Navigating the legal system on your own is tricky. When facing a legal situation, the average person is scared and uninformed, which increases the likelihood of making bad decisions. These bad decisions can lead to spending more time in jail, higher fines, and other penalties. Avoid selling yourself short in these four common (but serious) legal situations:
1. Settlement negotiations
Anytime you negotiate a settlement, you’re dealing with experienced lawyers and claims adjusters on the other end. If negotiating legal claims isn’t your career, the odds are inherently stacked against you. Even if you’re a fantastic negotiator, you’ll be in over your head.
There’s more to negotiating a settlement than getting someone to give you more money. For instance, if you’ve been injured in a car accident, getting a claims adjuster to offer you the highest possible settlement might do more harm than good.
Never accept the first settlement offer in a car accident claim
The first settlement offer you get might look generous, but don’t accept it right away. Insurance companies know accident victims are in a vulnerable position, and will offer the lowest possible amount. Even negotiating the highest possible settlement with a claims adjuster isn’t necessarily a victory. The amount they’re allowed to offer may not cover all of your expenses, especially if you accept the settlement before all of your symptoms show up.
If you feel fine after an accident, don’t assume you haven’t sustained any injuries. Some injuries, including whiplash, don’t show symptoms right away. If you feel okay, you’ll be tempted to accept the first offer you get, thinking you won’t need extensive medical care. A week later, you might discover the need for medical care and time off work, but it will be too late to get more compensation. You can’t go back to the insurance company and ask for more, and once you’ve accepted a settlement, you lose the right to sue. You’ll end up paying for your medical bills out of pocket, and won’t be able to recover your lost income.
Always heed the advice of your lawyer in out-of-court settlements
If you’ve filed a lawsuit against a person or a business, your lawyer is going to do everything they can to settle the case out of court. Court cases are tiresome, expensive, and time-consuming for everyone involved. In the end, you may only recover enough money to pay your lawyer’s fees and break even.
Your lawyer will know if your case is worth pursuing in court, or if it’s best to settle. Always heed their advice. Don’t reject a fair settlement offer out of greed.
2. Criminal proceedings
Your parents (hopefully) taught you not to lie. As an adult, it might seem dishonest to plead not guilty to a crime you did commit, even when that plea is advised by your lawyer. Pleading not guilty isn’t so much about declaring your innocence to the court as it is about navigating the complex arena of sentencing; it’s a strategy. Pleading not guilty allows you to have a trial, and depending on the jury, your sentencing may be reduced, and you might get the chance to enter into a plea bargain.
3. Being approached by law enforcement for open carry
If you’re going to open carry, make sure you know your state and municipal laws, including restrictions and pending legislation. Don’t assume the constitution gives you the right to open carry because someone on YouTube said so. People are frequently detained and arrested for unknowingly breaking open carry laws.
The laws surrounding open carry are complex. Forty-five U.S. states allow open carry to some degree, although there are restrictions. For instance, New York and South Carolina only allow long guns (rifles and shotguns) to be carried openly, while Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey only allow handguns to be carried openly. Fifteen states require a permit or license for open carry, and eight states restrict how, when, and where you can open carry. Some municipalities have more restrictions than the state; for example, Pennsylvania doesn’t require a license to open carry, but Philadelphia does.
4. Workplace rules
At work, you’re being paid to dress, look, act, and perform according to company standards. You’re there to represent the company, not to express yourself.
It’s a common misunderstanding that freedom of speech applies at work. The First Amendment bars the restriction of expression, but it’s not absolute. The First Amendment only protects you from government actions. The police can’t arrest you for wearing a political t-shirt, but your boss can fire you for expressing political affiliations on a t-shirt.
Always proceed with caution
The bottom line is that attempting to move through any legal situation without full knowledge of the law is a bad idea. Get legal counsel for unfamiliar territory, and heed their advice in the face of uncertainty.
Photo is pixabay creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Jamie is a freelance writer who covers trends in business, technology, and health. She loves to go skiing, camping, and rock climbing with her family.