Do I Need to Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident?
The aftermath of a car accident can be a scary and stressful time. You may be dealing with injuries and damage to your vehicle. It can be extremely difficult to handle the aftermath of a car accident by yourself. After handling the police report and seeing a medical professional to assess potential injuries, it is time to deal with insurance companies to try and negotiate a car accident settlement that will cover all your damages.
It can all be a very daunting situation, especially if you’ve never been through it before. This is usually the time that people start wondering things like:
- Should I get an attorney after a car accident?
- How much does a lawyer charge for a car accident case?
- When should I seek an attorney to help with my car accident settlement?
While every situation is different, this article will attempt to answer these questions, and give you a good idea about how much car accident lawyers charge, when you should seek one out, and how they can benefit your situation.
You’re not required by to hire an attorney to handle your car accident claim. But hiring an attorney can help you get a larger settlement, save you time, and help the process go much more smoothly than if you were to handle the claim on your own.
While fees may vary slightly from lawyer to lawyer, almost all car accident lawyers offer free initial consultations as a way to gauge the strength of your case and decide whether or not they want to accept it. So it’s usually wise to set up a free consultation with an auto accident attorney after a car accident, whether you intend to hire one or not. A free consultation with a car accident lawyer can help you in a number of ways:
- Helping you understand your insurance policy
- Getting an idea of how much your auto accident claim might be worth
- Determining if other types of auto insurance coverage might be available
- Helping you understand your rights or the rights of someone else (passengers or children, for example)
In these situations, you may be able to use the attorney’s advice to get you started. Often, the attorney will tell you whether this would be a good case for his or her services. Attorneys will often let you know when you can likely handle a case yourself. Keep in mind that lawyers typically charge on a contingency fee basis (more on this later), meaning that they are paid as a percentage of the auto accident settlement, not upfront.
Because of this, a car accident lawyer will need to feel pretty confident in 2 things – First, they need to be confident that they can prove that the other driver was at fault, or mostly at fault, for the crash. Second, they need to be able to show damages (medical bills, lost income etc) that are large enough that the fees they will make on the settlement are worth the time they’ll put into the settlement negotiations.
Insurance Companies Are Not Your Friend
Insurance companies may take advantage of individuals after they have been in an accident. This is because the insurance companies know that you do may not know the law and/or your rights, so may not know what you are legally entitled to.
To get compensation for the injuries suffered in a car accident, you will need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s auto insurance policy, your insurance policy, or both. While you can do this on your own, it is generally unwise to talk to auto insurance companies without consulting an attorney first, because you might say or sign something in the initial paperwork that hurts your chances of a fair payout later.
The goal of the insurance company is to reduce or eliminate payments to you. They are notorious for twisting statements that you make and using them against you to justify giving you a smaller settlement, or completely denying the claim. The other driver’s insurance company, and sometimes your own, will request a recorded statement. The other driver’s insurance company will then take what you said and try to use it against you. For these reasons, you should call a car accident lawyer before speaking with any insurance representatives, as you don’t want to say something that could be used against you later.
When You Need to Hire an Attorney For a Car Accident
After a car accident there are usually lots of questions about your next moves. For the vast majority, a free consultation with a car accident lawyer is a good idea. He or she can help you understand what the next steps are and how to get the appropriate compensation after a car accident.
After an auto accident, there are a number of types damages to seek compensation for:
- Property Damages
- Loss Of Income: The time you missed from work as you were recovering from your injuries or getting medical treatments.
- Medical Bills and Cost of Medication, Equipment, etc
- Future anticipated medical costs. These are medical bills that can be reasonably expected to be incurred in the coming weeks and months after the accident.
- Reduced capacity to earn a living: If your injuries affected your ability to make money at your job.
- Pain and suffering: Some injuries involve tremendous pain and suffering and can add thousands to your settlement. Your attorney will know roughly how much you should be entitled to for pain and suffering. Learn more about common car accident injuries.
- Punitive damages: If your attorney can prove the other driver was acting recklessly, you may be entitled to a larger settlement.
If you’re in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, they are responsible for compensating you. This may include fixing your car and property they damaged, any income you may have lost because of injuries, and any medical bills incurred. If the extent of damages is substantial, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to help with the car accident settlement.
While it is possible to negotiate with insurance companies by yourself, this will limit the chances of you receiving the highest possible settlement amount. Insurance companies handle thousands of car accident settlement cases each year. They are well versed in the art of paying as little as possible to victims of car accidents. An experienced lawyer knows how to use all the tools available within the legal system to get the highest possible settlement. Someone without specialized experience may be able to file their own case with the insurance company and do some negotiation, but on top of recovering from a car accident and going about your day to day life, your time would be much better spent consulting with a lawyer.
Not every car accident justifies having a personal injury attorney. For example, if the accident is a minor fender bender with less than $1000 in damages and no injuries, the case is typically handled by the insurance companies.
However, there are some instances when hiring an attorney after a car accident is neccessary:
There Are Severe Injuries
If you have serious injuries that involve going to the hospital or an overnight stay in the hospital, you should consider hiring an attorney. Besides extensive medical expenses, you may face lost wages that you will need to be compensated for.
This is especially true in any of the scenarios described below. These accidents often result in very serious injuries and higher payouts, but the settlement negotiations can be more complex, so it’s a good idea to have a good lawyer on your side.
Make sure to speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible if:
- You have a serious injury
- You were hit by a semi truck while driving your car
- You expect that there may be long-term consequences associated with your injury
- Your injury is going to cause disfigurement
- There was a death that resulted from the auto accident
- The accident occurred in a construction area
- The accident involved a commercial vehicle
- There is a question about who is at fault for the accident
- The insurance company has retained their own attorney
- You were injured by another driver while riding a motorcycle
- The insurance company has offered you a settlement that you feel is much too low
- You suspect your insurance company is acting in bad faith or not treating you fairly
There is a Dispute About Fault
If there is any dispute about who is at fault, you definitely want an attorney. In many states, your percentage of blame for the crash will reduce your potential settlement or verdict award. Your compensation could be cut in half or more if you are found partially at fault for the accident. Hiring an attorney in this case can help to protect your legal rights when fault is being contested.
The Settlement Offer Is Low
Insurance adjusters are well trained to know that people injured in a crash often end up in financial distress. This financial distress often leads to victims settling for very low payout amounts. Most insurance adjusters will make an initial low offer to see if you will settle for a smaller figure.
While wanting to settle your claim quickly and move on is understandable, it’s usually not wise. It is strongly advised to have an attorney review any settlement offer that you receive, especially if the offer you received seems low. This is especially true if you have been seriously injured, expect to be out of work or getting medical treatments for a long time, or have substantial property damage. Even when accounting for the attorney’s 1/3 contingency fee (the common financial arrangement), many people come out ahead by hiring a lawyer.
Saving Time and Headaches
This one is harder to quantify, but for some can be downright priceless. It’s true that you can handle a car accident settlement without a lawyer, but even the most savvy negotiators will have to sit on hold for hours with the insurance company, write car accident settlement demand letters, document injuries, and lots of other tedious, time consuming tasks. For some busy (or just impatient) claimants, hiring a lawyer for a car accident isn’t a financial decision, but a lifestyle choice. By getting an attorney for your car accident, you’ll be saving yourself hours of lost time and frustration, which might just be worth a few bucks, even if you might have netted a little a slightly larger payout without one.
- What’s my car accident settlement worth?
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What An Attorney Does For You After an Auto Accident
After a car accident, there are many things that your attorney can do for you that will make the auto accident settlement process less painful. For anything other than minor fender benders, hiring a car accident lawyer can provide you with several invaluable services during the claims process. First, it’s a huge time saver. Settling a car accident claim without an attorney can be done, but you’ll spend hours on document prep, follow up calls, and listening to hold music with an insurance company (they don’t have the best hold music either).
Additionally, they can help provide peace of mind, as you know that your case is being taken care of and you’re not making any costly mistakes that could lower your car accident settlement offer.
A good lawyer will do the following after your car accident:
- Provide peace of mind. A lawyer’s expertise and careful handling of your case can make the difference between a hectic and stressful legal process and a relatively painless one.
- Keep track of all the players involved in the crash. This includes both your insurance and the insurance company of any other drivers involved in the crash. A good lawyer will help you make sense of which company is responsible for making you whole with a settlement.
- Organize and file away documents related to your crash. Losing important paperwork can set your settlement back significantly. A good lawyer will have a reliable organization system that keeps your case on track.
- Fight for the settlement that you deserve. On your own, it may be difficult to fight with the insurance companies and reach the highest possible settlement agreement. Insurance companies look to pay out as little as possible. An experienced lawyer will know exactly what to say to prove who serious your case is to the insurance companies.
- Collect and organize evidence. Even if the other driver was at fault, it is not unusual for the other insurance company to try to blame you. To disprove your being at fault, evidence is necessary. Your lawyer can review evidence and talk to witnesses. They may also pay for an accident reconstruction expert to determine exactly how the crash happened.
- Take the case to court if needed. Most claims settle before trial, but there are times when the insurance company will not give you a fair offer. In this case, you will need a personal injury attorney with trial experience.
- Work with you when collecting their fee. The vast majority of car accident lawyers work on a fee structure. This means that they do not get paid until a settlement is reached. For those who would have difficulty paying for a lawyer out of pocket, this can mean the difference between landing a settlement or receiving no compensation for their accident.
Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney after a car accident for anything other than very minor fender benders. Otherwise, you risk leaving money on the table. If you want to be fairly compensated for your injuries, pain and suffering, and property damage, an attorney who specializes in auto accidents is essential.
Car Accident Attorney Fees
Many people are afraid of high hourly fees and think this is always the case when you hire a lawyer for a car accident. Thankfully, this is an inaccurate assumption.
In almost all instances, car accident lawyers use a contingency fee agreement. This means the client does not pay a dime until they win their case. This is a good option for anyone who cannot afford to pay hourly lawyer fees out of pocket. In a contingency fee agreement, the attorney will take a percentage of the money awarded after winning a case. Typically, that fee is between 33 and 40 percent of the net recovery. If the attorney loses the case, the client owes their attorney nothing.
This is obviously helpful because it keeps the victim from having to pay legal fees out of pocket at a time when they may also be paying medical bills, auto repairs, and not working. It’s also helpful because it means that you and the car accident lawyer you hire have aligned interests – you both win when they get you a larger settlement, and you both win if it happens sooner rather than later. So the attorney you hire will be working hard to get you the largest settlement in the fastest time possible, because that’s also how they make the most money the fastest.
Weighing Attorney Fees Against a Higher Car Accident Settlement Value
Another reason to hire a car accident lawyer is that they will often seek, and know what to include, to get you a larger auto accident settlement for your injuries. Insurance companies are notorious for trying to present injured victims with “low ball” settlement offers, especially when they know the person hasn’t hired an attorney.
When you have an attorney for a car accident, they will deal with the insurance companies on your behalf, help you get medical treatment, make sure you get your car fixed or replaced, seek compensation for your medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses, and help get you the largest amount of compensation for your injuries.They will know everything that goes into calculating a car accident settlement, and as a result will be able to get you a higher settlement amount in most cases.
The calculation that then needs to be made is, how much larger a settlement do I expect to get by hiring a car accident lawyer, how much is their fee, and is it worth that much for me to NOT have to do all the heavy lifting.
Tips For Finding and Hiring the Right Lawyer After an Auto Accident:
Hiring a good lawyer for a car accident claim is extremely important, but many people feel lost and confused when starting their search for a car accident lawyer. Most of us do not have a lawyer on standby, ready to take our case.
When a car accident happens, though, victims have lots of questions, and may need immediate legal representation. The days and weeks following a car accident are stressful enough without having to vet the lawyers in your area, but it’s an important step – hiring the wrong attorney can have dire consequences. Below are some some tips that can help you make sure you’re hiring the right attorney for your car accident claim.
Seek Out Experience and Knowledge
There are all kinds of lawyers, and not every lawyer deals in every type of law. The lawyer that prepared your will may not be a good option for your car accident case.
Car accident lawyers tend to specialize in certain types of cases, including trucking accidents, pedestrian accidents, and motorcycle accidents. Lawyers often choose to work on one side or the other for most of their cases as well. To clarify, some lawyers work on behalf of victims while others defend claims.
The best lawyer for a car accident claim should have experience representing victims and has dealt with similar cases. An attorney with the right type of experience will be a vital asset for your case.
Look For Reputation
One of the most effective ways to find a good attorney is to ask family and friends if they have suggestions. Friends and family can give you candid reviews of particular lawyers and point you in the right direction.
You can look online for reviews, board certifications, and peer ratings for other attorneys. You can also determine if a particular lawyer has any awards.
Put a Premium on Communication
It is your case—you deserve to know what is going on. An attorney who is willing to answer your questions, take your phone calls, and keep you updated is invaluable. It can be difficult to determine if an attorney has good communication skills, but you can use their attentiveness in your initial meeting as a gauge. If the attorney is giving you indirect answers or constantly looking at his or her watch, you may want to look elsewhere.
So how do you find the best lawyer after a car accident? Start by asking around. Car accidents are unfortunately all too common. Chances are, someone you know was the victim of a car accident. Collect the names and contact information of lawyers recommended by friends and loved ones. Be sure to ask friends about their experiences with the attorney in question. Were they pleased with the lawyer’s work? How communicative was the lawyer? Would your friend hire them again?
Meet and Interview Accident Attorneys
A meeting with a lawyer can tell you a lot about their work and their practice. Upon entering the office, are you greeted quickly and politely? Does your appointment begin on time? Does the attorney seem knowledgeable about your case? Are they focused while you are meeting, or are they multitasking and busy with other things? A successful initial meeting isn’t a guarantee of your treatment throughout your case, but it can provide a much-needed peek into what the client-attorney relationship may be like. Some other questions to ask an attorney during a consultation include:
- What’s your communication style like? How quickly do you return phone calls and emails?
- Have you handled many car accident cases before?
- How much participation do you require of your clients? What will be needed from me?
- How do you plan to handle my case?
- Why should I choose to hire you over one of your peers?
- How long have you been practicing law?
- Can you explain the fees required for my case?
It’s important to thoroughly vet the attorneys you consider hiring after a car accident. Having an attorney can save you the time and stress you’d otherwise spend dealing with body shops, insurance companies, and the other driver. These entities are looking out for their own best interests, not yours. A car accident lawyer can be your closest ally and best advocate. A lawyer can ensure the protection of your rights and ensure that you receive the greatest settlement possible.
Choose the wrong attorney — or forgo one altogether — and you put your accident compensation on the line. Many victims fail to realize their entitlement to compensation that a car accident lawsuit can obtain for you. Some accept the first offer an insurance company sends their way. By taking that offer, the victim forfeits their right to seek additional compensation in the future. That means care for lingering injuries, like whiplash or back injuries, are paid for out of pocket once the settlement runs out. It’s impossible to overstate how important hiring the right attorney truly is.
Frequently Asked Questions:
I wasn’t injured in my car accident. Should I still hire an attorney?
Even if the impact felt minor and you don’t think you sustained injuries, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney to discuss your options. However if there aren’t any injuries, or the injuries are minimal enough that you didn’t have to miss work or pay lots of medical bills, you probably won’t need to hire an attorney… given the amount of money your case will be worth, it’s likely they’ll reject your case anyway, Another reason to at least speak to an attorney even if you don’t feel injured, there are a wide range of car accident injuries that may not be immediately apparent after the accident. Whiplash after a car accident, for example, can take several hours to even a few days to start causing serious pain. Other injuries such as bone fractures, concussions, and soft tissue damage may also not cause immediate pain or visible injury. These are just a few of the reasons why it’s important to seek medical attention and the help of an experienced attorney. The seriousness of an accident is generally a good indicator of whether you need an attorney. While an attorney may not be necessary, it is always wise to have a consultation. From there, you will know whether your case is straightforward or if it will need tougher tactics.
I wasn’t at fault for the accident. Why would I need a car accident lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer after a car accident isn’t always needed. Anyone can file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit on their own. That said, dealing with an insurance company or maneuvering through the legal process on your own can be stressful and difficult.
Car accident lawyers can do many things to help you receive the largest amount of compensation after a crash:
- Explain the laws that affect your situation.
- Perform their own investigation of the accident.
- Identify the at fault party, which may include more than one driver.
- Calculate your damages and losses.
- File an insurance claim and handle negotiations with the insurance companies.
- File a personal injury lawsuit if the insurance company will not provide adequate compensation.
- Keep you informed of the process regarding your lawsuit.
- Represent you in court to get the settlement you deserve.
How long after an accident do I have to hire an attorney?
Immediately after a car accident, you may feel overwhelmed by everything that you need to do. You may have injuries to recover from, a damaged vehicle to fix, and the hassle of getting a police report filed. You probably already know that it is in your best interest to hire an attorney but do you need to start that process right away? The answer: act sooner rather than later. In some cases, the settlement process is quick and easy. In other, more serious instances, the insurance company does not want to pay out what you deserve and a lawyer will file a lawsuit on your behalf. Lawsuits are long and drawn out processes that can take months to years until concluding. Because of the potential of a lengthy court battle, it is better not to put off getting a lawyer involved. Each state has its own deadlines for how long after an accident you can file a lawsuit. Once that deadline has passed, the courts will outright dismiss your case. When speaking with a lawyer, you can discuss what your state’s laws are regarding the timeframe you have. It ranges from one year to six years and in very particular cases, an extension to the timeline is possible. Because car accident claims and lawsuits are time sensitive, it is in your best interest not to wait to contact a car accident lawyer.
Final Thoughts: Speak to A Car Accident Attorney After An Accident
The bottom line is that a personal injury attorney has the skills and experience in settlements and going to trial to get you as much compensation as possible. Few non-lawyers have the ability to negotiate fair compensation for themselves from insurance companies experienced in giving plaintiffs as little as possible. Unless your accident involves very minor injuries and is little more than a fender bender, getting an attorney, or at least consulting with one, is a good idea.
Selecting the attorney that’s right for your car accident case can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, there are resources to help you narrow the field and hone in on the right attorney for your case. We connect knowledgeable lawyers with people who’ve been injured in car accidents for free consultations and settlement estimates. If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident and has questions for an attorney, we can help.