​When to Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident

While there are many tips available about what to do at the scene of an accident, once the parties involved have left the scene, there are often many unanswered questions.

Common questions for those who were injured in an accident that another driver’s negligence caused, include:

  • Should I hire an attorney?
  • When should an attorney be hired?

Here is a look at why an individual needs a car accident lawyer, when they should begin looking for one, and the types of services an attorney can provide during certain phases of the car accident claims process.

Should You Hire an Attorney?

Whether to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you with a car accident claim is a decision that can only be made by the injured party (or their legal guardians if the claim involves a child or an incapacitated adult).

However, if these statements are true, you must speak with an attorney about your legal options.

  • The accident was someone else’s fault. Drivers must take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to others. This duty can be breached if the driver takes unsafe or illegal actions, such as driving while distracted or impaired or failing to yield the right-of-way.
  • You suffered an injury that required medical treatment. Even if you or others deemed the injury “minor,” the accident required you to be medically evaluated and receive treatment. You are entitled to seek recovery of those expenses.
  • Your injury caused you to miss work. Many injuries that do not result in thousands of dollars in treatment still result in the sufferer having to take time away from work while recovering or attending medical appointments. Again, these are expenses that the car accident claims process was designed to compensate.

Most car accident lawyers offer free case evaluations, which provide obligation-free time with a legal professional to obtain answers to the questions you have about your case.

What if You Can’t Afford an Attorney?

Yes, most of us have things we should but can’t afford to do. Luckily, hiring a personal injury attorney is affordable to anyone who needs their services. Personal injury lawyer use what is known as a contingent fee to bill for their services. As explained by the American Bar Association, a contingent fee (also commonly called a contingency fee) means that you do not have to pay for your lawyer’s services until there is a successful outcome to your claim.

Here is a basic look at how it works:

  • You will need to sign a contingent fee agreement when you hire an attorney. This agreement details the work the attorney will perform on your behalf and designates a percentage of the compensation you recover as payment to the attorney for those services.
  • Once the contingent fee agreement is in place, your attorney and their legal team can begin working on your case. You will not pay an upfront retainer for this work, nor will your lawyer bill you by hour each time they work on your case.
  • Your attorney will receive compensation when a negotiated settlement or a court verdict resolves your case. They will place the award in a trust. From that trust, they will withdraw the designated percentage for their payment.
  • The attorney will keep the remaining funds in the trust until they satisfy all medical liens on the award. Medical liens are a legal claim to a portion of the award by healthcare providers who have treated your injury and are awaiting payment for their services.
  • After satisfying all liens, your attorney will prepare an accounting of the funds received and paid out. They will meet with you to finalize the case, and the compensation remaining from your award will be given to you.

When Is the Appropriate Time to Hire an Attorney?

​When to Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident

When is the appropriate time to do so if you’ve determined that you need to hire an attorney? Almost always, the answer to this question is as soon as possible. Here’s why.

You Have a Deadline for Your Claim

All car accident claims come with a deadline known as the statute of limitations. This deadline set by state lawmakers dictates how much time a claimant has to file a lawsuit in court. For example, those who have been injured in a car accident have three years from the accident to file a lawsuit. However, in New Jersey, car accident claimants usually have two years from the accident date to file a lawsuit.

This deadline is extremely important.

Allowing the statute of limitations to expire on your claim can have the following disastrous effects on your ability to obtain compensation for your injury:

  • You will be barred from having the case considered by the court.
  • The insurance company is no longer legally required to resolve your claim.

Contacting an attorney as soon as possible helps ensure that they have enough time to investigate properly, value the claim, gather supporting documents and evidence, and other actions that must be taken to prepare the case.

There Is a Lot of Information that Needs to Be Gathered

The collection of documents and evidence needed to prove a personal injury claim can be overwhelming for those who don’t have a team of legal professionals.

Information your attorney and their team will need to collect for your case includes:

  • A contingent fee agreement and authorization allow your attorney to speak with your medical providers about your treatment.
  • Information from the medical provider about your condition, the limitations it places on your life and ability to work, and the presence of permanent injuries can impact your independence and income in the future.
  • A police report and photographs from the accident scene
  • Information about the at-fault party, including their insurance provider, the coverage available through their insurance policy, and any citations that they were issued at the scene
  • Earnings and income loss information from your employer

Even with a legal team doing much of the legwork in gathering needed information for your case, it still requires some time. Waiting to speak with an attorney simply means less time is available for the work that needs to be done.

The Insurance Company Will Already Look to Limit the Payout

Insurance companies are in the business of making money. This likely comes as no surprise to you, as the same can be said for most types of businesses. Insurance companies who do not attempt to limit the costs of paying out on claims will likely not be able to remain in business, however. They hire or contract insurance claims adjusters to have someone evaluate the claim and find ways to reduce its value or even eliminate the claim.

This means that someone on the other side of the table has a mission that is entirely opposed to you receiving the compensation you need. Insurance claims adjusters, to protect the companies they work for, will use several tactics to devalue claims.

One of the most common tactics involving car accidents where liability is clearly with the insured is to contact the injured party before they have had the opportunity to hire an attorney. Under the guise of wanting to “take care” of the injured party by resolving their claim quickly, the insurance company will offer to settle the claim. Because the injured party is likely in pain from the accident and distressed over the costs of being injured, and because they don’t fully realize the costs or impacts of their injury, they will be more likely to accept the offer.

The problem with accepting a quick settlement is that doing so will prevent you from seeking additional compensation if you later realize that the compensation provided needed more to cover your expenses. You could be left with these unpaid expenses or even permanent injuries that will have long-term impacts on your quality of life.

This is just one of many types of tactics that claim adjusters use to avoid large payouts.

Others include:

  • Requesting that the injured party authorize the release of their entire medical history so that the adjuster can “evaluate” the claim. Usually, this request results in a thorough examination of pre-existing conditions on which your current injury can be blamed. The at-fault party is only liable for worsening a pre-existing condition, not the condition itself, and the insurance company will often reduce a settlement offer to account for a pre-existing condition.
  • Requesting that the injured party make a recorded statement about the accident. Anything stated can be compared to other statements given and used to suggest that the claimant is not being truthful about their injury or how the accident occurred.
  • Searching the claimant’s social media postings for posts they’ve made that could indicate that their injury is not as serious as they suggested.
  • Telling a claimant that they must respond to a settlement offer by an arbitrary deadline or they will no longer be eligible to receive compensation.

The earlier you hire an attorney after a car accident, the less effective these tactics are and the less havoc they can inflict on your ability to receive the highest amount of compensation available.

Your Attorney Can Handle Claims Against Your Insurance Policies Too

In no-fault states—including New York, Massachusetts, and (in some cases) New Jersey, registered drivers must maintain a personal injury protection (PIP) policy. This policy provides coverage of a portion of the claimant’s medical expenses and income loss after a car accident, regardless of who was at fault. Often, this is expected to be the first source of compensation for personal injury claimants and the only source of compensation for many of them.

If you were injured in an accident caused by another’s negligence, your attorney can not only help you seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s auto liability insurance policy but can also help you seek compensation from your PIP coverage or other types of optional coverages you have, such as collision or UM/UIM.

What Should You Look for When Hiring a Car Accident Attorney?

Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

Car Accident Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

Those who have been injured in an accident resulting from another driver’s carelessness or recklessness can seek assistance from a personal injury lawyer licensed to practice law in their state.

Many claimants prefer to have an attorney with a local office in their area for the ease of access and familiarity that working with a local attorney can provide.

Some of the important questions to ask an attorney during a free case evaluation include:

  • Questions about the experience the attorney has with car accident cases, and with accidents involving scenarios similar to your case. You will want to know their history with settling claims like yours, as well as whether they have experience with taking car accident cases to trial. These days, many law firms focus primarily on settling cases out of court as quickly as possible. While most car accident claims do settle out of court, there is no guarantee that yours will. You want an attorney who is comfortable with litigation.
  • Questions about how they feel about your case. An attorney will not necessarily be able to answer questions during the free case evaluation as to how long it will take to get a settlement or what they feel your claim is worth, but they can discuss what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and provide ample information about how the process typically works in situations like yours.

If a car accident injured you, contact an experienced attorney near you to learn more about your claims.