If you’re involved in a fender bender, where no one is injured, your car accident claim can usually be handled through the insurance company without much fuss. Anything more serious than that, though, needs more consideration.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether you need an attorney for a car accident claim.
How serious are your injuries? How long did it take you (or will it take you) to recover?
First, it’s important to remember that every case is unique, and so are the ways people define a “significant” loss or “high” costs. What is a devastating loss to one person may not be to another.
To give a general idea, if you had (or have) a serious injury that:
- Affected you for a long time
- Caused you to be hospitalized
- Caused you to miss work or school
- Resulted in a lost income
- Resulted in extensive medical bills
- May be long-term (lasting about a year or more) or permanently disabling
… you may have a significant claim and should at least consult with an attorney. Even if you ultimately decide not to hire, a consultation can help you understand your options.
The more you have at stake, the better it is to have an attorney’s help. Insurance companies have attorneys of their own, with the goal of reducing settlement amounts or denying claims. The higher the amount of the claim, the harder the insurance companies and their attorneys fight.
For claims involving long-term or permanently disabling injuries, you really need an attorney. Such injuries can affect not only your quality of life, but your livelihood and ability to work. You may incur future medical expenses related to your injury and complications may develop. Proving these types of injuries is complex and challenging, and should be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney.
Is fault contested in your accident? Is the other driver’s insurance company disputing liability and refusing to pay?
If the other driver caused your accident but they and/or their insurance company won’t admit it, there’s immediate cause for concern.
When an insurance company disputes their policyholder’s liability, they are essentially saying that their policyholder is not at fault and they are not responsible for paying your damages.
This happens because it may not be clear who was at fault. A police report may inaccurately describe the accident. There may be discrepancies among witnesses. Or, the insurance company may simply believe that you don’t have enough evidence that their policyholder was at fault.
When fault is contested, you must prove that the other driver caused the accident or you will lose the claim. An accident attorney can help you provide evidence and prove the other driver was at fault.
Are you concerned the settlement offer you received from the insurance company is too low?
It’s no secret that early settlement offers from insurance companies can be low. Many people accept them, even if they have misgivings, just to move on. No one likes the hassle of dealing with insurance claims. However, it’s often worth taking a deeper look, especially if you might have a large claim.
An attorney can review your settlement offer to determine if it is fair. If it is not, they can negotiate with the insurance company in an effort to raise the settlement amount. In the event an acceptable agreement can’t be reached or the insurance company refuses to negotiate, an attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf.
Are you comfortable settling your own car accident claim? Are you willing to invest the time?
You aren’t legally required to have an attorney for a car accident claim. You will save attorney fees if you settle a claim yourself, putting more of the settlement amount in your pocket. For routine claims where there aren’t serious injuries or high out-of-pocket costs involved, that may be the best option.
If you do decide to settle your own claim, you’ll need to consider:
- If you’re willing to invest the time to learn about the claims process, and then handle the claim (around 12 – 20 hours for a routine claim, though it could be more or less depending on how quickly you work)
- If you feel confident presenting your claim
- At what point your claim is too serious to handle on your own
Your own car insurance should be evaluated to insure you don’t lose benefits you are entitled to like Personal Injury Protection benefits (PIP), Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) and Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM).
If you begin the process and decide you’re in over your head, you can change your mind and turn it over to an attorney.
Is your case going to court?
If you have to take your case to court, and small claims court isn’t an option, you’ll want to have an attorney in your corner.
While small claims court has simplified rules that make it easy for individuals to present their claims without a lawyer, litigation involves formal court rules, protocol and technical rules of evidence. An attorney understands these rules and can make sure you’re represented fairly.
Other times to contact an attorney:
- A death occurred as a result of the accident
- Pedestrians were involved
- The accident happened in a construction zone
- You or the other driver doesn’t have insurance
- Your insurance company claims that you hadn’t paid your premium, but you had
- You’re at fault or partly at fault, and you’re concerned your liability insurance won’t cover the damages
- Your insurance company starts acting cagey and non-communicative
- Your insurance company gets its own attorneys involved
When in doubt, call an attorney.
Many accident attorneys provide free consultations, and you’re not under any obligation to hire them. This can be a way to see if you may have a personal injury claim, or if there are potential red flags in your case. When it comes to car accident claims, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
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