You recently got in a car crash. Thankfully, you survived, but you’re wondering whether you need a lawyer.
The shock of being in a crash, the physical and emotional ramifications, and the desire to put it behind you may tempt you to move forward too quickly.
But you want to carefully assess your options and their implications.
Dealing with a legal matter can be complicated, which is why lawyers are trained for years to understand and interpret the law. Sometimes, a very minor fender bender doesn’t require an attorney. Other times, it’s in your best interest to hire the best legal representation for your potential case. Here are five areas where an experienced lawyer can help you navigate the aftermath of a crash.
1. How Insurance Companies Respond
If you are the victim—in other words, if you were not responsible for the crash—the insurance company of the responsible driver may pressure you to settle out of court.
Usually, this involves the insurance company making you sign a release (a document removing any responsibility for your injuries from their insured – the other driver) and giving you an amount of money.
Sometimes this route makes sense. If you suffered only very minor injuries and have no desire to pursue the matter further, this may be the best way to put the experience behind you.
2. But Be Aware, Insurance Companies Protect Themselves
Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. That means they want to make the most profit for themselves and pay the least amount possible to you.
Often, that means adjusters will attempt to have crash victims sign releases before a lawyer can review the release or the settlement amount. Signing a document without legal counsel input can be extremely dangerous.
For example, what if you feel fine now, but a year later you develop a medical problem that turns out to have been caused by the crash? If you signed a release, you likely cannot pursue legal action for monetary damages against the person or company who caused your injuries.
3. You Need Guidance
Most of us do not understand the law well enough to defend ourselves from companies who are reluctant to give us what we deserve after a crash.
Even if an insurance company says you don’t need to hire a lawyer , it is almost always better to consult with a qualified lawyer—one skilled in personal injury law and with years of experience—to review the release and, if necessary, pursue legal action for better compensation.
4. Reasons Why You’d Need a Lawyer
Minor damage to your vehicle such as dents and scratches can typically be handled directly with your insurance company.
However, there are times when legal counsel is necessary. Here are some ways to know when you should likely hire an injury lawyer.
- Insurance companies can be manipulative and can use adjusters to get you to admit that the crash was partly or entirely your fault (even if it wasn’t). This will legally prevent them from having to compensate you at all or with more money than you might deserve. Therefore, having a lawyer review the release or other documents is so important.
- Hiring an attorney sooner rather than later is best because retaining an attorney soon after the crash gives they attorney the opportunity to effectively guide you through your best options based on how your case could unfold over time.
- An experienced lawyer will also know where pitfalls are in the settlement process. They can anticipate the problems and prepare you for them. They will be aware of potential defenses and tactics made by the insurance companies and would know how to navigate them.
- Insurance companies will often try to pay out the smallest amount legally possible to retain maximum profit for their company. An experienced lawyer will be able to negotiate with them and represent you in a lawsuit, if necessary, to secure the compensation you deserve.
- The statute of limitations after a car crash is two years or less in many states. If you do not file your lawsuit before the statute expires, you may forever lose the chance recover money for your injuries.
- Different states have different requirements about how, when, and for what a victim may sue. Navigating these differences can be overwhelming under the best of circumstances. Your attorney will help you understand what you should do to recover the best compensation for your injuries.
- Besides receiving compensation for medical bills, car crash victims are potentially entitled to lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and their relatives may even be entitled to “loss of companionship” payments.
You may not know to what degree these apply to your case if you decide to simply settle quickly with the company. An experienced lawyer will know what is owed to you.
- The vast differences in law by jurisdiction can affect how a crash impacts you. For example, 12 states have “no fault” accident laws, where the victim cannot sue for compensation except under very limited circumstances. Other states like Pennsylvania have “limited tort” laws which must be navigated. You might not know if you live in one of these states or how to navigate the issues unless you have the input from an experienced auto accident attorney.
- Filing a lawsuit is complicated. Courthouses often have complex rules for everything—down to the font size of legal briefs. Your attorney will know these rules thoroughly, which will allow your case to move ahead in a timely manner.
- Proving your case is not easy either. There can be limitations on shared information, the witnesses you can and cannot present, and the evidence you can use. An experienced personal injury lawyer will help you navigate all of these nuances so your case isn’t dismissed on a technicality.
- Failing to sue within the statute of limitations, suing the wrong person or company, or presenting information in the wrong way can prevent you from ever pursuing your claims. This can sometimes result in a significant economic loss to you! Do it right the first time by making sure an experienced lawyer is guiding you through it.
- If multiple parties—especially pedestrians—were involved in the crash, or it caused serious injury or death, then you should certainly retain an experienced lawyer. For such a complex case, a skilled personal injury attorney should be representing you.
5. Once You’ve Decided You Need a Lawyer…
Hiring a qualified lawyer is only the first step to financial recovery from an auto crash. There are also some important things you can do to expedite your case with your attorney.
- Identify your witnesses if possible. After the crash, you should get the names and contact information of anyone who saw what happened. The police may not have spoken to everyone involved, so it will be helpful to have credible people your lawyer and the police can talk to.
- Get your accident report. The police must file reports of all accidents they respond to. This document will be invaluable as you reconstruct what happened before, during, and after your car crash. You can call the police station that responded to the scene of your crash to request a copy of the crash report.
- Get a repair estimate for your car. This helps evaluate how much damage was done and will also give the lawyer an idea of how much money in damages he or she can demand. Having photographs or other documentation of the damage is helpful as well.
- You should seek necessary medical treatment! To an insurance company, if you did not see a doctor—and they will check on this—then you must not have been injured. It is important to have had a medical doctor thoroughly examine you to see what physical or emotional problems resulted from the car crash. Your lawyer will need access to the medical records your doctor produces after the crash and it helps for them to know your medical history as well.
- Keep track of lost wages. It is very common to have missed work because of injuries and recuperation following a crash. Depending on the specific benefits available through your job, it is possible to have missed pay (whether through a percentage lost or complete docking) or have to use sick leave or vacation time. Keep track of the numbers. Your lawyer can include the lost wages in your case against the offender, and include them as part of the total damages they are pursuing.
It’s Never Easy – An Attorney Will Help
Navigating legal waters is never easy, and it can be even more challenging when you have to deal with the stress and pain following a car crash. Battling with insurance companies and irresponsible drivers while balancing the intricacies of the legal system calls for a dedicated, highly trained professional to represent and fight for you.
An experienced, qualified, and compassionate lawyer will be an invaluable help in securing justice for you and your family. This will allow you to rebuild and move on from the physical, emotional, and economic loss after the accident.