Most people do not think about hiring a car accident lawyer until they are injured and need one. At that point, they are injured and perhaps not even sure what type of lawyer they need, let alone how to choose the best one to represent their claim. About 1.33 million lawyers work in the U.S. Can any of them help you with your motorcycle claim? Is it important which one you choose?
Read on for more information about the lawyer you need for your case, how to choose the best car accident lawyer to represent you, the services your attorney can provide you, and answers to some questions we often hear about hiring an attorney. Get a free case evaluation from an experienced car accident lawyer near you today
The Type of Lawyer You Need for a Car Accident Claim
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle accidents injure about three million people are injured each year and kill more than 35,000 (around 3,700 a day). These accidents represent massive losses nearly $475 billion in societal costs, including lost productivity, property loss, medical costs, and costs of providing emergency services.
If someone else’s negligence injured you in a car accident, you may seek compensation for your injury. You will need a car accident lawyer.
#1. The Claims Process
The claims process usually involves these steps:
- Your attorney submits a demand package to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. This package includes the details of the claim, documentation of your injuries and expenses, and a demand for payment of the full value of the claim.
- The insurance adjuster (employed by the at-fault party’s insurance carrier) has three choices: pay the claim, deny the claim and provide notification to the claimant as to the reason for the denial, or settle.
- If the insurance adjuster agrees to pay the claim as submitted, then the payment will be processed, and the case will resolve. If the insurance adjuster opts to deny the claim, then you with the guidance of your attorney can opt to file your claim in court. However, if the insurance adjuster decides to offer a settlement, your attorney can counter the offer, and the two sides can negotiate until they agree to resolve the claim.
- While your attorney is working to negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf, your legal team will prepare your case for trial. If settlement negotiations stall, and as the statute of limitations in your case approaches, you will decide with the guidance of your attorney when it is time to file your lawsuit in court. Often, filing the case in court inspires the insurance adjuster to make better settlement offers.
- If your claim does not settle by the time your trial date arrives, your attorney will provide opening and closing arguments and present evidence and witness testimony to support your claim.
- Once you have obtained a settlement agreement or an award is made on your behalf, your attorney will help you collect your compensation and carry out other responsibilities as outlined in your agreement for services.
#2. The Benefits of Working With a Car Accident Attorney
The most important thing your attorney brings to the table for your case is experience. Attorneys generally spend at least seven years completing the educational requirements for a law degree. They spend many more years working on cases like yours. Through that time, they learn the intricacies of the legal process and the needs of the injured.
This experience helps them to:
- Determine all sources of liability, as many car accidents present more than one source of liability. More liable parties can mean you can pursue more insurance resources to provide your compensation.
- Determine the value of your claim based not only on insurance resources but on other important factors such as the severity of your injury, the economic losses you have faced as a result of the accident, and the expenses and impacts you will likely experience in the future.
- Investigate your case, including discovering evidence and gathering information through witness testimony that can help prove your claim.
- Aggressively fight for your right to compensation for your injuries through settlement negotiations or litigation.
- Provide you with the guidance you need to make decisions about your case. It is important to remember that you decide the direction of your case. If you want to resolve the claim and you feel you can live with the settlement offered, that is what we will do. If you think it is time to let the courts decide what constitutes fair compensation, your attorney can do that. Their job is to make sure you have the information necessary to make these decisions and act in your best interests to achieve your desired outcome.
#3. Settlement Negotiations
Because settlement negotiations can begin when your attorney makes your initial demand to the insurance adjuster and can last until the court decides your car accident lawsuit. In other words: You can wait a long time for an insurance adjuster to offer a fair settlement.
During that time, your lawyer’s communication skills will be crucial in several areas, including:
- Properly valuing your claim to ensure room for negotiation.
- Helping you to avoid common issues related to insurance tactics that can harm the value of a claim, such as agreeing to a settlement without the attorney’s participation or authorizing the release of your medical records to the insurance adjuster.
- Helping the insurance adjuster to understand the facts of your case, including the expenses and impacts that you have experienced as a result of actions by their insured.
- Helping you understand what constitutes a fair settlement offer compared to the expenses you face and the likelihood of future complications and impacts arising from the injury.
#4. Litigation Services
Only about 4 or 5 percent of personal injury cases such as those involving car accidents go to court. The rest resolve outside of court, with settlements a common form of resolution. This means that you are more likely to be compensated through a negotiated settlement than through a court award. But there are no guarantees. At the start of the claims process, an attorney cannot tell a client that they will get a settlement. In fact, they have to begin every case assuming that it will go to court.
Some advantages of working with an experienced car accident attorney in preparing your court case include:
- An understanding of the evidence required to prove your claim and how to find it.
- The deposition of witnesses, which involves an out-of-court sworn testimony. This testimony can give your legal team new information to pursue.
- The provision of expert witnesses, such as medical experts or accident reconstruction specialists.
- Knowledge of important details in the court process, such as the statute of limitations, jurisdiction, pre-trial hearings, and more.
What to Look for When Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
No, not all of the 1.33 million lawyers in the U.S. are qualified to handle car accident claims. Despite this, there are generally several options in any given region when choosing the best car accident lawyer to handle your claim. So, how do you know which one to choose?
Most car accident attorneys will provide a free case evaluation. This is time to discuss your case, get answers to your legal questions, and learn more about the firm and the services they can provide to assist you with your claim. Here are some things to consider when looking for a car accident lawyer.
As previously mentioned, experience is important in car accident claims. Read up on the attorney’s experience online (through the firm’s website or online review sites) and ask about the attorney’s experience during your case evaluation.
Some factors worth considering include:
- How many years the attorney has been practicing law.
- How many cases the attorney has worked on that are similar to yours.
- How many cases like yours the attorney has helped to resolve by settlement.
- How many cases like yours the attorney has helped to resolve through litigation.
#2. Familiarity with Local Laws
The right legal teams know local laws and can provide the personal service and attention to detail that the claimants in those regions need.
Your attorney needs to know local laws that pertain to your claim and how the court system in the area where you file your claim works.
#3. The Ability to Get Good Settlements
Because your case is more likely to settle out of court than to result in a civil trial, it is helpful to look at the attorney’s case results and see how many car accident claims they have helped resolve through a negotiated settlement. You will also want to ask the attorney what they feel are the strengths and weaknesses of your case and how they would suggest proceeding with your claim.
#4. Comfort in the Courtroom
Many car accident attorneys have gotten so comfortable with the settlement process that they have very little experience in the courtroom. If you could guarantee that your claim would settle, this would not be an issue. But there is no guarantee. Instead, you can look at the attorney’s case results and solicit references from clients who have had cases like yours that have gone to trial that the attorney represented.
The danger in having an attorney that does not like litigation is not only that they will be over their head in the courtroom but that they could guide you to accept a settlement that you do not feel is fair to resolve the case without litigation.
#5. Clear Communication
Clear communication is important between you and your attorney, and between your attorney and others involved in your case. If you are having trouble contacting a law firm for a free case evaluation, or if during that evaluation you cannot get clear answers or easily understand what they say to you, this is a red flag.
The attorney you hire should freely and clearly share information about your case. They should communicate with you about their fees, their expectations, and yours.
Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing the Best Car Accident Lawyer
When it comes to assisting you in obtaining compensation for the expenses and impacts you incurred as a result of a car accident, it is not a matter of “any lawyer will do.” Instead, it is a matter of finding the legal team who is most experienced in accidents like yours, who can communicate clearly with you and with others about your case, and who has not only a deep understanding of the compensation you need, but also the evidence, testimony, and documentation needed to prove your claim in court. If it seems like a complicated matter, that’s because IT IS.
To help you further understand the issue, here are the answers to some questions that we frequently hear about choosing the best car accident lawyer to assist you with your claim.
When should I hire a car accident lawyer to assist me with my claim?
Speak with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible after you have become injured in an accident that someone else’s careless or reckless actions caused. Not before you seek medical attention or report the accident to the police and your insurance, but soon after.
To recover compensation for the expenses of your injury, you generally must get it from the at-fault party’s insurance provider. Insurance companies are in the business to make money, which is hard to do while paying out on claims for injuries caused by their insured. So they may employ several tactics to reduce or eliminate these claims.
Some of the common insurance company tactics that can start up almost immediately after an accident include:
- Convincing the injured person that no funds or only limited funds are available for their claim.
- Convincing the injured person that they were at fault for the accident and have no basis to file a claim.
- Convincing the injured person to settle for less than the claim’s value.
- Convincing the injured person to authorize the release of their medical records (so the adjuster can look for proof of preexisting injuries to reduce the claim).
You might have noticed all of these tactics involve convincing the claimant of something to avoid paying. They feel comfortable attempting to convince you of anything because they are banking on the notion that you do not know the law and will take them on their word. When you have an experienced car accident lawyer assisting you with your claim, they will handle communication with the at-fault party’s insurance to help you avoid falling prey to these tactics and having your claim reduced or eliminated as a result.
What type of compensation can a car accident lawyer help me obtain?
A car accident lawyer can generally help you recover economic and non-economic damages.
What does that mean?
The term “damages” means compensation for harm. Economic damages involve compensation for the expenses you have incurred or will likely incur in the future due to your injury.
Examples of the type of expenses that often appear in economic damage claims in car accident cases include:
- Medical expenses
- Wage loss
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Damage to your vehicle
Non-economic damages refer to compensation for the quality-of-life impacts you have incurred or will likely incur due to the injury.
Examples of impacts that car accident claimants frequently include in their damage claims are:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
How does an attorney calculate non-economic damages?
How does an attorney calculate the costs of impacts that do not involve an established fee or a bill for services?
Many factors go into determining the value of a claim, including:
- The amount of insurance the at-fault party has. Insurance pays most claims. You can get a judgment against an uninsured person or entity, but many of them do not have the money to pay you.
- The severity of your injury. More severe injuries tend to: result in longer time away from work; increase the risk of permanent injuries that will impact your ability to earn an income; increase the expenses associated with hiring someone to help you accomplish personal care tasks if you are no longer able to do them on your own; and to result in increased physical and emotional suffering.
- How much money you were making before the accident, as this impacts the amount of compensation you can claim for lost wages and lost earning capacity.
After weighing all of those factors, your attorney can help determine the non-economic damage value for your case.
What should I do to help my attorney with my case?
If your accident very recently occurred, retain the following (if possible) to give to the attorney you hire to assist you with your claim:
- The names, contact information, and insurance information for all other drivers involved.
- The names and contact information for any witnesses that saw the accident occur.
- The name, department, and badge number of the officer who investigated the accident or a copy of the police report completed by the officer.
- Copies of any injury- or accident-related bills, such as bills for your medical treatment or for repairing or replacing your vehicle.
- Photos of the damage to vehicles involved, the accident scene, or any visible injuries that you sustained.
- Copies of employment records, including those that show your wages before the accident, as well as the time you’ve missed from work and any personal or vacation time that you used because you were too injured to work.
- Witness testimony from bosses, family members, friends, or others who can speak to how your injury has impacted your life.
Beyond that, your attorney needs from you:
- Patience during the negotiation process. Remember, this process can last for a long time, and the more patient you are as the attorney negotiates, the better able they are to work on obtaining a fair settlement in your case.
- Responsiveness throughout the process. There will be times when your attorney will need information from you to keep your case moving in a forward direction. This means promptly responding to communication or requests.
I cannot afford an attorney. What should I do?
The easy answer: You can afford a car accident attorney, so speak with one today.
Many types of attorneys work on a retainer and an hourly billing scheme. This requires their clients to come up with an upfront investment and to stay up on their bills for work on their claim to proceed. Fortunately, car accident attorneys do not usually work that way. Because you seek compensation for the expenses of an injury, and the ability to pay for an attorney to assist a claimant with the process often depends on the successful resolution of the claim, most car accident attorneys work via contingency fees.
What is that?
A contingency-fee billing arrangement allows you to withhold payment for your legal team’s services until your claim has a positive outcome (either a negotiated settlement or a court award). If you lose the case, neither you nor your lawyer gets paid. However, if you win, your lawyer will obtain a percentage of your settlement or award for their time and efforts. You and your attorney agree upon the percentage in a contingency-fee agreement you sign when you start working together on your case.
How much is the average settlement when an attorney works on a claim?
There is no such thing as an average settlement in a car accident case.
A settlement agreement represents:
- The amount of insurance the at-fault party has.
- The willingness of the at-fault party’s insurance carrier to make an offer that fairly compensates the claimant.
- The willingness of the claimant to accept the offered settlement and agree to resolve the legal claim against the at-fault party through their insurance provider.
- The severity of the injury, the claimant’s income before the accident, and the number of impacts they incurred as a result of the injury.
- The claimant’s patience as the settlement negotiation process is unfolding. Here is the thing about settlements: It is not necessarily difficult to get a settlement offer, particularly in cases where liability is clear. However, getting a fair settlement offer is often an entirely different animal. The law and legal ethics bind your attorney to represent you, which includes obtaining the most compensation available to you
Can my attorney help me get punitive damages?
Courts award punitive damages, not as compensation for the expenses and impacts of the claimant’s injuries, but to punish a particularly reckless defendant and discourage them from exhibiting such recklessness. Punitive damages are not necessarily an aspect of the settlement negotiations process, as that would require an at-fault party’s insurance provider to agree to offer additional damages. Most of the time, it is difficult enough to get an insurance provider to agree to pay the full value of a claim, much less punitive damages.
Instead, juries award these damages during litigation in approximately 5 percent of the cases that go to trial. Your attorney will advise you if you may receive punitive damages. If so, your attorney can obtain evidence and witness testimony that will prove to the jury that intent or at least a wanton disregard for the safety of others factored heavily into the cause of your accident.
Hiring an attorney seems like a lot of work. Can I just file my claim myself?
Hiring an attorney can certainly be a lot of work. However, filing a claim on your own will generally result in an even greater amount of work, and without the benefit of the experience and assistance a legal team can offer you.
If you choose to represent yourself, you must know:
- The statutory deadline for your claim and all court formalities regarding how to communicate information about your case to the court.
- Gathering evidence, including knowing what the evidence needed to prove a car accident claim and how to obtain that evidence.
- Handling witness testimony, including the deposing of witnesses during discovery.
- How to properly value your claim, including a settlement that would constitute fair compensation.
- How to negotiate with an insurance provider without compromising the value of your claim.
- How to collect your compensation after you have obtained a settlement or award.
The experience a car accident attorney can bring to your claim can mean the difference of thousands of dollars or more when it comes to the amount of compensation you can receive. At the same time, working with a legal team can provide you with the compassion you deserve, the personal touch you crave, and the willingness to fight alongside you for compensation that you need.
Learn more about the services a car accident attorney can provide you through a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.