When to Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident
Getting into a car accident puts you at the mercy of insurance companies, especially if your car gets damaged or you sustain injuries from the crash. Unfortunately, even if it’s clear who the liable party is and the insurance company agrees to settle without a dispute, it may offer you unfair compensation.
As for-profit organizations, insurance companies prioritize minimizing losses. This means there’s always a possibility of leaving money on the table.
Insurance providers have experience dealing with cases similar to yours, and, chances are, the adjuster assigned to your case is particularly skilled in negotiating similar car accident claims. In addition, the insurer likely has a team of experienced defense attorneys ready to fight any lawsuit brought against their client.
With the cards stacked against you, negotiating a compensation claim alone can be downright intimidating. Having an attorney on your side is key to ensuring you have the professional expertise to match the insurance company’s resources.
However, there are instances when hiring an attorney may not be necessary.
- If no one gets injured from the crash; or
- If the accident is minor and results only in property damage
When to Get an Attorney for a Car Accident
Generally, when a car accident results in substantial damage, necessitating personal injury claims, several laws come into effect.
For instance, to secure compensation from the at-fault party’s insurer, you must prove the elements of negligence with evidence. This entails demonstrating that the at-fault party owed you a duty of care, which they breached, leading to the crash that caused your injuries and the resulting damages.
Gathering relevant evidence to prove the at-fault party’s liability can be an involved process. The risk of losing evidence after an accident is also apparent, especially if you don’t have someone to guide you. For example, surveillance footage that could help show how the accident happened may be deleted by the owner if you fail to request its preservation.
An attorney will gather and preserve the evidence to secure the settlement you deserve.
You need an attorney if:
- You sustained substantial injuries from the car accident
- The accident was due to someone else’s negligence
- Insurance company offers a low-ball settlement
- The at-fault party’s insurer rejects your claim
- There’s more than one at-fault party
- Your loved one dies after the car accident
If You Sustained Substantial Injuries From the Car Accident
If you suffer serious injuries as a result of a car accident, including spinal cord damage, severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), broken limb, you may require prolonged treatment and may lose time at work for an extended period. This would call for a higher settlement amount, factoring in current and future medical costs and loss of wages. In this case, an attorney can help you prove negligence and estimate your total costs to negotiate a fair settlement.
The Accident Was Due to Someone Else’s Negligence
As previously mentioned, getting into an accident caused by someone else’s negligence is not enough to warrant compensation from their insurer.
You have to prove:
- Duty – You must demonstrate the at-fault party owed you a duty of care
- Breach – The at-fault party must have breached their duty of care, causing the accident
- Causation – The accident must be the direct cause of your injuries
- Damages – Your injuries must have resulted in substantial damages
Additionally, states have varying rules on what compensation you can receive when both parties share some fault for the accident.
Given these rules and varying requirements, having an attorney becomes essential. They can gather and prepare evidence to prove the liable party’s fault and counter any false allegations brought against you to weaken your case or deny you compensation.
Insurance Company Offers a Low-ball Settlement
Sometimes an insurer may contact you shortly after an accident with a settlement offer, even before you send in your demand letter. In most cases, this first settlement offer does not reflect the value of your damages.
The offer might be tempting, especially if you’re cash-pressed due to high medical expenses and lost wages. Unfortunately, accepting the first offer is rarely in the claimant’s best interests since the funds may run out before you fully recover. Again, unless you have consulted an expert to help you calculate your current and future losses, it is extremely difficult to tell if an offer is fair.
That’s why it is important to have an attorney experienced in negotiating similar car accident claims, evaluate the offer, and determine whether it’s fair.
The At-Fault Party’s Insurer Rejects the Claim
An insurance company may reject an insurance claim. If the insurance adjuster believes your evidence is too weak to satisfy the four elements of negligence, or if you submit the demand past the claim deadline, it may deny your claim.
An attorney may find stronger evidence to support your claim.
If you miss the deadline, you can’t do much unless your lawyer finds an applicable exception, such as if the defendant left the state.
Generally, consulting an attorney immediately after an accident is always recommended. Even if you delay contacting an attorney and the claim gets rejected, it’s never too late to have the case reviewed by a professional. Once the attorney reviews the facts and establishes that you have a valid claim, they can help you develop the case and explore your remaining options, such as filing a lawsuit.
There’s More Than One At-Fault Party
Some accidents result from a single person’s negligence, while others involve shared fault. For example, in a multiple-party accident, you could have a motorist or several motorists, a manufacturer of a defective vehicle part, a road maintenance agency, a driver’s employer, a mechanic, having contributed in some way to the accident. These multiple-party accidents spark a complex legal situation, making consulting an experienced attorney advantageous. In such a scenario, an attorney can help you identify all the at-fault parties, determine their level of liability, and file claims with their respective insurers.
Your Loved One Died After the Car Accident
If you’ve lost a loved one in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you could seek compensation for their wrongful death. You can claim various damages depending on your relationship with the deceased. Wrongful death damages can include funeral and burial expenses, pre-death medical expenses, pain and suffering damages, loss of support and guidance, lost inheritance, etc.
Hiring an attorney to help you recover these damages can be beneficial as they can advise you on your state’s provisions for wrongful death claims. Additionally, the attorney can help you gather the necessary documentation to support your claim and calculate the applicable damages.
Benefits of Engaging an Attorney After a Car Accident
We have already highlighted some of the ways hiring an attorney after a car accident can benefit you, but let’s discuss each in detail.
Once you entrust your case to an attorney, they investigate to uncover the accident’s cause, the at-fault party or parties’ identities, and supporting evidence to prove negligence.
For instance, if a company driver caused an accident, the attorney can dig into the company’s hiring practices, driver operation guidelines, and vehicle maintenance policies and routines. They may also do a background check on the driver to unearth their driving record. By doing so, the attorney can discover errors that might have contributed to the accident and bring the responsible parties to light.
In addition to conducting investigations, the attorney gathers each piece of evidence available to build a strong case. This may include requesting surveillance footage, gathering vital documents from the at-fault party, recording eyewitness statements, requesting police reports, and collaborating with your doctor and other expert witnesses for relevant reports and statements.
The weight of a personal injury case depends on the available evidence. The attorney can ensure you have adequate proof to support your claim, and work to avoid the tactics insurance adjusters use to reduce or deny claims.
Perform Legal Research
Every state has legal provisions guiding personal injury cases. The attorney researches the law so the claim meets any applicable state and federal requirements. Additionally, the attorney can review successful cases similar to yours and implement their legal reasoning in your favor.
File a Claim
When you hire an attorney for your car accident claim, they help you estimate your damages and send the insurance company a demand letter that reflects the value of your current and future losses. To determine fair damages, the attorney may collaborate with your doctor to estimate the cost of your future medical needs and financial experts to approximate your future lost wages and lost earning capacity.
Negotiate Fair Settlement
Insurance adjusters are skilled negotiators paid to minimize their employer’s liability. A low settlement may be unfair to you, but it’s a win to the adjuster and insurance company.
This requires matching their skill at the negotiation table, and thus the need for an experienced car accident claims attorney. Among other things, the attorney safeguards your interests by negotiating to secure the highest settlement possible.
Prepare Case for Trial
Most claims settle. But if the insurer denies the claim or fails to compensate you fairly, you can sue if you have strong enough evidence. In this case, the attorney can prepare the case for trial.
Every state has a statute of limitation within which a plaintiff can file a lawsuit against an at-fault party. For personal injury cases, the deadline is between one and six years, depending on the state.
Hiring an attorney from the outset of your legal process is beneficial as they can ensure any settlement efforts conclude before the deadline for filing a lawsuit.
Negotiate With Lien Holders
If you have received benefits from your health insurance to cover your medical costs or have signed a lien with your healthcare provider, your attorney can help negotiate to reduce the lien. This can increase your net compensation, ensuring you have the finances to help reconstruct your life.
Flexible Payment Options
Some people miss out on maximizing their settlement for fear that hiring professional help is too costly. While the cost of engaging an attorney may be a bit high, the payment arrangement for personal injury representation accommodates even financially challenged claimants.
To begin with, most car accident attorneys offer a free case evaluation to determine if the case is economically viable. This opens the door of justice to everyone who has sustained personal injuries, their financial status notwithstanding.
In addition, car accident attorneys frequently charge their fees on a contingency basis, meaning they recover their payment only after you receive the compensation. If they don’t win a settlement, then you don’t owe them a fee.
The only cost you should budget for pre-settlement is the administrative expenses and court fees (if the case goes to trial). However, you should review a law firm’s payment policy before engaging, as pricing policies vary regarding these administrative and court costs.
If a car accident results in substantial damages (especially personal injuries) and you seek compensation from an insurance company, you need an attorney. Insurance adjusters and legal teams are experienced professionals, seasoned in negotiating similar claims. A car accident attorney protects you and champions your rights as you fight for fair compensation.