely different from the rest of our civil justice system. It simply is not the same as a trial on television or a car accident case. Further, we are bombarded by at least several newspapers (both print and online) in our state insisting that workers' compensation is bankrupting us and causing businesses to move out. While this makes for great editorials, it simply isn't true. Again, it takes things very few of us know anything about and turns it into a scare tactic. The simple reason we can't DIY here is that, even more than in "simple" auto collision claims, the system is really unknown to us and the people on the other side are experts at it. They aren't there to help you out any more than Flo is going to pay for your damage if you didn't understand what coverage you purchased. My past blog articles have given much comment to the "reform" of our system, as well as how the system works: https://www.hofflawyer.com/uncategorized/work-injuries-in-illinois, https://www.hofflawyer.com/uncategorized/do-i-have-a-personal-injury-or-workers-compensation-case-in-illinois, https://www.hofflawyer.com/uncategorized/the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, https://www.hofflawyer.com/uncategorized/why-you-should-care-about-workers-compensation.
A common question potential clients often ask me, especially in medical malpractice cases, is how much time they have to file a lawsuit. There is much basic information to be found online, but then again there are probably some really great videos on You Tube showing brain surgery, how to build a motorcycle frame, and how to tuckpoint your house. I'm sure there are some people who can master some of these tasks just reading and watching and then applying the lessons. I am also pretty certain there are plenty of us, who, no matter how smart, educated, practical, diligent, and focused, would do some really lousy tuckpointing, motorcycle frame building, and brain surgery. Performing some of these tasks can result in expensive, irreparable damage, sometimes fatal consequences.
It is great to read a great deal before contacting a lawyer but do not rely upon it. Very often, people call me who have gone under the assumption they have more time to file a claim or lawsuit than they do, based upon information they read online.
Keep in mind that not only is information skewed in this day and age--objective information has almost disappeared. Everything you find is produced by someone with some agenda. Television news isn't even truly objective, although many stations try to be. Who is telling the truth, John Boehner or President Obama? Or is it a bit murkier than that in that neither of them is telling unvarnished unfiltered "truth," and both are trying to propel his own agenda? Likewise, information about workers' compensation might be propounded by a union, by a petitioner's attorney, or by an insurance company or an employer. It's pretty easy to see how all of those entities would have at least some bias, isn't it?
The simple premise I am trying to make here is that information is great but, without the expertise to understand it completely, it is also not helpful and may wind up being harmful. You might be able to download a will from Legal Zoom, but you may not quite understand the tax ramifications of a will versus a trust. You might be able to file your own claim for your injuries from an auto collision, but you could derail your claim almost immediately by providing an ill-advised statement.
Don't assume you are an expert at insurance law, workers' compensation, slip and falls, or medical malpractice anymore than you are qualified to be a motorcycle frame builder. And, if you happen to be great at building frames for motorcycles, don't assume you can also perform brain surgery, at least not on me.