Do I Need a Lawyer?
You do not need a lawyer to claim compensation for an injury or to seek no fault benefits. However, in many circumstances it is strongly recommended.
As a general rule the more serious your injuries are and the greater their impact on your life, the greater the need to seek legal advice from an experienced BC personal injury lawyer.
There is nothing in law that requires you to hire a lawyer when dealing with ICBC or even when you go to court. However, if you choose not to hire a lawyer or seek legal advice, it is very important that you make an informed decision.
ICBC will appoint an adjuster to your claim. This person works for ICBC, not you. The adjuster’s job is to resolve your claim for a fair amount from ICBC’s point of view, not yours.
ICBC adjusters are experienced. They deal with injury claims day in and day out. They know the value of injury claims and are sophisticated negotiators.
If you hire a lawyer he or she must do the following:
- act solely in your best interests.
- advise you how to protect your rights.
- attempt to obtain a fair settlement from your perspective, not ICBC’s.
- collect all the evidence concerning your motor vehicle collision,
- obtain proper medical information explaining the full extent of your injuries
- decide what full and proper compensation should be for your case.
If your lawyer cannot settle your case then it is his/her job to take your case to court so you can obtain full and fair compensation according to law.
Hiring a lawyer does not mean that you have to go to court. In fact, less that 1% of all ICBC claims end up in the court-room.
If you are unsure about whether to hire a lawyer, it is important to know that many very experienced BC personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations. It is typically a good idea to obtain legal advice from a lawyer with experience in personal injury claims as soon as possible after a motor vehicle collision, to arm yourself with knowledge with respect to limitation periods and other important matters. After a comprehensive consultation you will be in a better position to decide if you should hire a lawyer.
In personal injury insurance claims, you have the right to pay your lawyer on a “contingency fee” basis. This is simply a percentage basis. If you recover nothing in your claim, you should pay your lawyer nothing. Similarly, if you are successful, and your lawyer recovers money for you from ICBC, then the amount you pay him/her will be a percentage of the money recovered on your behalf. Typically, contingency fees in British Columbia range anywhere from 20 to 33.3 percent.
Discuss the question of legal fees with your lawyer on the first visit to his office and take the time you need to fully understand the fee contract.
If you like, you can pay your lawyer in the conventional way: on an hourly rate. The choice is yours.
If you agree to pay your lawyer on the “contingency fee” basis, then all the expenses which your lawyer will incur in the prosecution of your claim –– Court Registry fees, expert reports, cost of medical records and the like –– are typically financed by the law firm. These expenses, known as “disbursements”, can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, sometimes even tens of thousands of dollars.
It is important to find out who will be responsible for the ultimate cost of these disbursements if they cannot be recovered from ICBC. Some lawyers will deduct the cost of disbursements from their final fee if these cannot be collected as part of the final settlement.
If you have hired your lawyer on a “contingency fee” basis, his fees are paid at the time he collects your money from the insurance company, and not before. If you hire your lawyer on an hourly basis, then normally the lawyer would send you interim accounts for immediate payment. Typically a lawyer working on an hourly basis will request a retainer. This is a sum of money that acts as security that will be used to cover a lawyer’s anticipated upcoming bills.
There are laws and rules in place designed to specifically safeguard members of the public in their relationship with their lawyer. Specifically, the Rules of the Law Society of BC provide that, subject to the Court approving a higher amount, the maximum compensation to which a lawyer is entitled in a claim for personal injury or wrongful death arising from the use or operation of a motor vehicle is 33.33%. Most lawyers will not charge this amount except for the most complicated cases or if multiple steps need to be taken to bring a claim to a satisfactory resolution.
Furthermore, the law built in a 90 day cooling off period to ensure people are satisfied with the fee agreements they enter into. After hiring a lawyer, you may apply within 90 days to a District Registrar of the Supreme Court of BC to have the agreement reviewed. If the Registrar agrees that the fee agreement is too high it will be reduced!