First Party Claim - UM Claim - Pay for Lawyer or Small Claims

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Statute of limitations for suing insurance company / resolving claim is in three months.

A few years ago while a broke college student, I was hit by a woman driving and uninsured luxury SUV at a T intersection (young and naive; no police report). I was not at fault and fully insured in my crappy car which I had fully insured. Information was exchanged but it turns out the insurance on the vehicle lapsed over a year. I informed my ins about this, expecting a UM claim. Instead learned other driver lied with BS witness corroborating story. Was materially misled on several occasions by ins co, told that had to accept fault for vehicle to be repaired, etc. No further investigation was carried out. In the end I got statement, phone calls, and video which all were in my favor. Presented this to ins co. Ins co contacted my witness (1+ month after I provided contact info) and said that he was not credible b/c he had mixed up street names. Got crappy lawyer that did absolutely nothing and burned my time to act under personal injury. Lawyer ended up dropping case. Sent complaint to Dept of Ins at which point case was reviewed and liability reversed (no new evidence was provided to prompt this). Submitted demand letter based on crappy attorney. Being lowballed. Lawyers do not want to take case (they say it's not worth it). I want to try to sue in small claims court b/c I never had the money to pay a lawyer at their high hourly rates. Initially, lawyers did not want case because my insurance was holding me at fault.

Dealing with backward insurance has resulted in several damages (depression, grades, pain, loss of income) and the financial situation it put me in was horrible. Though it doesn't seem like a lot, I only worked to survive as I was full time student. I was a PT delivery driver and the diff in deductible was over half my rent. No outside support. Unable to use car and city I am in is largest in country with no public transport (there was no viable/comparable/equitable employment alternative due to schedule and pay rate)

Can now afford to pay lawyer somewhat, but would only do this if seeking punitive damages and trial (expensive). What are thoughts on the best plan of action? I know I have very few options.

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What is it you are currently out right now in terms of damages? Did you pay to repair the damages? Did you pay a deductible?
Who is it that currently owes you (or you believe owes you) compensation?

How much are you trying to collect in total and on what grounds for that amount?

At this point if all you are out is a deductible and some attorney fees, and those amounts fall within the limits of small claims, I would say go that route.
You are likely not going to get a dime on the grounds that this situation got you depressed and therefore your grades and mental health suffered.
You can probably claim lost wages due to not having a vehicle and can use your lack of transportation as part of the sob story as a student who had trouble commuting (but don't expect compensation for the latter).

You are just going to sink more money into a lawyer at this point. If they are telling you it is not worth it, it means you aren't going to collect a heck of a lot - so try the small claims option.

No offense, but let me know if I get it right:
1) The police report didn't support you asserting not-at-fault
2) Your insurance company didn't believe you. Your witness screwed up the street names (probably the directions) and they didn't believe the witness. So you've got driver vs driver and the other driver has a witness that is credible.

I think I'd stop there and accept the screwing.. Unless:
The police report doesn't indicate fault and your "witness" would be more credible in a small claims court setting. If so, sue the other driver... You're already down one point since your own insurance company found for the other driver.

The modern American jury system is not set up to pay people a bunch of money for attempting to establish a causation nexus between a non-injury car accident legal situation and bad grades.

It sounds like a real uphill battle.
First, it does not sound like you had any serious physical injuries and so a recovery even under perfect conditions will not be large.
Second, the more explaining the incident/your damages or other related things need the less money you get and you gave a lot of explanation and I am still wanting more.
Third, unless you have a good bad faith claim against your own insurer there will be no punitive damages based on what you have described.
Four, it appears no lawyer wants your case on a contingency basis and you appear to have made more than minimal efforts to find one. This says something about what professionals think of the liklihood of success and/or value of your claims and it is not good for you.
Finally, best plan of action is if you are intent on pursuing this, make a small claim in your local jurisdiction for the max allowed and you may get some of what you ask for.

Will you win? No idea. Will it make you feel better? No idea. Will it be worth the hassle. No idea.

This is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice, seek the advice of local counsel of your choosing to explore your options in a timely fashion, delay may bar your claim.

Let it go and move on with your life.
You have your health.

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