After a car accident, those involved are often encouraged by well-meaning family and friends to hire a car accident attorney to seek compensation for physical injuries and property damage. However, this is often an intimidating endeavor for many people, as they wonder how much an attorney costs and whether it is necessary to hire one to help them seek compensation.
Reasons to Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident
Car accidents are a major source of death, injury, and productivity losses in the U.S. According to the National Safety Council, around 4.8 million people suffer injuries serious enough to require medical consultation as a result of traffic-related accidents each year, and around 40,000 are killed. These accidents bear an annual societal cost of around $473.2 billion, and the injuries and losses sustained can impact every part of an individual or family’s life.
So, when should you hire an attorney? The short answer is: immediately after you experience an accident. If you’re still unsure, here are some specific scenarios when you should get in touch with an attorney after an accident.
The Accident Was Caused by Someone Else’s Negligence
There are several ways that another driver’s careless or reckless actions can result in a car accident.
Some of the common types of driver negligence that lead to accidents include:
- Distracted driving
- Alcohol impairment
- Failure to yield the right-of-way
- Wrong-way driving
- Improper passing
- Aggressive driving, or road rage
Drivers using the public roadway owe a duty of care to other roadway users, which involves taking reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to others. These practical actions generally involve operating the vehicle safely and legally. Occasionally, an accident will be caused by someone who is not a roadway user, such as a manufacturer of defective parts that were used on one of the vehicles or a governmental agency tasked with maintaining roadways. However, the majority of accidents are caused by negligent drivers.
When a driver’s negligence results in an accident in which someone else is physically harmed or sustains property damage, they are legally responsible for compensating those who suffered the harm. This compensation usually comes from a claim against the at-fault driver’s auto liability policy.
If the insurer fails to compensate the claim by either directly paying the full value of the claim or engaging the claimant in a settlement agreement, a lawsuit can be filed so that the court can make determinations on liability and compensation.
The process of receiving compensation is complex, and claimants who attempt to handle this process alone are faced with several challenges, including the formalities and requirements of legal actions and the tactics that insurance companies use to devalue claims to avoid large payouts.
The Accident Injured You or Your Passengers
Being injured in the U.S. is an expensive proposition. An average overnight stay at the hospital costs around $11,700, and this is for the bed alone. An arm or wrist fracture generally costs around $21,427 and putting a cast on a broken arm or leg runs around $863. You will pay additional costs for the services of physicians, surgeons, and medical staff, as well as costs involved in obtaining diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays or MRIs, prescription medication, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. Ambulance transportion to the hospital could cost you around $1,200.
In addition to medical costs, those injured in car accidents often cannot work as they recover from their injuries, resulting in the loss of wages and other benefits. Some types of injuries referred to as catastrophic injuries will result in permanent disabilities that can represent a loss of future earning capacity for the sufferer as they can no longer work or earn as they did before the injury.
The injury can also result in profound psychological impacts, including physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment that can impair the sufferer’s quality of life in addition to hammering their finances.
All of the costs and impacts listed above are compensable through the personal injury claims process. An experienced car accident attorney can appropriately value the claim to ensure that all the costs and impacts you incurred are claimed and negotiate with the insurance provider to garner a settlement offer from the at-fault party’s insurance provider that fairly compensates you.
If such an offer does not come, your attorney can file a car accident lawsuit and present your case to a judge or jury to pursue the compensation you need.
An Insurance Provider Has Offered You a Settlement
When an injury accident happens in which one party is liable, it is not unusual for the at-fault party’s insurance provider to quickly offer a settlement under the guise of “helping the injured party out” by providing them compensation as soon as possible. Faced with the mounting expenses and uncertainty of serious injuries, the injured party often jumps at this offer. However, before jumping at any offered settlement, there are a few things to know.
Settlement agreements are final. When you enter into a settlement agreement, you will be asked to sign a document that releases the at-fault party and their insurer from further attempts to collect compensation for the claim. If the amount you agreed to settle the claim is insufficient to cover your expenses, you can wind up paying for those expenses out-of-pocket.
It is also essential to understand that insurance providers and the claims adjusters they employ to evaluate claims and determine the liability of the insured and the amount of compensation owed to the claimant are in the business to make money, not large payouts.
They will often engage in tactics, particularly with claimants attempting to obtain compensation without the assistance of an attorney to reduce the amount of the claim or even to eliminate its value.
Some of the more well-known insurance company tactics include:
- Offering a low settlement with a short deadline for accepting and a threat that if the claimant doesn’t agree to the settlement, there will be no compensation available for them.
- Asking the claimant to release their medical history to evaluate the claim. The adjuster only needs to see a limited amount of medical documentation for their evaluation, and requests for all medical records are made to look for pre-existing conditions that could explain the current discomfort that the claimant is experiencing. Insurance providers aren’t responsible for compensating pre-existing conditions beyond the costs and impacts incurred as a result of the worsening of those conditions due to the accident.
- Telling a claimant that there are no non-economic damages available in their case. Non-economic damages involve compensation for the psychological impacts of the injury, such as pain and suffering. These damages often make up around 50-80 percent of the overall value of the claim.
A car accident attorney can manage communication with the insurance provider on behalf of their client to avoid having the claim devalued due to insurance company tactics. They can also evaluate the settlement you’ve been offered for the claim and provide you with information and guidance so that you can decide whether the offer would fairly compensate you.
An Insurance Provider Has Denied Your Claim
When a third-party personal injury claim has been filed against an at-fault driver’s auto liability policy, the insurance company that services that policy will assign a claims adjuster to evaluate the claim. The adjuster will analyze information about the accident and the injuries sustained, including the police report and medical documentation, and interview the parties involved. They will then decide on the claim.
The potential decisions that can be made include:
- Paying the full value of the claim outright
- Offering to settle the claim out-of-court for less than its established value
- Denying the claim and providing the claimant with a reason for the denial
If you filed an insurance claim after being injured in an accident and the claim was denied, it is essential to contact an attorney for guidance. Often, an attorney can help you navigate the process of appealing that claim denial or even help you file a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation on the claim through the court process.
Your Loved One Died in an Accident Caused by Another’s Negligence
Individuals who have lost a family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child, in a car accident caused by a negligent driver can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of their loss through a wrongful death claim.
The wrongful death claims process can provide compensation for expenses and impacts such as:
- The loss of services and support the deceased provided to their loved ones.
- The costs of the deceased’s final medical expenses.
- Reasonable costs associated with the funeral service and burial or cremation.
- Loss of wages and benefits the deceased would have likely earned if they had survived the accident.
- Loss of comfort, support, guidance, love, companionship, and protection that the deceased gave to their loved ones.
An experienced car accident attorney can help the deceased’s family members seek compensation for their profound loss.
Why You Need to Hire an Attorney
The deadline on personal injury and wrongful death claims is called the statute of limitations. This deadline involves the amount of time a claimant has to file a lawsuit in court, and while this time limit varies from state to state, it is generally within one to four years of the accident.
Failing to meet that deadline will almost always result in losing the ability to seek compensation through the court process. Unfortunately, if you cannot file a lawsuit if the insurer fails to pay the claim, you have taken away the only legal consequence they face if they don’t settle the claim.
An attorney will ensure that the impacts and expenses of your injury are adequately reflected in your claim’s value and that all of the legal options you have remain available by filing your lawsuit within the statute of limitations. They will leverage their extensive education and experience in the law to fight for the compensation you need and use their communication skills to present your claim to insurers or the court. They will use their understanding of the process and the assistance of their legal team to gather the evidence and documentation needed to prove your claim.
Affording an Attorney
One of the main reasons many car accident claimants don’t seek the assistance of an attorney is that they don’t believe they can afford one. However, the contingent fee billing method that personal injury lawyers use makes their services available for anyone who needs assistance, as there is no upfront investment required to hire one. You don’t have to pay for the services your attorney provides until you receive compensation for your claim.
Here’s how the contingent fee billing method works:
- You attend a free case evaluation with an attorney. You and the attorney decide to work together on your claim.
- You sign a contingent fee agreement. This is a legally-binding agreement in which the services to be provided are explained, and a percentage of any future settlement or award received on the matter is designated as payment for your attorney.
- Work begins on your case. You do not receive bills for your attorney’s services while the case is ongoing.
- After your claim ends, the compensation from a settlement or award is received by your attorney. They will deduct the amount necessary to settle medical liens placed on the award and the percentage for their fee.
- You and the attorney sign documents finalizing the case, and you receive the remaining compensation.
If a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence injured you or took a loved one, contact a car accident lawyer for your free case evaluation.