When to Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident
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After you have been injured in a car accident, it may be tempting to handle things yourself to avoid the complicated legal process. Perhaps you feel like you do need help to navigate the process, but you’re left wondering, “Do I really need an attorney?” and, “When should I hire a car accident attorney?” If you have been injured in an accident, going it alone means that you are at the mercy of the big car insurance companies, and unless you have significant experience in this area, this can be a very dangerous place to be.
WHEN DO I NEED TO HIRE A CAR ACCIDENT ATTORNEY?
The short answer is if you have sustained injuries in a car accident, then it is most likely in your best interest to speak with an experienced auto injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible. This is important because the process of seeking compensation starts immediately after your accident. Unrepresented accident victims may make crucial mistakes that could end up lowering the amount of compensation they receive. Insurance companies may make lowball offers just days after the accident hoping to take advantage of an unrepresented victim. Teaming up with an experienced attorney may help you avoid these pitfalls.
HOW MUCH IS MY ACCIDENT WORTH?
In deciding when and whether to seek the advice of an attorney after an accident, one of the main questions that potential clients might have is, “What is my case worth?” Because car accident claims depend so heavily on the specifics of the accident, it is impossible to give a general answer to this question. However, any possible recovery will be made up of two major types of damages—economic and non-economic.
Economic damages include expenses like medical bills and costs to repair your vehicle after your accident. These sorts of damages can be proven with a relatively high degree of certainty through receipts, bills, and the testimony of experts. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, refer to the pain and suffering that you experience as a result of your accident. Many states have instituted a cap on non-economic damages that limit how much a plaintiff could potentially receive. Speaking with an experienced attorney after your accident may give you a better idea of what your case could be worth.
Learn More: How to Calculate the Value of Case
HOW TO FILE A CAR ACCIDENT CLAIM
After making the initial decision that you want to engage in the legal process to seek compensation for your injuries, it can be difficult to know where to start. However, the process will generally follow the same few steps to completion.
Speak with an Attorney
As a first step, you should speak with an experienced, reputable car accident lawyer in your area. Speaking with an attorney might give you a better idea of what all of your options are, and more importantly, what your best option might be. It is very easy to make critical mistakes that can kill your claim before it starts if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Consulting an attorney may help you avoid some of these mistakes and make sure that you keep your claim intact.
After you have selected an attorney to represent you, they may be able to begin gathering all of the information that they will need to effectively represent you in your case. This may include photo or video evidence, interviews and depositions of witnesses and the other parties, and insurance information.
Negotiate a Settlement
This is perhaps the most important step of the entire process because most cases settle before they reach the trial stage. When it comes to negotiation, it is important that your attorney has the experience to properly evaluate your case and the tenacity to fight for your maximum compensation.
Go to Trial
Most claims won’t ever make it this far. However, if settlement negotiations break down because you and the other parties involved are just too far away from a compromise, it may be your only option at seeking fair compensation. At this stage, you will want to have an attorney with experience taking cases to trial.
Every kind of legal action in America has an attached time limit, also known as a “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations is the length of time that you have to file a claim from the date that you sustained your injury. For example, if the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in your jurisdiction is two years, then that means you have two years from the time of your accident to file a claim or risk having it dismissed and recovering nothing. The statute of limitations varies from state to state.
Certain special rules may come into effect for the statute of limitations in your case depending on the unique circumstances of your accident. For example, if you don’t discover your injury until long after the accident, the statute may be tolled. The same goes if the victim in your case is a minor. Generally speaking, however, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible after your accident to make sure that you don’t run into problems based on timing.
WHO IS AT FAULT?
In certain cases, it may be relatively simple to determine who was at fault. For example, if you were waiting at a red light perfectly still and were rear-ended, then the accident is most likely the fault of the other driver. However, real life is often more complicated, and it is certainly possible for multiple drivers to share in the fault. It is also possible with fault for an accident to rest on more parties than just the drivers themselves. Some common parties who might be at fault for an accident include:
When most people think about who is typically at fault for a car accident, they think about the drivers of the cars involved. In most accidents, at least one driver will be at fault, which means that in your accident claim, it is likely that you may be trying to recover from another driver and their insurance.
Fault for a car accident can extend beyond the drivers of the cars themselves, though this does not occur as frequently. For example, imagine a situation in which another driver picks their car up from the shop where they had their brakes repaired, but the mechanic was negligent in repairing them. This negligence might cause them to lose control and slam into your vehicle. In situations like this, it might be possible to recover from the mechanic.
The Government Entity
State and local government are responsible for the creation and upkeep of roads, as well as traffic signals and signs. If they fall far below the standard of safety that they owe their constituents, it is possible that they could be held liable for an accident that occurs. For example, if a traffic light in your town has been out of service for days and the government entity in charge of it knew or should have known but failed to repair it, they could potentially bear liability for an accident that results.
NEGOTIATING WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES
For all of the money that insurance companies spend on promoting the image that they are friendly businesses who just want to help, it is important to remember that they, as for-profit businesses, exist to make money. This means that they want to take in as much money as possible while paying out as little as they are required to for covered injuries. To that end, they employ experienced claims adjusters who are experts in eliciting statements from you that reduce the amount that you receive. A few tips when dealing with insurance companies include:
Talk with Your Attorney
No one knows your case better than you and your attorney, which is why it makes sense to hire a car accident attorney shortly after the accident. They may be able to advise on dealing with insurance companies that could potentially save you thousands of dollars and protect you from bad faith insurance practices. Before you answer any phone call or e-mail from an insurance company, make sure to consult with your attorney.
Do Not Admit Fault
One tactic that the insurance company might use is to try to get you to admit fault, sometimes in roundabout ways. The more fault you admit, the less they need to pay. Be very cautious when speaking with insurance agents about your accident and avoid any statements or questions about fault that might implicate you.
Don’t Accept the First Offer
Typically, an insurance company’s first offer will be less than the true value of your injuries. Though it might look appealing at the time, accepting this first offer could lead to missing out on compensation you may be entitled to.
HOW ZINDA LAW GROUP MAY HELP
Zinda Law Group attorneys have years of experience helping clients with all different types of car accidents. With the resources of a large, nationwide firm combined with the individualized attention of a local operation, Zinda Law Group may help make sure you don’t face this difficult time alone. Because we believe that an accident victim shouldn’t have to worry about affording legal representation, we use a no-win, no-fee policy—you don’t pay us anything unless we win your case.
Meetings with attorneys by appointment only.