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A car accident can change your life. When you sustain serious injuries, you must make immediate decisions that inevitably affect your future. In difficult situations, people often turn to experts by instinct. It makes sense when you want the best results. You seek medical treatment from skilled physicians and surgeons. You find the best body shop professionals to repair your car. However, many still wonder whether it is worth getting a lawyer to handle their car accident injury claim.
The inclination to DIY a car accident claim is likely connected to the idea of saving money on legal fees. While that may seem like a good idea in the early stages of the claim handling process, it can quickly become apparent how difficult handling a claim on your own is.
Even more, car accident claimants tend to realize how disadvantaged they are without legal representation. Before you decide whether or not to get a lawyer in your car accident case, you should weigh the costs and benefits for your specific case.
Many worry they cannot afford an attorney for their car accident claim. This should not be a barrier. Unlike any other professionals, personal injury attorneys normally offer their clients a unique, affordable fee arrangement.
An attorney will provide months, and perhaps years, of legal services without ever sending you a bill. They receive payment only after they settle your claim or win a court award of damages. This contingency fee arrangement allows injured persons the opportunity to have legal representation, even if they can’t afford it right away. It allows you to present a robust car accident injury claim without paying upfront legal fees.
Before you consider handling your own auto accident injury claim, you should understand the potential for complex legal challenges that put your rights in the balance. From the moment you have an accident, many people will be trying to determine whose fault it is. Police officers and insurance investigators ask questions. By responding in the wrong way, you could jeopardize your right to recover damages. An experienced car accident attorney knows how to prevent this from happening.
Police officers can’t decide if an insurer will pay your claim. Still, they have the authority to document what they see and hear. They infuse their reports with subtle opinions based on your statements and their observations. When a police officer believes you’re at fault, they write their report in a way that makes their opinion clear. Attorneys can’t stop police officers from expressing their opinions, but they can challenge them when appropriate.
When an insurance investigator says they need to take your recorded statement about your car accident claim, you might not realize that you have a choice. If you consent, you won’t necessarily understand the reason behind certain questions.
Investigators ask a slew of questions to probe your claims about liability and damages. They may ask if you wear prescription glasses, about your medications and sleep patterns, or your destination when the accident occurred. Your answers provide them with your recorded assertions, which they may try to use to fight your claim. Your answers may give the investigator grounds to challenge your claim based on visibility, substance impairment, and drowsiness issues. Whenever possible, insurance companies use your responses against you. They raise them as liability defenses during negotiations, depositions, mediations, and other proceedings.
Here are a few additional things you need to know about providing recorded statements and how they can sabotage your car accident claim.
When you seek immediate legal representation, your attorney deals directly with the insurance company. As your legal representative, your attorney explains your version of the accident and determines what information to provide.
Many auto and health insurance policies grant insurance companies subrogation rights. This means that when they pay claims on your behalf, they have a legal right to recover damages on your behalf. If you handle your own claim, insurers usually execute their own recovery strategies. They attempt to recover 100 percent of the money they paid, even if it reduces your potential settlement. Regardless of their efforts, when you settle your claim, they expect reimbursement for the money they paid.
Attorneys understand subrogation rights. They review them with the appropriate insurers and protect them when they settle your claim. Attorneys often successfully negotiate subrogation claims down to a lower amount. This allows you to retain a larger portion of your settlement.
It takes a lot of effort to prepare a case for settlement negotiations or trial in a car accident injury case. Your attorneys begin the process as soon as you and the law firm establish a representation arrangement. Seasoned attorneys prepare as if they will have to present your case in a courtroom someday, even if the case is more likely to settle.
A personal injury attorney actively and early on searches for evidence to support your claim. They often work with professional investigators who use the information you provide as a start.
They tailor their investigation to your accident and focus on obtaining relevant evidence, such as:
Every car accident claim case has legal issues. Sometimes they’re clear and easy to assess. Other times, injury claims involve multiple complex legal issues. A seasoned attorney listens to your account of the car accident, recognizes the issues, and uses your statements to pinpoint investigative needs to resolve those issues. Eventually, the lawyer can develop a theory about who all may be liable and how such parties were negligent in a way that led to your injuries.
This can be more complicated than it sounds. For instance, when your accident involves a trucking company, a corporate car, or an organization-owned vehicle, often more than one entity shares liability for your injuries. Attorneys determine who is responsible and how they share liability. They then place all responsible parties on notice of your claim, pursuing compensation from each such party and their insurers.
An experienced car accident injury attorney understands that a claim’s value is unique to the case. To determine the value of your case, they obtain your medical records, doctor’s reports, and other documentation that addresses your injuries. Attorneys spend time with you to learn as much as they can about you, your injuries, and your recovery. They find out from you how the accident has affected your life. These issues are important when evaluating your injury claim.
Attorneys then do injury research. They look for court cases and past settlements for people with injuries similar to yours. When it’s time to negotiate your claim, they have a settlement range and the evidence and law to support it.
Before you proceed with negotiating your car accident injury claim by yourself, you should understand that it’s more demanding than you probably realize. Even if you have professional marketing, negotiating, or sales experience, such experience usually does not translate into personal injury negotiation savvy. The injury negotiation process is quite different from striking any business deal or marketing a product for the best per-unit price.
When attorneys negotiate settlements, they weave in all of the information they’ve learned over the life of your case. As they discuss liability and injury issues, they also assess the insurance negotiator’s strengths and weaknesses on the facts and the law. While you might not pick up on the telltale signs, attorneys can recognize when an insurance negotiator knows they are at a disadvantage.
On the flipside, an insurance company, even one that knows it is at a disadvantage in some nuanced way, may try to take advantage of you if you represent yourself. They bank on you not being aware of the flaws in their position. They enter negotiations understanding that, for you, the process is probably a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. During your negotiation sessions, they treat you politely and listen to your arguments. In the end, they take advantage of your inexperience and settle your case for the least amount possible.
You get to decide if it’s worth your time and effort to file a car accident injury lawsuit. It is typically the only option when the responsible parties refuse to offer a fair settlement. If you’ve handled your own claim thus far, seriously consider consulting a personal injury attorney if you file a lawsuit in court. Courts allow you to file your own lawsuit. But the same disadvantages and more exist in trying to file and bring a lawsuit on your own, as opposed to having legal representation.
Even if you’ve never discussed your case with an attorney before, they will listen to you and offer advice. Based on the information you provide, they tell you whether a lawsuit may or may not improve your chances for a better recovery.
Attorneys understand that, when you’ve reached a negotiation stalemate, a lawsuit is often the only viable option. It sometimes becomes part of an overall legal strategy to get the best possible settlement. Also, if your case is nearing your statute of limitations—the deadline for you to file a lawsuit—you must file or lose your right to bring a claim. Either way, it forces parties on both sides to look at the potential cost versus the benefits.
When your attorney files a lawsuit, they create a summons and complaint. Court documents show you as the named plaintiff. The people or entities who caused your accident become the defendants. Your complaint includes your allegations about the accident, your theory of liability, and a description of your injuries and prayer for damages. When you file your documents with the local court, a clerk charges a filing fee and enters it into the civil court system. From this point on, there are more or less many technical stages, and things become more expensive.
Litigation changes the level of activity in your case. When a lawsuit involves an auto accident, parties on both sides often file claims, pre-trial motions, and hearing requests.
They initiate discovery, which includes:
These and other discovery activities usually require upfront payments. Law firms have different ways of handling these inevitable costs. When a law firm has the resources, they can pay costs upfront on your behalf. Other firms request that their clients pay discovery costs before they proceed. Either way—you ultimately foot the bill for fees.
The contingency fee arrangement often changes as well if you have to go to court. Attorneys still charge you a fee based on the damages they recover, because the case requires more of their time and attention in litigation, their fee percentage often increases.
Instead of taking a case to trial, attorneys can still attempt to resolve auto accident injury lawsuits by out-of-court means. Once an attorney files a suit, adverse parties often continue informal negotiations to see if they can bring the case to an end and avoid further litigation costs. Judges avoid trials by encouraging alternative dispute resolution (ADR:) options.
Some of the out-of-court processes that may avert the need for a trial include:
However you conclude your auto accident injury claim, you must properly execute the final documents. You must also make sure you receive the agreed payment and give your insurer their subrogated amount.
Attorneys can complete all of these tasks on your behalf, making sure the process goes the way it should so your final payment has no unnecessary delays. They exchange the completed release for the agreed payment, deduct their fees, address any subrogation liens, and send the rest of the funds to you. If your case involves a lawsuit, attorneys file a motion to voluntarily dismiss with the courts.
Yes—when a negligent driver causes you serious injuries, you need to give yourself the best chance possible to recover the compensation you need to pay for your injuries and property damage. While you can handle your claim on your own, it’s not usually a good idea. Attorneys intervene on your behalf to deal with insurers, responsible parties, and their attorneys. They work to produce the best possible settlement.
Call an experienced car accident attorney about your car accident case today. When you consult with an attorney, you don’t have to commit to making a claim or filing a lawsuit. You simply talk about your auto accident and learn more about your legal options.
John Gomez founded the firm alone in 2005. Today, John acts as President and Lead Trial Attorney. He has been voted by his peers as a top ten San Diego litigator in three separate fields: Personal Injury, Insurance and Corporate Litigation. Since 2000, he has recovered over $800 million in settlements and verdicts for his clients with more than 160 separate recoveries of one million dollars or more. A prolific trial lawyer, John has tried to jury verdict more than 60 separate cases.
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