From time to time, I get questions from readers about various legal topics. In this article, I will address several of these questions.
Question: I was cheated by a car dealership. They sold me a car that had been in a prior serious crash but told me that the car had never been damaged. I can’t afford to hire a lawyer. What should I do? Signed Don H.; Encinitas
Answer: Don; I’m sorry to hear about your experience with the car dealership. Fortunately, you do have options. One option is to go to small claims court which now has an upper limit of $7,500 and does not require the use of a lawyer. In fact, you are not allowed to use a lawyer to represent you in court. You may consult with a lawyer before going to small claims court to make sure that all your ducks are lined up and your evidence is in an easy to understand and effective package.
Another option allows you to hire a lawyer without paying any money up front. Many lawyers who specialize in the area of consumer fraud or personal injury offer different types of contingency fee agreements. This means that the lawyer’s fee is contingent on winning the case and obtaining money or other things of value. Only then, does the lawyer get paid a fee. Many of these agreements give the lawyer a percentage of the amount of the money received. These percentages vary depending on the type of case and the complexity of the legal issues.
A third option is a variation of the contingency fee agreement. There are consumer laws that require the bad guys to pay your lawyer’s fees if you win your case. These are called “fee shifting” laws or provisions. A good example of this type of law is found in Civil Code section 1780 which is a part of
the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, or the CLRA for short. The provision that makes the other side pay your attorney fees is written as follows:
“(d) The court shall award court costs and attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff in litigation filed pursuant to this section.”
You’ll notice that the language specifically refers to a prevailing plaintiff and not a prevailing defendant. The plaintiff is usually the one who has been cheated or ripped off, such as you described in your question. This law is one sided and geared toward protecting consumers, hence the reference to fee shifting. So, just because you do not have money to give to a lawyer up front, does not mean that you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent you in certain types of cases. You may not need any money up front.
Question: My own insurance company is giving me a hard time on an uninsured motorist claim I filed when I got hurt by an uninsured driver. They say I couldn’t have been hurt as bad as I was and that I got too much treatment. They’re refusing to pay for any of my medical bills. What can I do? Marla P.; Vista
Answer: First, think about hiring a lawyer to help you with this matter. This is typically something that lawyers will handle on a contingency fee arrangement as I’ve described above. Uninsured motorist claims can be tricky. However, since you are dealing with your own insurance company, they have a duty to treat you fairly and in good faith. If they do not, they may be held responsible for not treating you fairly which may be a separate case, over and above your claim for injuries that resulted from the crash with the uninsured driver. We recently handled a case for an elderly woman against her own insurance company. They refused to treat her fairly and refused to pay any insurance money when she was injured.
We ended up getting her a very substantial recovery over and above what we would’ve gotten just for her injuries.
As for your specific case, make sure you put everything in writing and do not talk with the insurance company on the telephone.
Make them either write you letters or e-mails putting their contentions that you “weren’t hurt as bad as you claim and that you are getting too much treatment” in writing. Make them state in writing the exact facts or reasons upon which they are relying when making these outrageous statements.
Do they have a doctor telling them that you weren’t hurt? I highly doubt it.
It’s usually some rookie insurance adjuster who is following a script given to them by their bosses to try and intimidate you into settling your case for less than its actually worth.
My advice would be to hire a lawyer immediately.
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