According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, 4.4 million Americans require medical attention following vehicle accidents every year. Direct medical expenses cost drivers more than $380 million annually, and that doesn't include other costs, such as lost wages or property damage. If you were involved in a car accident, you could be facing serious financial losses in addition to debilitating injuries that affect your ability to provide for your family. As long as the accident wasn't your fault, you may be entitled to compensation. The following guide includes information about what to do after an accident, when to consult an attorney, and how you can find the best car accident lawyer for your case. Here are a few topics that we'll cover.
- Understand that not every car accident warrants a lawsuit.
- Start your attorney search with a focus on car accident cases.
- Take full advantage of the attorney's initial free consultation.
- Get a clear understanding of the attorney's fee structure, and what percentage of your settlement you will receive.
- Obligations and Procedures: What to Expect During Your Case
- Dealing with auto insurance companies.
Understand that not every car accident warrants a lawsuit.Not every car accident requires a lawyer. A minor fender bender resulting in $1,000 of property damage will probably be resolved without the need for a lawsuit or lengthy settlement negotiations. However, if the insurance company is stonewalling your claim, you experienced serious injuries, or there's a dispute about who's at fault, a personal injury attorney could be a vital ally. Lawyers can provide helpful advice and explain your options during a free consultation, so there's no risk to you. The first step is finding a qualified attorney.
Start your attorney search with a focus on car accident cases.If you were injured in a car accident that was caused by another driver or dangerous road conditions and you need help recovering compensation, it's time to consult a car accident attorney. Start by searching for personal injury attorneys or law firms that handle car accident claims regularly. Look for professionals who have substantial experience in this area and a long list of previous settlements. Read their blog, and check testimonials or client reviews to see if car accident cases represent a significant portion of their legal practice.
Expert Tip:Never miss an opportunity to collect evidence. It could be vital for winning your claim. If possible, document your injuries and the scene of the accident, including road and weather conditions, vehicle damage, and other details. Seek medical attention as soon as possible, and collect contact information from anyone who witnessed the accident. Without the right information, it could be difficult for an attorney to win your case.
Take full advantage of the attorney's initial free consultation.Most car accident attorneys offer free consultations to prospective clients. The purpose of the meeting is twofold. It allows the attorney to assess your claim, and it gives you a chance to determine if they're the right person for the job. Here are a few things that you can expect to cover.
- Damages: Initial case assessments typically focus on the value of your claim based on the types of damages you may be able to recover for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
- Evidence: Your attorney will likely ask whether you have photos, videos, witness contacts, or other evidence that can help to prove your case.
- Liability: Information about the other driver and the nature of the accident can help to determine who is responsible for your injuries and financial losses.
- Timing: Details about the time and location of the accident determine how long you have to file your case according to the statute of limitations.
ExperienceWhen litigating car accident lawsuits, there's no substitute for experience. Most accident attorneys accept other personal injury claims but focus on cases involving cars, big trucks, buses, and other vehicles. Ideally, you want to seek out a professional who has significant experience and who regularly handles cases that are similar to yours. Here are a few questions to ask, and don't hesitate to request a case history.
- What portion of your practice is devoted to car accident cases?
- How many car accident cases have you handled in the past three years?
- How extensive is your experience with this type of car accident, e.g. head-on, rear-end, or multi-car crash?
AccreditationsProfessional memberships and accomplishments can substantiate an attorney's commitment to personal injury law and the auto accident practice area. Attorneys can earn certifications from The National Board of Trial Advocacy, the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, and other state and national industry associations. Board certifications typically require several years of relevant experience, a substantial case history, and a peer review.
- Are you certified by a professional board or state bar association?
- Have you been recognized for any outstanding professional achievements?
- Have you ever been subject to disciplinary action in relation to your legal practice?
What They Think About Your CaseThe primary goal of an initial consultation is to determine whether you have a case and how much it might be worth if you do. Once they have the facts, attorneys should be able to quickly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your claim. They should also be able to give you a ballpark figure of how much you might expect to recover in court or through a settlement.
- What type of damages can I recover?
- What do you think my case is worth, and does the state place caps on any damages?
- How long do you think it will take to resolve my car accident case?
- What's the biggest challenge that you see?
Case HistoryAttorneys cannot guarantee the outcome of any case, but past successes can give you confidence in their ability to handle your case. Most attorneys provide information about past settlements and verdicts on their website, and they should be happy to answer any questions that you may have about their success rate, case history, or general approach to representing clients. Here are a few helpful questions to ask.
- How many of your car accident cases reach a settlement before trial?
- How many cases is your firm currently handling, and what portion of them are car accident cases?
- May I speak to a recent client?
Work StyleAttorneys differ in their strategies and work style. Some provide one-on-one representation while others rely on a team of paralegals and support staff. Aggressive litigators may take most of their cases to court, and others believe that out-of-court settlements save time and money. Determine which traits are important to you, and ask questions to see if their style is a good fit for your needs.
- If we disagree on a settlement offer, will you defer to my wishes?
- If I hire your firm, will I communicate primarily with my attorney or a paralegal?
- What resources does the firm have to handle my case?
- How much input do you expect from clients?
- Will I receive regular updates?
Measuring Past Success: Previous Settlements and VerdictsWhen evaluating attorneys, looks for professionals who have successfully handled cases that are comparable to yours. Ideally, the professional should have experience with claims of a similar size and severity. Expertise related to motorcycles, tractor-trailers, or large over-the-road trucking companies may also be helpful depending on the nature of your case. You should also determine whether the attorney is willing to take your case to court or plans to negotiate a settlement. Details about the attorney's approach and previous track record can help you feel confident in their ability to represent your interests throughout the process.
Get a clear understanding of the attorney's fee structure, and what percentage of your settlement you will receive.The majority of car accident attorneys accept cases on a contingency basis, which means that they don't get paid unless they don't recover compensation for you. However, if they negotiate a settlement or secure a jury award, they may be entitled 30 to 40% of the total plus related expenses. During the initial consultation, the attorney can value your claim and give you an estimate of what you might expect to recover. It's also important to ask questions about the firm's fee structure and who is responsible for out-of-pocket expenses, such as filing fees. Personal injury attorneys often arrange for medical bills to be paid from the settlement money before it's distributed to the client. Here's an example of how a contingency fee structure works.
- An attorney negotiates a $200,000 for the client.
- Upfront expenses of $10,000 are deducted from the total leaving $190,000.
- A contingency fee valued at 33% or $62,700 is deducted from this amount.
- The remaining $127,300 is distributed to the client.
Obligations and Procedures: What to Expect During Your CaseWorking with a car accident attorney gives you the freedom to focus on your recovery while the legal team works on your case. At a minimum, you'll need to have a face-to-face meeting with your attorney to discuss the facts. Many personal injury lawyers will meet clients at medical facilities if needed, and they may also be able to schedule a virtual consultation. It's helpful if you can provide photos of the accident or your injuries, copies of medical bills, and other relevant documents for the attorney to review.
As the case progresses, you may have to attend depositions and court hearings. During your initial consultation, determine how much personal involvement the attorney expects from you. If you're facing a long recovery, you may need a law firm that can handle all of the details for you while providing regular updates to keep you informed.
Expert Tip:Beware of ambulance chasers. These unscrupulous attorneys may use information from hospitals or law enforcement to contact accident victims and push their services to vulnerable consumers. This practice is not just a violation of the American Bar Association's rules of professional conduct. It's also illegal in most states.
Dealing With Insurance CompaniesIt's important to remember that insurance companies aren't always looking out for your best interests following a car accident. Unfortunately, some companies would rather protect their bottom line and satisfy their investors than pay legitimate claims or make fair settlement offers. Insurance carriers also have full-time legal teams that can challenge your claim. That's why it's important to avoid discussing your case with the other driver's insurance company, and you should never sign any documents or settlement papers before consulting an attorney as you could be undervaluing your claim and losing your right to request compensation in the future.
When it comes to car accident claims, you need someone who is on your side and dedicated to representing your interests. A qualified attorney can provide valuable advice, determine if you have a valid case, and help you recover any damages that you may be entitled to for medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other losses.
Ready to schedule an initial consultation? Here is our list of the Best Car Accident Lawyers near you.