Is Your Case Too Small For A Lawyer To Handle?-ORS 20.080

I was having lunch with a chiropractor yesterday and somehow we began to speak about the viability of representation for people with soft tissue injuries and only a couple of months of chiropractic treatment.   Most people that have soft tissue injuries and a few months of treatment think that their case is too small for a lawyer.  As a result, they are left without representation.  This leaves them at the mercy of the insurance adjuster.

Insurance companies prey on these unrepresented people.  The adjusters do their best to convince them that soft tissue damages don't merit compensation. The insurance adjuster will repeat the fact that there isn't any major damage to the vehicles.   The adjuster will diminish the impact by claiming it is a mere fender bender with only $1,000.00 in property damage.   These are the obvious tactics the adjuster uses to convince people they have no case.  The adjuster has been trained to try and convince people that if the vehicles involved in the crash are not damaged then a person couldn't be injured.

 The bad driver's insurance company will often offer a few hundred dollars and say what ever it takes to get you to resolve the case.  Many times the insurance adjuster on a small case will be very friendly at first.  However, the insurance adjuster's mood will quickly sour once you don't accept their first couple of offers.   People injured in car crashes shouldn't have to deal with that.  That is where a lawyer can help.

 

The question then becomes, How does a lawyer get paid in a small soft tissue case? Luckily Oregon law has the answer.  Oregon Law (ORS 20.080) is often referred to as the "small case statute."  This is a fantastic law that has assisted many Oregonians obtain maximum compensation for their injuries.  The law was enacted, because many insurance companies take advantage of unrepresented injured people with cases that are not worth more than a few thousand dollars.   Prior to the law, insurance companies knew that a lawyer couldn't make money on a small case, so the insurance company didn't have to make a fair offer.  Basically the insurance company could do whatever they wanted with the offer without fear of being held accountable by facing a lawsuit.   Then ORS 20.080 was enacted and it all changed.

ORS 20.080 basically states that people that have been injured by another person can make a written demand to the at fault party and the at fault party's insurance company.  The letter will be sent with any medical records, bills, or other records to assist the insurance company in evaluating the claim.  The injured person will also let the at fault party and their insurance company know they have 30 days to meet the injured person's demand of no more than $10,000.00 or they will be sued.  

The ball is then in the at fault party's insurance company's hands.  It then becomes an issue with what offer, if any, the insurance company will make within the 30 days.  ORS 20.080 was drafted with the intent to force insurance companies to make their top offer in the thirty days, so there usually is not much negotiating that should occur.  

If the insurance company makes an offer then you have some choices. If you like the offer then you can accept it, if not then you can do nothing or counter-offer.  If you do nothing and file a lawsuit and beat the insurance company's last offer at any time then then the insurance company has to pay your costs and attorney fees in addition to any award or judgment you receive from the court or arbitrator.

For example, say a person is in a car crash.  The person suffers soft tissue injuries and treats with a chiropractor for 2 months..  The person sends out a written demand letter and medical records and bills to the at fault party and the at fault party's insurance company.   The insurance company makes an offer of $900.00 to the injured party and claims it is their "top offer."  If the injured person accepts that offer, then the attorney might be entitled to a third of it ($300.00) to pay the attorney fees.  This would mean the injured person obtains $600.00.

However, if the injured person then files a lawsuit against the bad driver the injured person can obtain much more.   If, the case proceeds to arbitration and the arbitrator awards the injured person a penny more than $900.00 then the injured person should receive $900.01.  The insurance company then has to pay the injured person's costs and attorney fees separately.  Usually the insurance company has to pay thousands of dollars in attorney fees and costs.

ORS 20.080's power is derived from insurance companies fear it will be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees for a small case valued at less than $10,000.  That provides the incentive for the insurance adjuster to make a good offer prior to litigation.  This also provides an incentive for people like myself to represent people with small cases under $10,000.00.  

 Unfortunately, many insurance companies still try and take advantage of unrepresented people.  Insurance companies also try and low-ball pre-lawsuit offers even when a person is represented.  An attorney in these situations can help you navigate the system and do their best to assert your rights to obtain maximum compensation for your injuries.  Even if you think your case is too small, I strongly suggest you contact a lawyer. 

If you have more questions about a small case where you were injured or your property was damaged by the negligence of another, please call Portland Personal Injury Attorney Jeremiah Ross.  I am always happy to chat with people to discuss whether or not a lawyer may be of assistance to them, and what their rights are.  Ross Law LLC is happy to provide a free personal injury consultation.  Please call Ross Law LLC at 503.224.1658.   Please note that different attorneys have different fee agreements with their clients.   The above example is based on the typical arrangement I have with my personal injury clients.  However another Oregon Attorney may do it differently.