When Do You Need to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer?
After a car accident, you can face many changes in your life. You may have suffered injuries that will cause long-term or even permanent disabilities. You might have mountains of medical bills yet lack the physical ability to work.
Studies suggest that over 62% of bankruptcies in America result, at least in part, from unpaid medical bills. Not only could you face physical obstacles, but you may face dire financial hurdles as well.
In many cases, you will have another option. Read on for an overview of the situations in which you should consider hiring a car accident lawyer.
Getting Injury Compensation After a Car Accident
Most states use a fault-based auto insurance system. In a fault-based system, the at-fault driver bears liability for all of the damages resulting from an accident, including all bodily injuries and property damage. Typically, they have insurance coverage to compensate any victims of accidents they cause.
Some states use a no-fault auto insurance system. In a no-fault system, each driver’s auto insurance policy includes personal injury protection (PIP) that pays benefits to the driver after a crash. In these states, accident victims can only pursue compensation from the at-fault driver under limited circumstances.
In a fault-based state, you can pursue an injury claim against the at-fault driver immediately after your crash. California is an at-fault state for car accidents and car insurance.
In a no-fault state, you must usually start with an injury claim with your insurance company. In these states, you can only pursue a claim against the at-fault driver if your PIP benefits fail to cover your injury expenses or you suffered a serious injury.
Once you meet your state’s requirements to file an injury claim against the at-fault driver, you will follow the same process whether you live in a no-fault state or a fault-based state. This is also the point at which you should consider hiring a car accident lawyer.
The Insurance Claim
After your accident, you should have exchanged information with the other driver. You probably got the other driver’s name, address, and auto insurance information. You will use this information to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s policy.
The claim includes the basic information about the car crash, including:
- Date, time, and location of the crash
- Description of what happened
- List of passengers in your vehicle
The claim also includes your proof of loss. Your proof of loss includes any records that prove the damages you suffered, such as:
- Medical records
- Medical bills
- Wage records showing how much work you missed
- Opinion letters from doctors explaining any future treatment you need
The insurer will assign your claim to an adjuster. The adjuster then investigates your claim and determines whether the insurer will accept or deny your claim. If the insurer agrees to pay your claim, the adjuster will offer a settlement.
When You Need a Car Accident Lawyer During the Insurance Claim
Insurers have a legal duty to pay claims that fall within their customers’ policies. Insurers also have a financial incentive to deny or reduce claims from injured parties.
Most states have laws that require insurers to:
- Respond to claims
- Investigate claims
- Make a good faith effort to settle claims where liability is clear
- Pay claims in a prompt, fair, and equitable manner
Despite these laws, insurers walk a very fine line. They might take steps to frustrate you into settling your claim for less than its fair value.
You should consider hiring a car accident lawyer when insurers engage in the following practices.
Delaying Your Claim
Insurers know that you may struggle to pay for medical treatment and living expenses while your injuries prevent you from working. They may take advantage of these struggles by using the entire time allowed under the law to adjust your claim.
Sometimes, insurers will even try to extend the time by asking for more documents to support your claim. They may even tell you that your claim will go faster if you call them to provide a recorded statement.
If your claim takes longer than you believe it reasonably should or the insurer pressures you to give a recorded statement, you should consider hiring a car accident attorney.
Denying Your Claim
An insurer can deny a claim for many reasons, including:
- The policyholder did not cause the accident
- The policyholder caused the accident but was not negligent
- The accident did not cause your injuries
Sometimes, your car accident lawyer can overcome a claim denial by submitting additional documents and arguments. Occasionally, the insurer will stand firm on its denial, and you will have to file a lawsuit.
Offering a Low Settlement Amount
The adjuster will start with a low-ball offer in nearly all injury claims. This offer might not even cover all of your documented out-of-pocket expenses, such as ambulance services, emergency room examinations, and medical treatment. The insurer hopes that you will become so desperate and frustrated that you will accept any offer, no matter how low.
Car accident lawyers routinely negotiate with adjusters to get better offers. Sometimes, your lawyer can get a better offer by simply pointing to documents already provided with the claim. Other times, the lawyer will need to supply additional records and expert opinions to persuade the adjuster to increase your offer.
If your lawyer cannot get a fair offer, you will need to decide whether to file a lawsuit or not.
Most car accident cases settle. But plaintiffs frequently have to file a lawsuit to pressure insurers into making fair offers.
If you want to file a lawsuit, you will probably have to hire a car accident lawyer. You will need to draft pleadings to file the lawsuit and serve the papers to the at-fault driver.
In the lawsuit, your lawyer can:
While you always have the right to represent yourself in a car accident, lawyers bring knowledge of court procedures and the law. They also have experience arguing motions and presenting evidence to a jury.
Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
Most car accident lawyers provide free consultations for new clients, so you can ask about the assistance you can get for your case. You’ll find that hiring a lawyer will provide many benefits that you will not get from handling your case yourself, and most lawyers work on a contingency fee basis so you don’t have to worry about how to pay.
Nick Movagar is the co-founder and managing partner of M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers, a law firm based in Los Angeles, CA with more than $400 million recovered on behalf of their clients. Contact them for a free consultation today.