According to America’s Debt Help Organization (debt.org), the average cost of hospitalization in the U.S. is around $11,700, and that’s just for the bed. The price of a physician, surgeon, and other hospital staff, surgical procedures, diagnostic tests, and prescription medications add even more to the financial burden.
In addition to medical expenses, those seriously injured in car accidents commonly face lost wages and benefits due to being too injured to work and lost earning capacity if the injuries are permanent. Victims also face property damage to their vehicle in the accident and a wide array of quality-of-life impacts created by the injury.
If a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence injured you and you are struggling to cover the expenses and losses from your injury, here is some information about how to obtain compensation for the expenses and impacts of the injury through the personal injury claims process. An auto accident attorney can help you determine the best course of action for your situation.
Your First Step: Hiring an Attorney
There is a lot of information easily found online about what to do after a car accident, such as making sure to remain at the scene until the police arrive and exchanging information with other drivers involved in the accident.
Unfortunately, these instructions generally stop once the injured party has left the accident scene, sought medical treatment for their injuries, and reported the accident to their own insurance provider. Many claimants may wonder: What next?
Most personal injury attorneys would recommend you recover from your injuries and seek compensation for the expenses and impacts you suffered from the accident. The most important step in seeking the compensation you need is to hire an experienced car accident attorney to help you with your claim.
Car accident attorneys work within an area of the law known as personal injury law that focuses on helping victims recover compensation after being injured due to the careless or reckless actions of someone else.
When selecting an attorney, there are a few important features to look for, including:
- Their experience in cases like yours. The attorney should have extensive experience negotiating settlements for car accident claims and litigating car accident cases. The vast majority of car accident claims are resolved through a settlement before a trial ever takes place. While this is generally beneficial for all parties, due to the time and expense of litigation, many attorneys fail to obtain the necessary trial experience if the case goes to court. Many others seek only cases they think will settle because settlements are easier.
- They have time to devote to your case. Just as some attorneys seek easy settlements, they also take on as many cases as possible to have regular income from those settlements. They have less time to spend understanding their client’s needs and how to assist them as they navigate the personal injury claims process, and the client can be left without updates on the case’s progress. When speaking with an attorney you are considering hiring, ask them if they have the time necessary for your claim and who your point of contact will be with the firm.
- Good communication skills. A major requirement of being an effective personal injury lawyer is the ability to communicate. Attorneys must explain the law and guide their client, helping the insurance provider understand the claim’s value and validity and representing the case in court if necessary. Their communication style should be compelling and easy to understand, as this is the person who will be helping you with what can be one of the most pivotal and important legal matters in your life.
Yes, You Can Afford Quality Legal Assistance
There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to hiring an attorney to assist you with the personal injury claims process. Many people believe that their personal injury lawyer will require an upfront investment—often referred to as a retainer—to obtain services.
While it’s true that many types of lawyers require retainers, such as those working in family or business law, personal injury lawyers typically don’t.
Additionally, many people believe that a personal injury lawyer will charge an exorbitant hourly fee any time they work on a case. Personal injury lawyers don’t charge by the hour but instead, use a contingent fee billing method.
A contingent fee agreement is a billing method where the claimant does not have to pay for their lawyer’s services unless the lawyer successfully recovers compensation. If the claim does not result in compensation, then the claimant does not owe the attorney and their legal team for the time working on the claim. If the attorney negotiates a settlement or favorable court decision, they deduct a percentage of the compensation as their fee.
Here’s how it works.
- The claimant attends a free case evaluation with an experienced car accident attorney, where they learn about the personal injury claims process and services the attorney can provide to help seek compensation.
- The claimant decides to hire an attorney. The attorney agrees and asks the claimant to sign a contingent fee agreement. This legally binding agreement outlines the services the attorney will provide and designates a percentage of the compensation received as the attorney’s fee.
- Once the contingent fee agreement is in place, the attorney and legal team can begin working on the claim. The claimant will not receive bills for the work done while the case is active.
- At the conclusion of the claim, the attorney will receive the compensation owed to the claimant on their behalf. They will deposit the funds in a trust. From that trust, they will settle any liens placed on the award by the claimant’s creditors, such as healthcare providers or insurers. The attorney will also withdraw the percentage designated for their payment per the contingent fee agreement.
- The attorney will meet with the claimant to sign paperwork finalizing the case and releasing the rest of the compensation to the claimant.
What Kind of Services Does an Attorney Provide to Help You Recover Compensation?
Attorneys are a powerful source of guidance and information for their clients, helping them understand the various steps in the process, how their claim is valued, and what constitutes a fair settlement. It is important to understand that even if a person hires an attorney to assist them with their claim, it is the claimant’s responsibility—not the attorney’s—to make all the important decisions in the case.
Some of the services an attorney provides through the personal injury claims process to help their clients obtain the maximum amount of compensation that is available for their claim include:
- Determining all sources of liability and the relevant liability insurance policies held by those sources that can compensate the claim. Insurance policies are subject to policy limits, and multiple sources of liability often mean multiple pools from which to seek compensation to cover the expenses and impacts of a serious injury fully.
- Properly valuing the claim, including the expenses incurred by the claimant due to the at-fault party’s negligence and the often profound psychological and quality-of-life impacts that usually accompany serious injuries. According to Washington Law Review, non-economic damages (compensation for the impacts of the injury) generally account for 50-80 percent of the total value of a personal injury claim, making them a vital part of the calculation of the claim’s value.
- Communicating with the insurance provider for the claimant. Insurance providers don’t want to pay for the liability of their insured, as it cuts into their bottom line. Instead, they will often engage in questionable tactics to reduce a claim’s value. Having an attorney communicate with the insurance provider not only protects the claim’s value from those tactics but also is necessary to negotiate a fair settlement.
- Negotiating a settlement. Typically, when an insurance company makes an initial settlement offer, it will be far below the claim’s value. The attorney will go to work to convince the insurance provider to increase their offer until the claimant decides to accept a settlement or a court renders a decision on the matter.
- Filing a personal injury lawsuit. The ability to use the court process for seeking compensation in a car accident claim depends on filing the lawsuit within the statute of limitations. This time limit for filing varies from state to state but is generally between one and four years from the accident. Failing to file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations bars the claimant from using the court process and results in the insurer refusing to offer a settlement, as there is no longer the legal consequence of trial if they don’t.
- Gathering the evidence and documentation to prove liability and justify the claim’s value.
- Representing the claimant through the court process, including deposing witnesses, preparing evidence exhibits and opening and closing statements, filing and answering motions, attending pre-trial hearings, and continuing to keep their client updated and informed.
What Is the Average Settlement for a Car Accident?
Those looking to learn more about the personal injury claims process often want to know the “average” settlement for their type of case. The truth is that there are dozens of ways a car accident can occur and dozens of different injuries that can result. There are complications from injuries, widely varied impacts, and differences in how one body can recover after an injury versus another.
On the compensation side, there are also a lot of variables, particularly when it comes to settlements. How much insurance did the at-fault party have? Was the claimant hospitalized, or did they require surgery for their injury? Are their injuries permanent? How much money was the claimant making before the injury took place? These are just some of the considerations involved in valuing a claim.
When it comes time for settlement negotiations, even more questions arise. How clear was the at-fault party’s liability? Which insurance company services their auto liability policy? Are there any state-imposed limits on the amount of non-economic damages that can be sought? Each answer impacts the claim’s value and the value of any settlement the claimant ultimately receives. The settlement itself requires both sides to compromise to reach a fair figure.
Because of the unknowns, it is impossible to say the average settlement for a car accident claim. However, an experienced personal injury lawyer will aggressively advocate for the most compensation available for their client’s claim. They will educate their client on calculating their expenses—such as current and future medical bills, car repair, and wage loss—while still having compensation left to move forward from the accident and injury.
Did someone’s negligence cause a car accident that injured you? Don’t let the financial hardship of your recovery derail your life. Contact an experienced car accident attorney for a free case evaluation and to learn more about how they can help you get the compensation you deserve.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.