So, you have your short list of attorneys you think may be able to help you after your car accident and injuries. How do you know if you even have a case? How can you tell which lawyer will do the best possible job for you? When you call a law firm or meet with a lawyer in person, you have the opportunity to ask many questions about both the accident and the attorney—and you should always make the most of this opportunity! Every law firm should be willing to thoroughly answer your questions to ensure you best understand your rights and their legal services.
Once you get on the phone or attend a meeting, it can be easy to forget many of the issues you wanted to address. It can be a good idea to prepare a checklist of questions ahead of time to make sure you get all the information you need to make your decision whether to hire an attorney. The following is only one example of a list of questions you may want to ask a potential lawyer after a car accident.
Can I Expect Compensation for My Injuries?
You may have a feeling that you have the right to compensation after a crash, though it can be difficult to know for sure, especially if the other party involved is denying liability. A lawyer will gather a lot of information about how the accident happened, whether the police issued citations or made arrests, and more. The lawyer is trying to determine whether another party may be held responsible for your losses.
You will have the right to seek compensation from another party that acted negligently to cause the car accident. There are many different types of negligence that may result in a serious accident, and the liable parties may include other drivers, the employers of on-the-job-drivers, car manufacturers, and more. Some examples of negligence that lead to compensation for victims include:
- Distracted driving
- Drunk driving
- Aggressive driving
- Violating traffic laws
- Defective auto parts
- Hazardous roads
In some cases, answering this question will require further investigation by the law firm, including interviewing witnesses or consulting with car accident experts. They want to get enough information to decide whether they can prove negligence and liability in your specific case. However, you should get a good idea of whether you may have a valid claim from your initial consultation.
How Much Compensation Can I Expect?
Many people underestimate the value of their car accident losses. If you never call a lawyer, you may request and accept compensation that is far lower than you deserve. You will likely be surprised by an attorney’s answer regarding the potential value of your claim. Of course, it is almost impossible to estimate the end value of a case at the beginning of the process, but an experienced law firm will be able to give you information and estimates to help establish a range.
The most common losses are medical bills and lost income if your injured required you to miss work. However, a skilled car accident lawyer knows that losses can include much more than existing medical bills and lost income. You can also seek compensation for intangible losses, including pain and suffering, permanent injuries, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Noneconomic damages can be worth more than you might imagine, and can often increase the value of your claim when properly calculated. However, be prepared for an insurance company to challenge the amount of noneconomic damages you claim, and the right lawyer can negotiate for the amount you deserve. Many cases with substantial pain and suffering damages or that involve permanent injuries may not be resolved through the insurance claims process and may require a personal injury lawsuit.
How Much Time Do I Have to Take Legal Action?
The answer to this question will depend on what state you are in and the specific circumstances of your case. Each state sets its own statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits and, if you file your case after the statute of limitations expires, the other party may successfully get the case dismissed and you lose your right to seek compensation. For this reason, it’s absolutely essential that you understand the time limits and begin your legal case in plenty of time.
In Texas, for example, you only have two years from the date of an injury or a fatality to file a claim for personal injury or wrongful death. Two years sounds like a long time to many people, and it can be easy to put off taking action, especially when you are dealing with medical appointments and adjusting to life with your injuries. However, there is much that has to happen before you file a lawsuit after a car accident, including:
- You need to select the right car accident attorney for your case.
- Your lawyer will then investigate the accident to gather evidence of liability and to calculate your damages.
- Your lawyer will file an insurance claim with the negligent party’s insurance company. They then will try to obtain the settlement you deserve straight from the insurer, which can take time going back and forth with negotiations.
- If the insurance claim is not adequate to fully compensate you for all your losses, your lawyer will then have to prepare a persuasive complaint to initiate your personal injury lawsuit.
- The complaint must be filed within the statute of limitations.
The process leading up to a court filing can easily take months, if not longer. If you wait until the statute of limitations is almost up, you could lose your chance to file a claim or your claim may be rushed. You should be aware of your time constraints as soon as possible after your crash.
What Is Your Plan for My Car Accident Case?
Each car accident case is unique and each one can follow a different path. Some factors that will affect an attorney’s plan include:
- Whether there are multiple liable parties
- If the liable parties are individual drivers and/or corporations
- Which insurance companies cover the liable parties
- The extent of your injuries and whether you suffered permanent impairments
- The value of your claim
If you have a lawyer who is extremely familiar with each insurance company and civil court, they can generally inform you of their plans for your case up front. Know that plans can change, and a case they expected to resolve with an insurer may end up in court for various reasons. However, you always want to be in a partnership with your attorney, and knowing the details of their plan is important.
How Do I Pay for My Medical Bills While My Case is Pending?
Car accident claims can take time, and you will watch your bills pile up while your case is pending. You will also have to figure out a way to cover copays and other required expenses so you can receive the treatment you need. There are different options to help you depending on your location and situation.
- Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage – Some states offer—or even require—PIP insurance for drivers. In Texas, all auto policies automatically include PIP insurance and you must decline this coverage formally in writing. This is a type of no-fault insurance that should cover your medical expenses whether or not you were at fault for an accident.
- Medical payments coverage – Often called MedPay, this is a type of coverage you can also get as part of your auto insurance policy. MedPay covers your copays and out-of-pocket costs after an accident even if someone else was at fault.
- Supplemental insurance – Companies like Aflac offer supplemental insurance policies that provide a certain amount of coverage in the case of medical emergencies, such as after a car accident. This policies often cost only a few dollars each month and can help immensely after an accident.
- Contingency-based medical billing – Your attorney may know of certain medical providers that will hold your medical bills contingent on your pending settlement. In this situation, your provider agrees to provide services without payment based on the fact that you have a pending car accident case. Once you reach a settlement, you or your lawyer can pay the medical providers straight from the settlement.
- Litigation funding – Also commonly referred to as “lawsuit loans,” litigation funding provides you with upfront funding in anticipation of a coming settlement. These loans don’t require a credit check or income verification—they only require confirmation that you have a pending claim that is likely to settle. However, some companies charge high fees and interest on these loans, so only obtain these if you have no other options.
- Credit cards – If you don’t have insurance coverage for your medical expenses and your providers will not accept contingency-based billing, you may be able to cover your bills using credit for the time being. If you have the available credit and it won’t affect your score too much, you can cover your own bills and keep track of every payment you make. When you receive your settlement, you can use the funds to pay off the credit card balances.
Too many people believe that their medical bills will get sent straight to the liable party or their insurance company. This isn’t the case, and you may be responsible for certain payments to continue treatment while your case is pending. Your lawyer can help you weigh your options and devise a plan to cover these costs for the time being.
I Need Medical Treatment for Years to Come. How Will I Cover Those Costs?
Once you receive your settlement, you can pay off your existing medical bills. However, if you need ongoing medical treatment for the foreseeable future, how will you cover those costs? This is a common scenario, as many car accident injuries require months or years of treatment. Your lawyer should include all of the estimated costs of future treatment in your claim.
Estimating future costs can be tricky, and lawyers often use the help of medical experts who are familiar with the type of treatment your injury requires and the costs associated with that treatment. You can seek compensation ahead of time for those future expenses. Once you receive your settlement and pay your existing bills, you should have enough left over to cover your future bills. You need to make sure you have a plan to manage your settlement funds to ensure you have enough as the future medical bills come in.
What Do You Need from Me?
This is an important question to ask your car accident lawyer for many reasons. First, it shows your willingness to assist and participate in your case when needed. It also informs you of the role you will play in your own case, so there are no surprises down the line. Finally, when your lawyer informs you of possible documents or information they will need, you will have plenty of time to prepare what’s needed. If you are ready with the necessary documents and information, it can save time for both you and your attorney, and it can help avoid delays in the legal process.
These are only some examples of questions to ask after a car accident. There are many other issues you may be wondering about, and you should tailor your questions based on your own needs and situation. You should always feel knowledgeable about your case and what to expect.
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.