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When to Get an Attorney for a Car Accident

Car Accident Lawyers Jacoby and Meyers LLP

Each year, approximately three million people are non-fatally injured in car accidents in the U.S. Naturally, one of the most common questions car accident victims have after a car accident is whether they need an attorney.

As a general rule, if you feel like you need the assistance of an attorney after a car accident, you should at least make some calls. Most car accident attorneys offer free consultations. If your case does not require the assistance of an attorney, you will likely be told that during your free case evaluation. However, there are many circumstances in which having an attorney is greatly valuable to your chances of recovery. Below are some of those circumstances where having an attorney represent you in your car accident case is especially critical.

When Your Injuries Are Serious

In the case of more serious car accident injuries, having an attorney can increase your chances of recovering full compensation through a car accident lawsuit.

Whether you can bring a lawsuit for car accident injuries depends in part on whether or not your state has no-fault insurance laws. Under no-fault insurance systems, to register your vehicle in the state, you must purchase a personal injury protection (PIP) policy that will provide wage loss and medical expense coverage, up to certain limits, if you are injured in a car accident, regardless of who caused the accident. While this is helpful if your injuries are minor as it allows you to file a claim with your own insurance provider, those with serious injuries may find that their PIP policy limits out quickly.

Thus, even in no-fault insurance states, individuals are permitted to file a car accident lawsuit against the at-fault party if the injuries are serious enough. As each no-fault state has its own serious injury threshold—that is, a level of injury deemed serious enough to justify legal action to cover injury beyond what a PIP policy will—it is important to know what constitutes serious injury in your state. In most states, an injury involving a broken bone, amputated limb, permanent loss of a bodily function or organ, or that leads to death is considered serious.

An attorney can not only provide guidance as to the legal options that are available to you based on whether you are in a no-fault or at-fault state, but can also assist you in the legal process of filing your lawsuit by the mandatory deadlines, and provide myriad other valuable services at each stage of the lawsuit.

If You Lost a Loved One in the Accident

It is also a good idea to hire a lawyer in cases of losing a loved one in a car accident. Like a car accident lawsuit, a wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court. In a wrongful death action, a plaintiff or plaintiffs, referred to as “survivors” of the accident victim, bring suit to prove that the death of their loved one was due to the defendant’s wrongdoing.

If successful, the survivors may recover many of the expenses they have incurred because of the death. This action is generally filed either by the deceased’s family members—such as spouse, parents, or children—or by an appointed representative of the deceased’s estate on behalf of the family.

Courts typically award damages in wrongful death actions to cover expenses and impacts such as:

  • Medical expenses incurred for treatment of the deceased after the accident leading up to death.
  • Funeral and burial or cremation costs.
  • Lost wages and benefits the deceased could have reasonably expected to earn but for their untimely death.
  • The loss of the deceased’s care, companionship, and support, and other mental and emotional suffering.

As with a car accident lawsuit, obtaining compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit is a complex undertaking that requires extensive knowledge of the legal system. Having an experienced wrongful death attorney at your side could be determinative of whether you recover compensation.

If Liability Is Unclear

Not every car accident is black and white concerning fault. Often, multiple at-fault defendants cause an accident, such as the other driver and their insurer and, if the other driver was on-the-job at the time of the accident, their employer and its insurer. Figuring out all potentially liable defendants is a complicated endeavor by itself.

An experienced car accident attorney will understand the complexities of determining liability, including identifying all potential defendants and what the comparative negligence laws in your state are. An attorney can help ensure you recover compensation, even if you were partially at fault for an accident.

If the Police Report Is Inaccurate

It is typical for police to show up at the scene of a car accident to conduct an investigation and produce a report. While courts frequently find parts of these reports inadmissible, courts may admit certain information from the report, such as the officers’ personal observations of the scene.

A police report can be a double-edged sword, however, as the police report is a tool that insurance companies on the other side regularly use for their defense. Because the report can help prove your case in court or to an insurance adjuster, make sure the information is accurate.

While certain errors, such as the officer transposing a license plate number, can easily be amended on the report, other factual errors may be more difficult to correct and require you to produce evidence to counter the erroneous assertion. A car accident attorney with experience in a range of cases where the evidence is, at first, unclear will know where to look to find the countervailing evidence you need to set the record straight.

If More Than Two Parties Were Involved

Car accidents involving multiple vehicles or multiple sources of liability makes recovery more difficult, as the claimant is required to prove how each defendant is liable. When multiple vehicles are involved in a car accident, the value of having an experienced car accident attorney to represent you is even more valuable, as they can collect the maximum amount of compensation available from all responsible parties in your case.

When Your Accident Occurred in a Work Zone

Reckless driving in work zones leads to harsher penalties and potentially creates greater liability. They can also be more difficult to sort out. The chaotic scene at work zone car accidents can involve multiple drivers, and obstacles and hazards created by workers. Construction companies are required to adhere to strict safety regulations to prevent as many accidents as possible and can also bear a portion of the blame when one occurs. An experienced car accident attorney can identify all potential sources of liability in a work zone accident and make sure you don’t leave anything on the table.

When You Face Insurance Company Opposition on Your Third Party Claim

If you filed a legitimate third party insurance claim for compensation for your injuries and received no response from the insurance company, a car accident attorney can help you determine if the insurance company is acting in bad faith. Bad faith insurance is the attempt of the insurer to avoid contractual obligations, including refusing to pay out legitimate third party claims.

Even if they don’t refuse outright to pay a claim, insurers use other tactics to avoid big payouts, including:

  • Making unfairly low settlement offers.
  • Misrepresenting contract terms and conditions, including terms that result in non-payment of a claim.
  • Refusing to provide support of the findings that led the insurance company to refuse payment of a claim or only agree to partial payment.

If the At-Fault Party’s Insurance Provider Offered You a Quick Settlement

Yet another tactic that insurance companies use to avoid big payouts in car accident cases is to rush to a claimant to convince them to accept an unfairly low settlement offer. Shortly after a car accident occurs, sometimes before the injured person has been released from the accident, an insurance adjuster may make contact with the injured and even offer a settlement.

Accepting this early settlement is almost always a mistake, as victims have not had the opportunity yet to monitor their recovery and figure out the extent to which their injuries will cause complications that will require additional costly treatment in the future. Victims have not lived with the injuries long enough to fully realize how they will impact their quality of life.

Car accident settlements are one-shot deals. Accepting a quick settlement offer from an insurance company often fails to provide enough compensation to cover expenses, requiring you to pay the remaining expenses out-of-pocket. An experienced car accident attorney can properly value your case to reflect the full amount you deserve for the impacts you experienced from the accident.

What an Experienced Car Accident Attorney Can Do for You

A car accident injury attorney can provide many things you couldn’t furnish yourself. Not having these things may only lead to an increasing level of frustration with the process and potentially result in the loss of compensation you may seek.

Some of those services include:

  • A free case evaluation, in which you can receive guidance on the legal process involved in pursuing compensation in your case.
  • A valuation of your case that is based on the expenses you have already incurred as well as those you are likely to incur in the future, along with the major impacts to your life that the injury has caused.
  • Filing your claim in a court in the proper jurisdiction and within the time limit prescribed by state law.
  • Determination of all sources of liability and all insurance coverage that can be accessed to maximize your compensation.
  • Negotiation with the at-fault party’s insurance provider to obtain a fair settlement offer.
  • Representation in litigation Litigation, including the delivery of opening and closing arguments, presentation of evidence, and the examination of witnesses.
  • Collection and organization of evidence and witness testimony that can be used to prove your case in the event your case goes to trial.
  • Guidance as to the pros and cons of accepting an offered settlement so that you can make an informed decision.
  • Assistance with collecting your settlement or award.
  • A convenient contingency-fee pay scheme that requires no payment for services until there is a successful outcome to your case.

If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident, you could benefit in many ways from hiring an attorney. Don’t hesitate to make some calls, as most attorneys will offer free consultations, giving you the chance to determine whether hiring an attorney is right in your case.