After a car accident, you should always retain a car accident attorney for several reasons. Even a minor accident could become significant if you have injuries that manifest days or weeks later.
You can hire a car accident lawyer anytime after an accident, but you should retain legal counsel as soon as possible. Hiring a car accident attorney does not guarantee a specific outcome, but you have a better chance of recovering the compensation you deserve if you do.
Why Retain a Car Accident Lawyer: Working With Insurance Companies
Many people think they can get more money by handling their own car accident claims. However, insurance companies will take advantage of those who file claims and negotiate damages because they are in business to make money.
Even your own insurance company will lowball you on a claim payment, if not outright deny your claim.
Some of the tricks insurance companies may use include:
- Twisting what you say to put the blame for the accident at your feet.
- Telling you that their client is at fault, but the most they can pay is some low amount.
- Convincing you that your injuries are not as severe as you believe.
Types of Car Accident Injuries
The amount of compensation you could recover depends on the severity of your injuries. Injuries that doctors expect to heal within a matter of weeks or a couple of months are not worth as much as catastrophic injuries that usually cause long-term or permanent disabilities because they do not cause long-term damage.
Car accident injuries include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, scratches, and scrapes.
- Road rash.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and crush injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
What to Do After a Car Accident
An attorney knows all the steps to ensure you recover the compensation you deserve. If you miss a step or deadline, you could jeopardize your claim. Once the police release you from the scene, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The longer you wait, the better argument the at-fault driver’s insurance company has of convincing everyone that your injuries are not as severe as you say. The insurance company will argue that your injuries are not as severe as you claim.
While some injuries sometimes do not manifest until days, weeks, or even months later, it is imperative that you keep in contact with doctors. Those minor injuries could turn into something significant.
Additionally, you should contact a car accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident. An attorney could help you find the doctors you need for specialized care, such as that required for traumatic brain injuries. The attorney could also help you with deadlines so that you do not inadvertently give the insurance company something to use against you. An experienced car wreck lawyer protects your rights from insurance companies acting in bad faith.
Finally, the last thing you want to do is to worry about stressful arguments with insurance companies. Your attorney handles settlement negotiations so you can concentrate on recovering.
Benefits of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
Retaining a car accident attorney has many benefits if you retain the right attorney. You need someone compassionate yet aggressive while dealing with insurance companies. An experienced car accident lawyer knows the law, which makes it harder for insurance companies to pull one over on you.
Other factors to watch for include:
- Insurance companies not treating you fairly and acting in good faith.
- Filing all of the necessary paperwork on time.
- Missing any critical deadlines, including the statute of limitations, which varies from state to state.
- Building a case so you receive the compensation you deserve, not what the insurance company thinks you should get.
- Working on a contingency basis means you only pay their fees if you win your case.
- Providing a thorough investigation. The police report is not always correct. Investigating the case could uncover evidence that puts the blame for the accident on the rightful party.
- Recovering compensation from all who share liability for your injuries and/or losses. In some cases, the driver is not the only one at fault, especially if the driver is a commercial driver.
- Documenting your damages so you can recover the compensation you deserve.
- Obtaining a list of experts an attorney can consult with regarding accident recreation and medical issues.
- Managing settlement negotiations on your behalf so you can concentrate on recovering.
- Knowing how much you should recover based on your injuries and not letting the insurance company get away with denying your claim or lowballing you.
- Going to trial if the insurance company refuses a fair and reasonable settlement.
What You Should Never Do After a Car Accident
Just as you should do many things after a car accident, you should not do many others, including:
- Admitting fault. Even if you think the accident was wholly or partially your fault, never admit it. You could be wrong and would jeopardize your case if you admitted fault. Let an experienced car accident attorney figure out who is and is not at fault.
- Not seeking medical assistance as soon as possible.
- Not knowing how insurance companies work. Too many people believe that if they pay premiums, insurance companies will look out for them. This is not likely the case. They care about how much money they lose when they pay your claim.
- Not reviewing the police report. Always read the entire report carefully to ensure that the officer correctly documented your story. If you need changes, ask the officer to make them before you sign the report.
- Taking the first settlement check the insurance company offers. You do not have to accept an offer if you believe it is too low. This is one of the tricks an insurance company does it tries to pay you in the hopes that you will cash the check. Once you cash it, you cannot ask for more money because the first check did not cover all your injuries and other losses.
- Trying to settle your case without an attorney.
- Not retaining an experienced car accident lawyer immediately.
Settlement or Litigation
Many clients ask if they have to go to court. The short answer is that it is not likely. However, if the insurance refuses a fair and reasonable settlement, car accident attorneys recommend litigating your case. In some cases, once you file a court case, the insurance company could re-enter settlement negotiations. It can cost thousands of dollars to litigate, and they could foot the bill if they lose. That means the insurance company not only pays its attorneys for court prep and trial time, but it could pay yours, too, if you win.
The insurance company could offer a fair and reasonable settlement from the time it receives service of the court case right through the day of the trial. However, the longer the insurance company waits, the more it costs.
Paying the Attorney
Many think they cannot afford an attorney, so they try to settle the case on their own. However, an experienced car accident attorney can offer a free case evaluation without obligation and work on a contingency basis. If you do not win, you do not pay their fees.
A car accident lawyer will review their contingency contract with you, so you know how much the firm’s fees are if you win your case. Car accident lawyers figure the cost of representing you into the damages you recover so you will have enough to pay your medical and other expenses, pay for your shingles, and put food on the table.
Paying for Medical Expenses While Waiting for a Settlement
One of the other good things about retaining an attorney as soon after an accident as possible is that the attorney can help you with medical care and expenses, including recommending doctors who frequently work with accident victims.
If a doctor, hospital, or other medical establishment insists on payment immediately and your auto or health insurance does not fully cover that procedure, a car accident attorney could write a letter of credit requesting the medical professional or establishment hold off on collections until you receive your settlement or trial award.
How Much Is My Case Worth?
The amount you could recover depends on several factors, including the severity of your injuries and whether you can collect punitive damages. Not all states allow punitive damages, and for those that do, you must be able to prove gross negligence or intent.
Most accident victims receive compensatory damages in the form of economic damages. Those who sustain catastrophic injuries that result in long-term or permanent disabilities or those who lose a loved one often recover compensatory damages in the form of non-economic damages.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and include:
- Medical expenses, including doctor’s appointments, surgeries, follow-up appointments, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and medical equipment. You could also recover compensation for hand controls for your vehicle and upgrades to your home, such as wheelchair ramps, handrails, grab bars, and widened doorways.
- Wages from the time of the accident until you settle or win a trial award.
- Loss of future earning capacity from the time you settle or win a trial award until you would typically retire. You could also recover partial loss of future earning capacity if your injuries force you to take a position that pays less or if you can only work part-time.
- Personal property damaged or destroyed in the accident, including your vehicle and anything of value in the vehicle, such as cell phones and computers.
- Death-related expenses, including funeral and burial costs, cremation expenses, certain probate court expenses, and probate attorney’s fees and costs.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value. In most cases, only those who lose a loved one or sustain long-term or permanent disabilities caused by the car accident recover non-economic damages.
While insurance companies may have their own definition of long-term or permanent damages, the Social Security Administration defines them as lasting more than 12 months or resulting in your death.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to take prescriptions, use ambulatory aids, or have other life-long issues because of the accident.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a bodily function such as your eyesight or bladder function.
- Loss of use of a body part such as a leg or hand.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do, including but not limited to lawn maintenance, grocery shopping, home repair and maintenance, and house cleaning.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Disfigurement and/or excessive scarring.
If your state allows you to recover punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional. In most states, you can only recover punitive damages if you win compensatory damages.
The courts order a defendant to pay punitive damages as a punishment for their behavior instead of making them whole again. While requesting punitive damages takes extra time, in some cases, the payout is worth the extra time.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car wreck, contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.