It can be hard to fight an insurance company that denies your claim or offers an amount far below the damage you suffered. Auto accident lawyers deal with these situations every day, but should you hire one?
Everyone’s circumstances will be different, so there isn’t a hard rule on when to use a personal injury lawyer. We’ll look at a few scenarios where it’s helpful to have a car accident attorney and shed light on what to expect throughout the process. Most law firms offer free consultations, so it’s possible to get professional advice on how much your claim might be worth before ever hiring an auto accident lawyer.
In this article:
Should You Get An Auto Accident Lawyer?
If you’re in a car wreck, it’s worth considering a personal injury attorney if you receive medical care, the other driver is at fault, or the other driver’s car insurance company denies your claim or offers you only a fraction of the damages you’re seeking. Below are some pros and cons to hiring an auto accident lawyer.
|Auto Accident Lawyer Pros||Auto Accident Lawyer Cons|
Lawyer can negotiate with the insurance company
and secure a better settlement for your claim
|Not every claim is worth enough to justify a lawsuit|
|Lawyer can negotiate with hospital/care providers and sometimes reduce what you owe||
Some law firms charge extra fees
for arranging key witnesses or experts
Lawyer can identify all liable parties and avenues
to pursue maximum compensation
|Most offer free consultations|
The nature of your case is the first key to determining whether an auto accident lawyer is worth your time and money. Most car accident cases that go to litigation are injury cases, and most car accident lawyers are personal injury lawyers. If you only suffered property damage, you can find a lawyer to file a property damage lawsuit. In this case, you’d need to provide documentation that you suffered financially from the loss.
Just because the car crash resulted in an injury doesn’t mean you need to go to court, though. For example, if you have a simple case of whiplash or a few bruises after a rear-end collision, you can probably handle negotiation independently.
However, if you suffered a serious injury, such as a traumatic brain injury, or experienced verifiable pain and suffering from an accident, you should carefully consider hiring a lawyer. In this situation, it can be hard for you as a car accident victim to negotiate with the insurance company without legal advice. An attorney can help you gather all the proper documentation and evidence to support your case and get the most money for a car accident.
An insurance company denying you compensation isn’t the only reason to get a lawyer after a car accident. The two circumstances listed below also call for hiring an auto accident lawyer.
- Hit and run: Victims of hit-and-run accidents can receive compensation from their uninsured motorist coverage, and attorneys seek to help victims max out their compensation.
- Drunk driving: Drunk drivers can face criminal and civil consequences. Victims and their families who experience injuries or fatalities often sue for their pain and suffering.
Many states have established a minimum claim value for taking a claim to litigation. For example, Massachusetts requires that drivers incur at least $2,000 in medical expenses before suing after a car accident.
An initial consultation with an auto accident lawyer will help you decide whether the claim is worth it. You may choose to represent yourself during negotiations or go to small claims court if the claim has low value.
Every state has a statute of limitations for filing both liability and property-damage car accident claims, and this limit can range from one to six years. The type of car accident claim also affects how long after an accident you can sue. After the date of the accident is beyond the statute of limitations, you can’t sue the at-fault party.
How Much Does An Auto Accident Lawyer Cost?
While hiring an auto accident lawyer may seem expensive, you’re likely to win more money this way than negotiating on your own. Lawyers are trained to get the highest possible value out of your claim and inform you of your legal rights.
Most personal injury law firms charge a contingency fee on the condition that they win the case. These fees can range from 25 to 40 percent, but they are most often around 30 percent. If you settle a claim for $42,000, your lawyer gets $12,600 in this scenario.
Auto accident lawyers can impose additional charges, including a flat up-front fee and an hourly rate. However, the most common arrangement is for a lawyer to work on a contingency-fee basis.
Here’s what happens when you win a case with a contingency-fee lawyer:
- The money awarded from the insurance company goes into a trust set up by the law firm.
- The law firm takes its cut from the settlement.
- The law firm then pays every party you owe, including medical offices and liens.
- The law firm pays you the remaining balance of the settlement.
The benefit of this process is that the attorney can negotiate your medical debts on your behalf as they pay them. In many cases, car accident attorneys can reduce what you owe, giving you more money in the end.
Ask an auto accident lawyer how other expenses – such as those necessary for expert witnesses like economists and doctors – are handled. Some law firms recoup these costs in addition to the contingency fee, while others include the charges in the contingency fee.
What An Auto Accident Lawyer Does
An auto accident lawyer will start by going through the whole accident and aftermath to determine the value of your claim. The attorney takes over communication with the insurance company and helps you secure all the documentation necessary to support your case. This evidence includes witness and expert statements, also known as depositions.
One of the first things an auto accident lawyer will do after being hired is identify all possible liable parties. While you may assume responsible parties consist of just the at-fault driver, others who may fit this description include:
- The negligent driver’s employer
- Municipalities if the road is in bad condition or street lights aren’t functional
- Other drivers on the road
- Auto manufacturers if a faulty part caused an accident
- Your own insurance company (if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage)
After the initial meeting, an auto accident lawyer also does a lot to help an accident victim throughout a case. For example, this attorney will:
- Verify the other driver’s insurance coverage and policy limits
- Find out if additional coverage (such as umbrella or commercial insurance) applies
- Collect evidence to support your position on who’s at fault for the accident
- Organize all proof and documentation in a clear presentation
- Help obtain complete health care records
- Negotiate with medical lien holders to reduce what you owe
Do All Car Accident Lawsuits Go To Trial?
Most car accident lawsuits don’t go to trial because the car insurance company wants to avoid a trial in most cases. After you file a lawsuit, the insurance company you are suing will usually assign a new adjuster to the case. While the original adjuster may have refused to budge on compensation, the second one may be more willing to negotiate.
Your auto accident lawyer will send negotiation letters called demand letters, which are often effective in reaching a settlement. If the insurance company doesn’t settle right away, the case may move into mediation, which happens when the insurance company accepts fault but not the value of the claim. A third-party legal expert will mediate the settlement at this point.
If the car insurance company does not agree with the fault or the value and refuses to budge, your claim could go to trial. While this tends to be stressful, a jury could award you more than the settlement amount.
Determining The Value Of Your Claim
You may believe your claim is worth something based on medical bills alone, but it may be worth even more than that. An auto accident lawyer can help you determine the value of your claim. Maybe you only had a few thousand dollars in bills, but facial scars from the accident affected your emotional health, for example.
The value of an automobile accident claim largely hinges on whether the accident has impacted your quality of life. If you’re an expert carpenter who can’t return to work after your accident, the accident has impacted your life forever. In this case, an auto accident lawyer might hire an economist to find out exactly how much money you could have made if you hadn’t suffered an injury. This number would then support your case and increase its value.
As another example, let’s say you’re raising a toddler at home. After suffering car accident injuries, you can’t play with or lift your child as you did before. This kind of limitation would also factor into how to calculate pain and suffering.
Auto accident lawyers look at two main types of damages – economic and non-economic – to determine the value of a claim.
Economic damages are easily quantifiable. For example, you left the hospital with a bill for surgery, you missed three weeks of work, you had to pay a babysitter, and so on. You have the receipts or bills to prove an actual monetary loss.
Non-economic damages are harder to quantify but no less real, and this is where an experienced attorney can help tremendously. Damages of the non-economic variety include:
- Loss of function
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Non-economic damages from a vehicle crash may impact your life much more than economic ones, and they can impact other people and your loved ones. In some states, spouses can also sue liable parties if the motor vehicle accident negatively affects their relationship with the crash victim.
An auto accident lawyer will know how to collect the proper documents, testimonials, and witness statements to prove your non-economic damages and produce a favorable verdict.
Benefits Of An Auto Accident Lawyer
Dealing with injuries, medical treatment and bills, and low insurance settlement offers can be stressful. Having an attorney can relieve some of the burdens since you don’t have to negotiate back and forth with the insurance company anymore.
Auto accident attorneys know how insurance companies work and how to get the best value for your insurance claim. They also know how to read your insurance policy’s fine print and uncover any benefits you may have overlooked.
Remember, the insurance adjuster of the other person involved in the wreck doesn’t work for you, and their main goal is to minimize loss for their insurance company. When you have an attorney in your corner, you have someone who can fight on your behalf.
If you have any doubts about accepting a low settlement offer from the other party’s auto insurance company, it may be worth contacting a lawyer about your personal injury claim. You can’t go back once you accept a settlement, so take time to consider your options. Reputable attorneys offer free case evaluations and can help you decide whether the case is worth litigating.