Employing a lawyer for a car accident lawsuit can be a significant benefit. A lawyer can aid in recovering losses caused by the car accident. They can also help with some of the more difficult issues when working with car insurance companies.
A lawyer can also offer guidance and legal research in potential lawsuits involving car accidents. A driver who has been involved in a car crash needs a personal injury attorney who specializes in car accidents.
When Should I Start Contacting a Lawyer?
It would be best to start looking for a lawyer within two weeks of the car accident. Contacting a lawyer early helps to avoid any mistakes when:
Before contacting an attorney, you may also want to collect items that might be helpful for your case. This can include any witness statements, photos or video of the accident, police reports, and other essential records and items. These will help the lawyer to build out your case as the trial approaches.
What Should I Look for in a Lawyer?
Car accident attorneys represent clients on various issues such as personal injury law and property damage to determine liability.
A driver wants a lawyer who possesses an understanding of state and national transportation laws and:
- Is knowledgeable of state and local injury laws
- Knows how to work with healthcare and car insurance companies
- Can effectively prepare a lawsuit
- Can effectively resolve a lawsuit
- Has a proven track record in winning and settling cases
- Can help clients recover damages caused by the car accident
What Type of Damages Can I Recover in an Auto Accident Lawsuit?
Two major types of damages can be recovered in an automobile accident case. They are compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are money awards paid by the negligent driver to the driver and passengers of the other car to pay for their losses.
Compensatory damages should cover all of the typical losses from an automobile accident that can be established, such as:
- The price to fix or replace a damaged auto: Damages to repair or replace an auto might include the expense of renting a replacement auto while repair work is done.
- Damages to pay the costs of medical care: Those expenses might be for physicians, treatments, hospital stays, or therapy.
If a person hurt in an auto accident cannot do their job, they can be reimbursed for their lost wages. An injured driver or passenger can also claim compensation for their pain and suffering.
It is also possible to collect compensation for losses experienced in the future. For instance, in the worst cases, a person might not be able to work at the same kind of job they had before the accident. They can then collect for any monetary loss this causes.
An injured driver might need long-term care in a nursing facility. The negligent driver can expect to pay for the expense of long-term care. An expert may have to be consulted to supply a trustworthy estimate of the amount of these future losses.
Can I Recover Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are additional money that negligent drivers must pay if they demonstrate intentional misconduct or extreme recklessness. Extreme recklessness would include conduct such as speeding well past the speed limit.
Most auto accidents involve only simple negligence. Simple negligence is something such as not stopping in time to avoid hitting the car in front of you at a red light. If the driver who caused the accident did something that was only simple negligence, the injured driver probably would not collect punitive damages.
Nevertheless, punitive damages (also called “exemplary damages”) might be awarded if the negligent driver engaged in:
- Gross violations of traffic regulations and road rules;
- Driving while intoxicated (DUI or DWI);
- Incompetence (especially if the driver is unlicensed); and
- Driving while knowing that the car was in unsatisfactory condition.
The purpose of punitive damages is to penalize a negligent driver for gross misconduct. They are additional to compensatory damages, so if an injured driver’s car was not damaged or the driver was not injured, the driver would not be awarded punitive damages.
Also, some states limit the number of punitive damages awarded. Usually, such a limit notes that punitive damages must be “relatively proportionate” to the compensatory damages. This means that the punitive damages must be reasonable compared to compensatory damages. If a driver is awarded compensatory damages of $3,500, for instance, then the driver might expect punitive damages of $350,000, but not $3,500,000. An award of millions would not be proportional to the compensatory damage award.
What Is Comparative Fault?
The law regarding comparative fault means that when assigning blame for an accident, the fault of both parties must be taken into account. A negligent driver might have caused the accident, but the other driver might have contributed also. It has to be decided what the relative fault of each driver was. Was one driver 90 percent at fault and the other 10 percent? Or was one driver 60 percent at fault and the other 40 percent?
Suppose the mishap occurred in a parking lot. The negligent driver pulled out of a parking space and hit the other driver. The other driver had the right of way; the negligent driver should have stopped to let the other driver pass before pulling out. But the other driver was looking at their cell phone; they could have stopped to avoid the accident, but they were not paying attention. The court could determine that the other driver driving through the parking lot was also at fault, along with the negligent driver.
There are two possibilities in cases such as these. The court might diminish an award of compensatory damage to the less at-fault driver by the amount of that fault. In some states, the finding of fault attributable to the other driver will lead to no award of compensatory damages. However, in most states, the number of compensatory damages will not be eliminated, just lessened. An expert may be consulted to determine each driver’s relative (or comparative) fault and the number of compensatory damages that should be awarded.
How Do I “Comparison Shop” Lawyers?
When exploring for an attorney, it helps to have at least a list of three attorneys. If you can meet with them all, it may help to ask questions during the initial talks, such as:
- What experience do you have with car accident cases like mine?
- What percentage of your work is focused on automobile accidents?
- What steps would you take to resolve my case?
Please take note of their credentials, knowledge, and prestige. Compare how they rate in those areas. Also, take into consideration comfort level. It is difficult to work with an outstanding attorney if a client is not relaxed talking to and sharing information with the lawyer.
A driver may want to ask a friend or relative to accompany them to each meeting. This provides a second opinion on each attorney, which can be useful when making a final judgment.
Should I Consult a Lawyer before Proceeding With My Car Accident Claim?
It is useful to consult a car accident lawyer before talking with a car insurance company or the other driver. If you have any inquiries or legal problems, your attorney can provide the correct answers and can help you prepare for trial.