Some car accident victims avoid hiring a lawyer because of concerns about money or because they do not truly understand what a lawyer can do for them after a car accident.
First, you do not have to let financial concerns prevent you from consulting a lawyer or hiring one to represent you in a car accident claim. Personal injury law firms accept new clients on a contingent fee, meaning you sign an agreement giving the attorney a percentage of your settlement or jury award for their services. You do not have to pay an upfront retainer like you would for a divorce lawyer or a tax attorney.
Once you realize you don’t have to worry about the financial aspects of hiring a car accident lawyer after a car accident, you will find that it’s in your best interest to at least consult with an attorney. Here is a broad overview of what a lawyer can do for you after a car accident.
Duty of Care
The defendant must have a duty of care toward a car accident victim. This element is easily satisfied if another motorist is the defendant. All drivers have a legal duty to follow the rules of the road and drive safely concerning others on the road. However, you might be naming a business as the defendant in your claim. The lawyer you speak to will advise who you should hold responsible for your injuries.
A business owes drivers a duty of care in two main situations. First, automobile and automobile parts manufacturers have a duty to bring safe vehicles and parts to the market for consumers. Businesses also have a duty to maintain their company vehicles, so a mechanical failure does not cause an accident. In any case, you cannot sue someone after a car accident if they did not have a duty of care toward you.
Breach of Duty
A breach of duty must occur for a car accident victim to have a legitimate personal injury claim. A breach can be obvious, especially criminal behavior like drunk driving or excessive speeding. Other times a breach of duty is not that obvious, such as distracted driving or drowsy driving. A defective vehicle or part like a tire or brake pad constitutes a breach of duty in a negligence claim.
Even if someone breaches their duty toward you, you must suffer harm in a car accident to have a viable claim. Harm, legally referred to as ‘damages.’ includes various things. The most visible and obvious form of harm is physical injury. However, other economic losses are connected to a car accident and injuries, including medical treatment costs, property damages, and lost wages.
Damages also include emotional trauma from an accident. Sometimes the extent of damages is not enough to warrant a costly lawsuit. Your potential lawyer will evaluate your case and weigh your damages with the cost of taking legal action to advise you on your situation.
A viable car accident claim based on negligence must include proof that the defendant’s breach of duty caused you harm. Defendants frequently contest causation in car accident claims, doing their best to shift blame to the claimant or another party. During your initial meeting, your potential attorney will review the cause or causes of your accident to ensure your claim meets all the requirements to prove negligence.
Handle Communications With Relevant Parties
Once you hire a lawyer and decide you have a viable car accident claim, they will handle all communication with your case. Letting your lawyer speak to the insurance company and any lawyers involved protects your rights and the value of your claim.
You won’t accidentally say something to hurt your claim when your lawyer does the talking. Insurance adjusters work tirelessly to elicit statements from claimants that justify denying a car accident claim. If they cannot find a way to deny a claim, they look to reduce the potential payout as much as possible.
Insurance companies use various tactics to reduce the value of a personal injury claim, most of which include shifting blame away from their policyholder. Two popular strategies are obtaining recorded statements and accessing a claimant’s complete medical history. Insurance companies review a claimant’s recorded statement to find a way to twist their words to attribute fault to the claimant. Your lawyer will ensure the insurance company does not intimidate you into giving a recorded statement.
You must prove your injuries to the insurance company for your claim, so insurance adjusters often approach claimants and ask them to sign a release for their medical records and gain access to someone’s entire medical history. They meticulously review the history to find instances where they can argue that your car accident injuries were not actually a result of the accident but happened previously.
Your lawyer can ensure the insurance company does not try to play these games and only give them access to the information they legally need to process your claim.
Investigate Your Car Accident
Local law enforcement should have come to the scene to investigate, take notes, and fill out a formal accident report after a car accident. However, an official crash report is the narrative of one law enforcement officer who arrived after the accident. The officer includes details from both parties and observations in their report. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they get it wrong.
Building the strongest case possible against the driver or other party responsible for the car accident requires a complete investigation, giving you the best chance to receive maximum compensation for your injuries. Your lawyer might rely on an in-house investigation team or an outside, third-party investigator to uncover any underlying facts that are not in the official police report.
Gather Evidence to Support Your Claim
During the car accident investigation, your lawyer, often in conjunction with an investigator, will gather relevant evidence to support your claim. Medical records documenting your injuries, treatment, and recovery are at the top of the list after the police report. Your lawyer will likely track down any eyewitnesses listed in the police report or whose contact information you provided and take their statements.
Beyond confirming or contradicting information in the formal police report, your lawyer might collect other information, such as:
- Cell phone records. Your lawyer might pull the other driver’s cell phone records to find out if they were texting or talking on their cell phone when the accident occurred. Cell phone use is among the most common negligent driving behaviors that lead to car accidents.
- Driving history. Your lawyer will learn what they can about the driver that caused the accident. Do they have a history of speeding or drinking and driving? This can help lead to potential causes of your car accident.
- Video evidence. Depending on where your car accident occurred, a traffic or video surveillance camera from a nearby business might have caught your accident on tape. Actual video footage of your accident can bolster your claim by confirming the narrative in the police report and strengthening it or showing the report was incomplete.
- Expert opinions. Lawyers rely on outside experts to give opinions about how an accident occurred, especially when disputes over liability exist. Accident reconstruction specialists can look at paint transfer patterns, skid marks, vehicle damage, and other evidence from the scene of the accident to determine what happened. Expert opinions are especially necessary when video evidence is unavailable.
Place a Value on Your Claim
After a car accident, insurance policy limits play a big role in how much someone might receive in a settlement or jury award for their injuries. However, your lawyer needs to place a total value on your claim, including an accurate value of all damages. Tallying up economic loss is straightforward because it includes medical expenses and lost wages.
Calculating non-economic losses is a little trickier. Your lawyer must place a value on pain and suffering and other ways your car accident injuries have impacted your life. Your lawyer will draw on their experience and past cases to develop a number for each type of non-economic loss, but in some cases, they might need to enlist the help of experts. This is especially common when someone suffers a permanent injury. Experts can help determine a value for a lifetime of pain and suffering, lost earning capacity, and others.
Negotiate a Settlement With the Insurance Company
Insurance companies often make lowball settlement offers that do not constitute fair compensation for someone’s car accident injuries. Additionally, they sometimes make these offers before a car accident victim knows the full scope of their injuries.
Once you accept a settlement offer, you must waive your right to future compensation for your injuries for the same event. This can leave you without the money you need for medical treatment or day-to-day needs if you suffer a permanent injury, especially one that prevents you from working.
Lawyers are trained negotiators. Experienced lawyers have honed their negotiating skills, and they know how to handle insurance companies. Legal counsel forces insurance companies to play nice and take your claim seriously. In most cases, an experienced lawyer can obtain a far better financial outcome for a car accident victim than what someone could negotiate themselves.
Prepare for Litigation
Most car accident injury claims settle long before going to trial. Both sides have the incentive to avoid costly litigation. However, sometimes negotiations break down, forcing your attorney to formally file a lawsuit and prepare for trial. Disputes about liability and injuries often accompany disagreement over the value of a car accident claim, leading to the failure of settlement negotiations.
If you cannot reach a settlement agreement, your lawyer must prepare your case for trial. The trial involves overwhelming administrative tasks like filing documents with the court and scheduling. However, it also includes taking depositions—formal questioning under oath—from witnesses and coming up with the format and strategy to present a case to the court.
Take Your Case to Trial
After spending months preparing for trial, your car accident claim could still settle weeks, days, or hours before going to trial. If that doesn’t happen, your lawyer will have to present your case to the court and let them decide who is liable for damages. Depending on the situation, a civil court case might last a few days or a few weeks. In either case, your car accident injury lawyer will advocate for you in the courtroom and fight for the maximum compensation for your injuries.
If a car accident left you injured, don’t forgo the benefits an attorney can provide. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn how they can assist you in pursuing the compensation you deserve.