When to Hire a Lawyer

People tend to stay away from lawyers because they perceive them to be expensive, however, in ICBC claims they are a necessary component of the claim

An individual injured in a car accident is faced with the issue of whether to hire a lawyer. People tend to stay away from lawyers because of the perception that they are expensive. However, in the case of ICBC claims, often they are a necessary component of the claim.

If ICBC was prepared to offer full value of the claim to unrepresented claimants, then there would be a lot less lawyers practicing in personal injury litigation. However, since most ICBC adjusters are trying to keep their “severities” (the amount they pay per claim) down you are very unlikely to get an offer from ICBC that represents the full value of the claim. Hence, using a lawyer almost always gets you more money at the end of the claim than without a lawyer, despite paying lawyer fees.

In some situations, hiring a lawyer immediately after the accident is important. Some of the circumstances include:

  1. The death of a family member in the car accident;
  2. A serious injury requiring hospitalization;
  3. Where liability for the accident is in question and you suffered moderate to severe injuries;
  4. Where the injuries, at first blush, appear to be potentially categorized by ICBC as a “minor injury” and you need legal advice to avoid ICBC trapping you into that categorization unfairly; OR
  5. Where there is an anticipation of permanent injury to you resulting in a loss of future earning or the need for future care.

The reason being, the lawyer needs to carry out early investigation before evidence is lost and, the lawyer needs to obtain a series of expert reports later in the case to ensure that the claim is fully developed.  Further, the advice given by a lawyer throughout the early stages of the case is helpful in ensuring you are heading in the right direction to best document your injuries and in the case of a potentially “minor injury”, helpful to avoid pitfalls that will allow ICBC to place the case into the “minor injury” category.

Although your lawyer will be paid for his/her services, in most cases, the lawyer will obtain an offer from ICBC well more than what you can do on your own. Therefore, in almost all cases, except clear “minor injuries” under the ICBC no-fault scheme, you are likely to yield a greater net recovery with a lawyer, after you pay him/her legal fees, then you can get without a lawyer. Also, you have the peace of mind that you are getting a reasonable offer from ICBC and further, you can avoid having to deal directly with ICBC.

There are injury claims for which it may not be beneficial to hire a lawyer. For example, if you have suffered an injury which only lasts for a few months without time off work, you generally don’t need a lawyer especially for accidents after April 1, 2019 when your pain and suffering award is capped at $5,500, adjusted for inflation. In these types of “minor injury” claims, you can easily settle out with an adjuster as the cap on pain and suffering is so low.

Where you now definitely need a lawyer is in cases that have been unfairly categorized by ICBC as a “minor injury” and you need to proceed to the CRT to seek a removal of the case from the “minor injury” classification. The problem you will face, however, is finding a lawyer that will work on the case on a contingency fee basis if the prospects are low that the case will be removed from the “minor injury” category. The simple reason is that it is uneconomic for a law firm to run a CRT case to the tribunal and lose. Therefore, law firms will do a risk analysis of the chance of success and if the chance of success is low it is unlikely a law firm will take the risk. In the result, the expectation is the new ICBC no-fault scheme has undermined the ability for the average citizen to get legal representation and so many injured victims will be at the mercy of ICBC to be fair and reasonable on their categorization of claims.

Most lawyers will provide a free consultation, so it is worth your effort to attend a lawyer’s office and get a general idea of the value of your case and the lawyer’s assessment of whether an offer from ICBC is reasonable. Also, the lawyer can easily tell you if a “minor injury” categorization is reasonable or should be disputed.

In summary, the system has evolved to the point where using a lawyer is often a necessary requirement to getting a fair settlement for your claim. There are, of course, some exceptions where an adjuster will offer full value without legal representation, particularly in clearly “minor injuries”.