There are more than 1.3 million licensed attorneys in the United States, and these lawyers handle cases in a wide variety of practice areas. If you are getting a divorce, you will want to find a family law attorney. If you want to create a trust or need help with long-term care planning, you need an estate planning attorney. If you own a company and have a contract or partnership dispute, a business attorney should be able to help.
So, what type of lawyer should you talk to after a car accident? It is important to understand WHY you need a lawyer to know what type of lawyer should help you.
Car Accident Injuries and Claims
More than 1.7 million traffic crashes resulted in injuries in a recent year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When you suffer injuries in a crash, you might have the legal right to seek compensation for your medical expenses and other economic and noneconomic losses. You can seek this compensation by filing an insurance claim and/or a personal injury lawsuit against the party that caused the accident to happen.
A personal injury lawsuit is a specific legal claim that is appropriate in the following situation:
- Someone else was negligent and caused an accident
- The accident resulted in injuries and losses for you
- You would like to hold the negligent party or parties liable for your losses
While the above may make personal injury claims seem pretty straightforward, there are many complicated legal principles and procedures involved in this type of lawsuit. Your case may involve one or more of the following:
- Statutes of limitations, which are set by state law
- Insurance laws if an auto insurer acted in bad faith regarding your claim
- Comparative negligence or fault laws
- Negligence or negligence per se
- Strict liability and respondeat superior
- Rules of Civil Procedure
- Rules of Evidence
These can be complex principles that are difficult to apply to real-life facts and claims.
Fortunately, there is a group of attorneys practicing across the United States that has experience and training in personal injury cases. Statistics indicate that about 7 percent of licensed attorneys—or about 93,000 attorneys—consider themselves to be personal injury lawyers. These are the lawyers that deal with car accident cases and whose help you should seek after crash-related injuries.
What a Personal Injury Attorney Does After a Car Accident
Many types of lawyers help clients who are facing struggles or challenges, and a personal injury lawyer is in this position. When you suffer injuries in an accident, you likely have many immediate and long-term concerns, as well as problems you don’t know how to solve. As your bills and financial losses add up, you need an advocate who knows how to protect your rights as an accident victim.
A personal injury lawyer performs many important duties to help car accident victims. These common functions include:
Evaluating and Explaining Your Rights
You may have a feeling that you have the right to compensation, but it can be difficult to be certain if you don’t have an in-depth understanding of personal injury laws and principles. Many different circumstances and factors will affect your rights and, to make matters substantially more complicated, each state has its own laws regarding personal injury claims.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can examine what happened in your car accident and can do the following:
- Determine whether another party or parties were negligent and the negligence led to your car accident
- Whether you were partially responsible for the accident or not
- The period of time you have to file a personal injury claim
- Determine what compensation you deserve as a car accident victim
Just knowing your rights is an important first step after any type of traffic crash, and a lawyer can advise you of those rights. Moreover, a lawyer will advise you of the best path you should take to exercise your rights and obtain the compensation you deserve.
Providing Advice Regarding How to Act after a Car Accident
There are certain steps a car accident victim can take that protect their rights and certain actions that may hurt their legal case. The right lawyer who deals with car accidents can give you advice on how to conduct yourself following a crash, which may include the following:
- Seek medical treatment right away if you haven’t already
- Ensure all of your injury diagnoses are fully documented in medical records
- Follow the treatment advice of your doctors
- Document all of your losses, including the time you miss from work and the pain levels you experience
- Note any restrictions you experience due to your injuries
- Do NOT provide a recorded and/or detailed statement to the insurance company before consulting with a lawyer
- NEVER accept a settlement offer without having a car accident attorney review the offer first
- Don’t discuss your accident or injuries on social media
Completing a Professional Car Accident Investigation and Gathering Evidence
You may know instinctively that the car accident was someone else’s fault, though pointing fingers is NOT enough to win a car accident claim. Instead, you need to present evidence to sufficiently meet the burden of proof required in a car accident case. A qualified personal injury law firm will have the resources to conduct a thorough investigation and gather evidence of liability for your injuries.
Many personal injury law firms have their own investigators who can examine and document the scene of a crash, interview witnesses, and seek out other evidence that helps them develop theories about what caused the crash. Lawyers may also retain accident reconstruction experts who can give their expert opinion about what caused the accident. Having a network of professionals to investigate the crash is only one of many benefits of retaining a personal injury attorney.
Evidence gathered by investigators works to prove that another party was negligent and that you suffered injuries as a result. Evidence that supports your claim may include:
- Police or incident reports
- Witnesses and witness statements
- Photographs of the accident scene, vehicle damage, or injuries
- Video surveillance or cell phone video footage
- Property damage reports
- Medical records, reports, and treatment prescriptions
- Bills and receipts
- Employment and pay records
Once your car accident attorney has the evidence needed to prove your claim, they can then present the evidence to the insurance company or the court to seek the settlement or award you need to cover your losses.
Connecting You With Medical Providers
Personal injury lawyers know that their clients need medical help and have concerns over how to cover out-of-pocket costs and bills that arise as their cases are pending. Many attorneys have relationships with medical professionals who are willing to agree to provide treatment and hold billing contingent on a settlement or award. Even if certain specialists or providers will not provide services based on a medical lien, your attorney may have other suggestions for covering costs, such as PIP or MedPay insurance coverage you may have.
Assessing Your Damages
“Damages” is the term for the compensation you seek as the goal of your personal injury claim. You may believe that you have a good idea of your losses from your car accident injuries, however, many people only consider the immediate financial effects of a crash. You are looking at piles of medical bills and may be getting calls from collectors if you’ve lost income and are behind on your bills. In reality, many car accident victims can seek damages for so much more.
An attorney who regularly deals with complicated car accident cases will know the right questions to ask to determine the full value of your claim. Some damages you may not consider or know how to calculate include:
- Future medical expenses for ongoing treatment
- Future lost earning ability if you can’t return to your prior job
- Physical and mental pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent disfigurement and disabilities
If your injuries are particularly severe, your personal injury lawyer may employ the help of medical or economic experts to help determine and prove your damages.
Handling Your Insurance Claim
Even if you’ve dealt with an insurance claim in the past, filing a claim for serious personal injuries is often a much different story. Insurance companies can make the process surprisingly difficult for injury victims in many ways. The last thing you need to deal with after a serious injury is an insurance adjuster who challenges your claim to reduce or deny payment whenever possible.
A personal injury lawyer should have extensive experience dealing with insurance companies on behalf of car accident victims. They know the tricks that adjusters use to limit settlements and can stand up for your rights. Car accident attorneys can help with insurance claims in the following ways, among others:
- Review all the relevant policy details and limits
- Send a demand letter with the facts of the crash and your damages
- Handle all phone calls and emails with adjusters to ensure nothing is said that may jeopardize your claim
- Reviewing settlement offers to see if they are adequate
- Presenting evidence to negotiate a higher offer when needed
- Determining when the insurance process won’t be sufficient to provide the payment you deserve
While it may be tempting to just handle your own insurance claim, many car accident victims soon learn that the claims process is more difficult than they’d imagined. You can save yourself time and energy by calling an experienced car accident attorney from the very start.
Handling a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If the insurance company denies your car accident claim or only offers much less then you deserve even after negotiations, you will likely have to move your claim to the civil court system. Even though most personal injury cases don’t go to trial, there are many steps of the litigation process that are complex and confusing. If you don’t meet the right deadlines and procedural requirements, you can jeopardize your chance at any financial recovery, so you want a skilled personal injury litigator handling your case.
A car accident lawyer should know how to do all the following:
- Prepare your personal injury complaint – The complaint must persuasively set out the factual and legal basis for your claims, as well as the legal relief you are seeking. Once (and if) the defendant files an answer to the complaint, your lawyer will then have to respond to any motions to dismiss included in the answer.
- Conducting discovery – Discovery is a complicated yet critical part of the litigation process, during which your attorney trades information and evidence with the attorney for the defendant and the defendant’s insurance company. Discovery can include depositions, interrogatories, and more.
- Settlement negotiations – During the entire litigation process, your lawyer should be engaging in negotiations with the other party to reach a settlement agreement. Even if an insurance company did not offer a sufficient settlement during the claim process, it might be willing to agree to a favorable amount during litigation to avoid going to trial. Most car accident cases settle before a trial date.
- Representing you at trial – In the event that your case does go to trial, your lawyer will need to engage in trial preparation, jury selection, and the trial process on your behalf. Jury trials are extremely complicated events, and you should ensure the lawyer you choose to deal with your car accident case has experience in the courtroom.
Contact a Lawyer Who Handles Car Accident Claims Right Away
Many lawyers deal with car accidents and represent the rights of injured victims. It can be an intimidating task to select the right legal representation for your case. However, car accident attorneys should provide completely FREE case evaluations. You should have nothing to lose by calling to get more information.