How a Lawyer Might Help
Before we review the laws that apply in accident cases, we first consider whether to hire an attorney to protect your rights. If you handle your claims without counsel, you must understand and apply applicable laws to your unique circumstances. If you hire an attorney, you can safely skip the legal analysis because these matters will be your lawyer’s responsibility. If you retain a lawyer, you should focus purely on medical recovery and allow your lawyer to handle all investigative steps, all insurance communications, all medical homework, and every other task necessary to protect your rights and increase case value.
Insurance companies take advantage of superior knowledge and leverage when they deal with unrepresented accident victims. In low-force accidents where there are no injuries, attorneys are typically not involved. In cases involving only slight injury, it is wise to speak with an attorney to understand all rights and options. However, the value of the injury claim may not justify legal representation. That is, if the injuries are slight and treatment is concluded in just a few weeks, the overall case value may not justify hiring an attorney and paying an attorney’s fee. In cases involving serious injuries, an attorney can generate much higher injury claim payments. Legal fees in injury cases are based on contingency, which means you pay the lawyer only if and when he or she collects money for you. Your attorney should handle property damage claims for free. The fee on the injury claim is paid at the end of the case. To the extent that the attorney increases settlement offers, he or she pays his or her own fee. Most firms charge a third of the total injury settlement. If the attorney significantly increases case value and the total settlement or trial verdict, the fee is justified by these increased payments. In most serious injury cases, the attorney can generate enough additional payment to cover the legal fees and still leave the clients with more money than they would have received if they had handled their claims without counsel.
Attorneys in injury cases should provide complete client service—you work with doctors to recover your health, and the lawyer should handle every other aspect of your case. Avoid attorneys who task you with case assignments. You should not be asked to provide your own medical records and bills. A full-service motor vehicle accident firm should handle all of the following for you:
- find all insurance policies and access multiple sources of payment;
- report your insurance claims and handle all insurance communications;
- handle property damage claims for you for free;
- investigate the accident to collect evidence and prove fault;
- help you understand medical treatment options;
- help you coordinate health insurance filings;
- help you deal with income loss and financial difficulties;
- work with doctors to collect medical records and build medical evidence;
- assemble trial evidence and prepare insurance settlement demands;
- aggressively negotiate on your behalf; and
- compel the insurance adjusters and defense lawyers to pay you the highest possible injury settlement or bring your case to trial whenever necessary.
Find a lawyer with medical expertise! The value of a personal injury case is supported primarily by quality medical evidence. The best injury lawyers have a broad scope of medical experience and knowledge. Your lawyer must understand medicine, human anatomy, and how traumatic injury to one area of the body might affect your overall health throughout the remaining years of your life.
Look for a lawyer who will be respected and feared by the insurance companies. Insurance companies are only looking at their money obligations. Most cases settle, but insurance companies know that a trial lawyer will know the true value of your case and they also know that your lawyer will conduct a winning trial if they fail to pay full-value through a private, out-of-court settlement.
If a lawyer stands with you in settlement negotiations, the adjusters know you are not bluffing when we threaten suit in your case. Thus, the adjusters will respond with higher settlement offers. They know if they don’t pay our client fairly, we will win at trial and thus force them to pay your claims in full plus pay court costs plus pay you 8 percent prejudgment interest on the full amount of your verdict plus they must hire and pay for lawyers to defend their insured driver at trial. Simply put, we apply legal and financial leverage and medical expertise to compel a settlement on your terms, not the discounted terms that the insurance adjuster will push for.
Choose a lawyer who has a great deal of specific experience dealing with car accident cases. These are unique cases, and general practitioners should be questioned carefully to ensure that they have broad medical knowledge along with detailed knowledge of all laws that apply to civil injury trials and motor vehicle collision cases. Also, look for a successful law practice that has experience working with trial experts and that has the financial resources to hire and pay for experts, such as accident-reconstruction engineers, product-design engineers, vocational-rehabilitation experts, doctors and other medical experts, economists, and other car accident experts who might help to build your evidence to increase settlement value. The quality of your evidence will directly relate to the settlement value of your injury claims.