The hours and days immediately following a car accident can be especially emotional for you and your family. Not only have you been injured, but you must now begin the time-consuming process of seeking damages against the party responsible for the damage to your car and any physical injuries you may have suffered.
One of the things you must do is learn what are your rights against the other driver and the driver’s insurance carrier. This is also true if you decide to file a lawsuit against your own insurance carrier, which you can do if your insurer wrongfully refuses to pay for the accident.
Whether you are looking for a pre-trial settlement or are interested in pursuing a claim against the other driver to trial, an experienced attorney can help you get what you are entitled to. While it is not required to have a lawyer help you with your claims, the lawyer can deal with all of the legal issues and seek to maximize recovery against all responsible parties on your behalf.
Remember, the other driver may have a lawyer, and the driver’s insurance company definitely will. It’s a good idea to have your own lawyer so that the playing field is level. You cannot place too high a value on the peace of mind that comes with having an experienced advocate dealing with the entire matter from beginning to end on your behalf.
How Does a Lawyer Help With a Car Accident Claim?
Having a lawyer assist you with your car accident claims can be helpful in the following ways:
1. Explaining Coverage on Your Own Policy and the Other Party’s Policy
Insurance policies for cars can be immensely complicated. They are long and are written in legalese. Your insurance company will determine what to pay you on your claim based on the policy you purchased, which will include any reservations of liabilities and defenses allowable in your state.
The other party will have an equally complex insurance policy. It is in your best interest to know if that insurer is required to pay you for your losses.
In conjunction with the facts of your case, your attorney will review the policies, determine what you are entitled to, assess the strengths and applicability of each defense that the other side may raise, and recommend the types of claims you can assert against each party.
2. Negotiating with Interested Parties
An attorney can communicate on your behalf with the insurance companies and other legally responsible parties and lienholders, presenting your claim for coverage in the strongest way to persuade them to pay you what they owe you. Many automobile claims will include a requirement that before you can go to court against them, you must participate in efforts to negotiate a pre-trial settlement. As mentioned, the insurance companies will have their own lawyers.
Your attorney can help you determine whether to seek a settlement and can let you know ahead of time the potential terms the insurance company will be expected to offer. Negotiating for a settlement requires certain skills and experience, and having an attorney who has done this many times before acting on your behalf can help you make the best arguments for why you are entitled to the largest recovery possible.
3. Presenting the Best Evidence Supporting Your Claims
Your attorney can manage many aspects of your case, including identifying and recovering evidence to support your claims. These include collecting documentary and physical evidence from hospitals, doctors, the police, the driver, and the insurance company. A layperson typically will not know what evidence exists and who to talk to to get copies of every important document. An attorney will know just how to sort through the evidence and determine which presents your claims in the strongest light.
4. Helping You Identify All Damages Available for Recovery
Many people injured in a car accident may not know they are entitled to seek a full range of damages, including damages for:
- Medical expenses you had to pay as a result of your injury
- Lost wages if you had to take time off work
- Money to cover the fact that you suffered emotional distress as a result of the accident
- Pain and suffering damages
- Punitive damages. These are awarded if the other parties acted particularly egregiously. Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant, and they can be worth a lot of money
An attorney will know what damages you can claim based on the facts of your case and what your state allows.
5. Challenging the Other Parties’ Defenses Against Your Claims
You have made your strongest claims against the driver and the driver’s insurance company. They will, in turn, present their defenses, meaning evidence as to why they are not at fault for any damages or evidence that is meant to mitigate the damages you are seeking.
The defendant will raise a number of defenses, including:
- A claim that you are not entitled to payment because the statute of limitations has expired. Each state has a certain period of time within which you must bring your claims. Failing to do so can extinguish your claims forever. Even if you filed late, it may not be over. In your state there may be exceptions to this rule for injuries that were not known at the time of the accident or which later developed and stem from the accident.
- A claim that you are at least partially responsible for the accident. Some states will reduce your damages by the percentage of fault you bear (e.g., if the judge determines you were 30% at fault, you can only recover 70% of your damages.) Other states will prevent you from recovering damages if you were at fault in any way. An attorney will know what the law is in your state.
- A claim that your evidence is insufficient to establish your automobile claims. You will be suing under the legal theory of negligence. 4 elements have to be satisfied to win a negligence claim. The defendants will argue that you cannot prove one or more of the elements and thus cannot recover any damages.
Should You Hire an Attorney for Your Car Accident Claim?
If you are involved in an automobile accident, you may wish to consult with a car accident attorney who can help explain your rights against the parties at fault. An attorney who is well-practiced with car accident claims in your state can help simplify the recovery process and help you make your claim against all responsible parties in a way that maximizes any award.
One important thing to note: the lawyer may cost you little or nothing. Most lawyers bringing negligence lawsuits do not charge you the usual hourly legal fees, but rather, they charge “contingency” fees. This means they will be compensated by taking a percentage of whatever money they can get for you.