The are many reasons why someone might wish to represent themselves in their personal injury claim rather than engaging a lawyer. Despite a lawyer’s primary duty to act in the best interests of the client, there is sometimes mistrust and a fear that the lawyer may overcharge for their services. When it comes to personal injury claims, that fear shouldn’t be a major concern considering the 50/50 rule which applies to all No Win No Fee law firms in Queensland.
But an injured victim may feel that even without a lawyer a judge will hear them, understand them, and award them with the appropriate amount of compensation for their injuries – especially in circumstances where the at-fault party admitted liability.
Unfortunately, that expectation was not realised by Mr James Crane who opted to represent himself in the District Court following a motor vehicle accident in 2011.
Case Report – Mr Crane and his injuries sustained in a motor vehicle collision which was not his fault
Mr Crane was injured in a motor vehicle collision on 9 March 2011. He was the driver of a car into which another car violently collided. Mr Crane was not at fault. The defendant insurance company, Allianz Australia (CTP insurer) admitted liability. Because liability wasn’t in dispute, the trial was confined to the amount of damages which should be awarded to Mr Crane.
On the surface, having liability admitted may have provided a comfort to Mr Crane in that he was confident that he would win the trial (which we note was held 7 years later).
Mr Crane acted for himself. His statement of claim sought damages of $276,000. At the trial, Mr Crane asserted that his claim represented only about one-half of his actual losses.
The court reported that Mr Crane was 53 years old at the date of the accident. He had been receiving a Centrelink disability support pension for many years.
The Judge said that Mr Crane was “a most unsatisfactory witness” and that he:
- was often argumentative;
- seemed to be offended by having to prove his claim for damages;
- disputed the relevance of many of the defendant barrister’s questions;
- accused Allianz of treating him unfairly;
- disputed the accuracy of various things which were recorded in the tendered medical reports;
- denied suffering from schizophrenia despite evidence showing he had unfortunately suffered the disorder since 1995; and
- told the court that at the time of the accident, he was working three jobs and earned around $2,000/wk despite having no proof of this work, and telling a psychiatrist under a prior examination that he had not worked since around the time of his diagnosis in 1995.
The Judge explained to Mr Crane on a number of occasions that he was the plaintiff and that although liability had been admitted, he bore the onus of proving his claims for monetary damages, on the balance of probabilities. However Mr Crane seemed reluctant to accept that.
Case Citation: Crane v Boyd and Allianz Australia Insurance Ltd  QDC 177.
At a trial, evidence is required to substantiate any claim – no matter how obvious the injuries may be to the injured person. Identifying and preparing the right evidence is absolutely critical.
Remarkably to the Judge, Mr Crane did not produce or tender a single document to support his claim. He said that he did have some supporting documents but they (and various other unspecified items) were in storage however declined the opportunity to collect them during the trial.
As part of Mr Crane’s claim for $276,000, Mr Crane claimed $5,000 for costs incurred in relation to his injures. He gave evidence that the costs comprised of
- the costs of catching taxis “to get somewhere”
- “seeing doctors every month for the last seven years”, and
- his time away from jobsites.
However, because his general assertions were not particularised or supported by any tendered documentation, the Judge rejected his claim for costs.
There was no evidence of any other losses.
On the other hand, the defendant submitted two expert medical reports which went unchecked by Mr Crane and which the Judge accepted having no alternative reports to consider. If Mr Crane was represented by a good personal injury lawyer – he would have had the benefit of tendering his own expert medical reports which would no doubt have been more favourable.
Because the only aspect of Mr Crane’s claim for damages which was able to be proven with evidence was the assessment of general damages (also known as ‘pain and suffering’) of a meagre $2,360. All other aspects of Mr Crane’s claim were not established on the balance of probabilities.
To add insult to injury, the Judge ordered Mr Crane to pay the legal fees of Allianz which were fixed at $36,952.95. Judges may do this in particular circumstances where a defendant makes a reasonable offer to the plaintiff to avoid the need for a trial, but the plaintiff rejected it – causing both parties further time and expense. If you are self-represented, you do not have the benefit of being provided legal advice about the reasonableness of offers which are presented to you, and the financial risks of forcing a trial.
Overall, Mr Crane’s efforts from self-representing resulted in a net negative -$34,592.95 judgement.
(It is not clear whether Allianz actually chased Mr Crane for him to pay their legal fees, but it is clear that Mr Crane would have left the trial without receiving any money at all for his claim.)
Is it worth hiring a personal injury lawyer?
Other than the reasons contained in this article, statistics show that engaging a personal injury lawyer will result in higher compensation. Data published by the Motor Accident Insurance Commission suggest that injured victims receive average payouts of $90,000 if they use a lawyer but only $8,000 if they don’t.
Even after accounting for legal fees, you are going to be much better off for having engaged a personal injury lawyer to represent you to prepare your case properly, with all the appropriate evidence required to maximise your entitlements.
Once a claim is settled, you cannot make a second claim for the same injury down the track – so it is important to do it right the first time. In the circumstances of Mr Crane, an appeal could potentially have been filed – however because the process is incredibly expensive and uncertain, the need for such should be avoided whenever possible.
A personal injury lawyer is typically able to progress your matter in a much more timely fashion than would be possible if self-representing. Resolving the dispute and moving on with your life is often a key part of your recovery.