Have you or a loved one recently been involved in a car accident? If so, you’re probably wondering what happens next. Most people know that they need to contact their insurance company to report the crash. What they’re not sure about is whether they need to hire a car accident lawyer.
The answer isn’t always simple. But what is guaranteed is that an insurance adjuster will be calling soon to discuss a settlement offer.
Don’t settle before learning your legal rights. The Atlanta lawyers at The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C., can explain when it’s best to call a car accident attorney for help.
When Someone Has Been Injured
You should always seek advice from a car accident attorney if you, a passenger or anybody else was injured in a crash.
Even a minor fender bender can result in aches and pains. But in more serious accidents, the likelihood of a substantial injury is greater. Medical costs for people who suffer catastrophic car accident injuries can easily reach into the millions over the course of a lifetime, not to mention financial losses stemming from lost income.
Remember that some injuries may not be detected immediately after a car crash. For that reason, it’s important that you see a doctor as soon as possible to be checked for any hidden injuries. Make sure to tell them that you were in a car accident so that is documented on your medical record.
When The Car Accident Is Not Your Fault
You should not have to pay for the financial losses after a wreck if someone else is found completely responsible for it. Determining liability is crucial in order to be compensated fairly after a crash. But it’s not always straightforward and state laws can limit how much money you can collect if you are found to share any fault for the accident.
To prove fault, you must present evidence to show that the at-fault party(s) had a duty to keep you safe from reasonable harm, that they breached that duty and that the violation led to your injuries and other damages.
Insurance adjusters are specially trained to use a variety of tactics in an effort to minimize their policyholder’s liability in the wreck. In other words, they’re going to work hard to push the fault on to you. An experienced car accident attorney knows every trick that insurance companies have up their sleeves and can counter their claims with a solid defense on your behalf.
When Multiple Parties Are Involved In The Crash
The more people involved in an accident, the more complex the car accident claim will be. Liability is likely going to be split amongst multiple parties, which means several different insurance claims.
Other factors can add layers of complexity to the claim. For example:
If a commercial motor vehicle (like a tractor-trailer) is involved, both state and federal laws come into play.
If a road defect or environmental obstruction contributed to the wreck, you may end up pursuing compensation from a government entity. But the time limit for filing claims against city or county governments is much shorter than for other personal injury claims.
An attorney can help by rooting out the cause of the crash and identifying everyone who should be held accountable for their actions. That gives you the best chance of obtaining full and fair compensation for your injuries.
When The Other Driver Is Uninsured or Underinsured
Recent statistics from the Insurance Research Council show that about one in eight drivers in the U.S. does not have car insurance. Many other motorists are underinsured, which means they only purchased the minimum car insurance required by law, which may not provide enough compensation to cover the full extent of your losses.
Learning that the at-fault driver in your crash is uninsured or underinsured is distressing, but a skilled car accident attorney can help. It may still be possible for you to recover compensation if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) through your own insurance carrier. This coverage can also be a source of compensation in hit-and-run accidents.
Unless you denied it in writing at the time of purchasing your auto insurance policy, it’s possible that you have UM/UIM coverage and don’t know it. A lawyer can help you understand your policy and navigate the claims process to maximize your recovery.
When The Insurance Company Starts Pressuring You
No matter how sympathetic they sound, it’s important to remember that insurance adjusters are hired to save their employers money. That means they may start calling within hours of a car accident before you even understand the full implications of your injury and what it will mean for your future.
You certainly need to inform your insurance company of the crash as soon as possible. But you do not —and should not — have to provide a recorded statement until you’ve contacted a lawyer.
Here’s why: Anything you say can and will be used against you during settlement negotiations. Even your response to an everyday question like “How are you?” could be twisted if you inadvertently reply with “OK.” A car accident lawyer can handle all communications with the insurance company to prevent you from accidentally saying something that could affect the outcome of your case.
When You Don’t Know What Damages You’re Entitled To
You can be compensated for a variety of losses after a car accident. These include economic, non-economic and punitive damages.
Economic damages are awarded for losses that can be calculated, such as medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, property damage and money for renovations to the home for victims who need handicapped-accessible bathrooms or other assistive equipment.
Noneconomic damages account for the losses that can’t easily be quantified but have a lasting impact on your quality of life. This includes pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship, disfigurement, loss of reputation and lost enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages are awarded to punish the at-fault party for particularly reckless conduct and deter similar actions in the future.
A car accident attorney will conduct a thorough, independent investigation into your claim to find out what happened and who should be held responsible. Then he or she will place a reasonable value on your claim demanding all of the damages that you are owed.
When You Don’t Know How Settlements Work
A settlement is an agreed-upon amount of money that ends the dispute between you and the at-fault driver. By accepting a settlement, you give up your right to sue for additional damages in the future.
The good news is that most car accident claims end with a settlement. That means that most car accident victims never see the inside of a courtroom or have to worry about a drawn-out trial. The frustrating part about settlements is that it can take a while to get an insurer to give you a fair offer.
Things to know:
Insurance companies start pushing settlement offers out fast. They take advantage of the fact that you may not understand the full extent of the injuries and what their ultimate impact will be. Although this is unfair, it is not illegal.
Your first settlement offer will likely be for much less than what you are truly entitled to.
You do not have to accept a settlement offer. You can reject it and renegotiate, either on your own or with an attorney’s help.
If no settlement offer can be reached, you have the option of taking the case to trial.
There are several advantages to working with a lawyer during this process because:
Insurance adjusters know that people who hire car accident attorneys mean business and won’t be shortchanged.
Claims representatives don’t want to go to trial. Trials are costly and risky, two things that insurance companies hate.
Attorneys already know the strategies that insurance providers use to limit payouts and can provide effective counter-arguments to support your claim for compensation.
In general, obtaining a settlement should be the goal in any car accident case. But if that isn’t possible, a knowledgeable car accident lawyer will discuss the possibility of going to trial.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
What Should I Do After A Car Accident?
The moments after a car accident can be disorienting. Here’s what you need to do:
Injury check: The first priority is always your health. Check yourself and anyone involved for injuries. Call 911 if you need an ambulance and law enforcement on the scene.
Get to a safe place: If it is possible and safe to do so, move your vehicle to the side of the road to avoid being hit a second time by passing traffic.
Exchange information: Get the other driver’s name, name(s) of any passengers and the vehicle’s make, model and license plate number. Also collect insurance information, including the company name, policy number and the phone number to call for claims.
Collect witness information: Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses to the crash. Ask them to stay until the police come to the accident scene so that they can provide unbiased testimony.
Take photos: Take as many pictures as you can of the accident scene. Get shots from several angles, including the damage to your car and other vehicles involved. Look for other environmental evidence as well, such as skid marks and broken guardrails. Pictures of your injuries at the accident scene and throughout the healing process can also be useful forms of evidence.
Inform your insurance company: You must notify your insurance company of the accident within a reasonable timeframe, which differs for each policy. You will need to check yours. Provide only the basic facts — when and where the accident happened, if the police came to the scene, etc. Do NOT offer opinions, apologize, agree to make a statement or report/deny any injuries until you’ve spoken with a reliable car accident attorney.
Contact an experienced car accident lawyer: Anyone who suffers an injury in a car accident can benefit from talking with a lawyer to learn their legal rights and whether they may be entitled to compensation.
What Should I Look For In A Car Accident Lawyer?
There are several valuable considerations to make when looking for a great car accident lawyer:
Experience: Has the attorney handled a case like yours before?
Track record: What results has the lawyer obtained in similar cases?
Communication: How easy will it be to contact your attorney with questions?
References: Do you know anyone who has worked with the lawyer before?
Recognition: Has the attorney achieved any accolades from outside rating services like Martindale-Hubbell, Super Lawyers or the Million Dollar Advocates Forum?
Comfort: Did you feel comfortable and confident in the lawyer’s ability to manage your case?
Keep in mind that finding the best lawyer for you is a personal process. Ultimately, you will need to choose the lawyer whose goals and expectations are the same as yours. It also has to be a person who you can share your secrets with — every detail you withhold from your lawyer is another crack in your case.
What Can A Car Accident Lawyer Do For Me?
You have legal rights if you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence. It’s that simple.
But it’s not so easy getting insurance companies to agree with you. Even if they do, getting them to pay the full and fair amount of compensation that you are due is challenging. The most important thing that a car accident attorney can do for you is to be your advocate and fight for the compensation you deserve.
An attorney can:
Take overall communications with the insurance companies
Gather the evidence needed to build a solid claim for maximum compensation
Represent you during all settlement negotiations
Discuss the risks and benefits of going to trial
Answer any and all legal questions that you have
It’s important for you to know that you are always in control of your case. But with a qualified car accident attorney by your side, you can rest assured that you will be given the advice you need to make the best decisions for you and your family.
How Much Does A Car Accident Lawyer Cost?
Car accident lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis. That means that you pay no upfront costs for legal representation. The attorney only gets paid if he or she obtains a favorable settlement or verdict for you.
This fee arrangement is beneficial for several reasons. First, the lawyer assumes all the risk. A smart car accident attorney isn’t going to accept a case unless he or she believes it can win. That should give you comfort and confidence that your claim is a valid one, but be aware that just because an attorney believes in your case does not guarantee that it will win. Many factors come into play during the course of a car accident investigation, all of which could affect the outcome.
Contingency fees are a percentage of the total award agreed upon by the attorney and client in writing. Criminal and domestic relations cases cannot be taken on a contingency fee basis.
What Is My Case Worth?
Ask a personal injury attorney, and they’ll tell you that this is the question they hear the most. Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer.
Each car accident case is unique. Even cases with similar circumstances and similar injuries can have completely different outcomes. Small details that might appear meaningless at first can have a big impact as an investigation continues.
So, there’s no magic formula. But there are certain things that car accident attorneys consider when arriving at a case value, such as:
Type and extent of injuries
The lawyer’s own experience with similar cases
A review of the outcomes of previous cases similar to yours
Your insurance coverage, as well as the coverage from the other policyholders involved in the crash
Strength of the evidence
After weighing these and other factors, a lawyer can make an estimate of the value of your case. But remember that the figure is an estimate only — no lawyer should ever promise or guarantee any results for you.
What Can I Expect In A Free Consultation?
Most car accident lawyers offer free consultations. The consultation is the time when the attorney can review your case, answer any questions and discuss your legal rights and legal options.
There are several things you can do to make the most of your free consultation:
Bring documents and records: Medical bills, receipts, the police report and photos of the accident scene and your injuries will give the lawyer a good initial look at the facts of the case.
Ask questions: The free consultation is the time when the lawyer gets a clear look at your claim, but it’s also when you can evaluate if this attorney is right for you. Ask about his/her experience, qualifications and what the strengths and weaknesses of your case may be.
Keep in mind that free consultation is also no obligation. You should never feel pressured to hire the law firm after your visit. If you do, keep shopping for a different attorney.
When Do I NOT Need A Car Accident Lawyer?
Thankfully, the majority of car accident cases involve property damage only. If there were no injuries and minimal damage to your car, it may not make sense to hire a car accident lawyer. In fact, it may end up hurting you financially in the long run.
When it comes to compensation for property damage to your vehicle, the insurance company is going to look at the damage to the car, its current blue-book value and whether it makes financial sense to provide compensation to fix the car or to total it.
If you’re driving an old car with relatively minor damage, the insurance company isn’t going to be inclined to give you a large payout. You may end up with less money in your pocket if you’ve found an attorney willing to take your case. That’s because the attorney’s fees are a percentage of whatever recovery is obtained on your behalf. If the recovery is small, your portion will be even smaller once you have paid your attorney.
Please remember that some injuries take days or weeks to appear after a car accident. If you begin experiencing any symptoms, you should see a doctor right away and reconsider whether you need a lawyer.
What Is The Deadline To File A Car Accident Lawsuit In Georgia?
Car accident claims fall under the umbrella of personal injury law. In Georgia, the timeline (or statute of limitations) for filing a car accident claim is two years from the date of the crash.
If the car accident resulted in someone’s death, certain family members may file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. The deadline for filing a wrongful death claim is also two years but from the date of the victim’s death, not the accident itself.
There are exceptions to those guidelines if the accident victim is minor or mentally incompetent at the time of the accident. In those cases, the clock starts ticking when the victim turns 18 or the person becomes able to handle his or her own affairs.
The statute of limitations is also different if you are suing a government entity. Special notices must be provided to a city government within six months, and a county government within 12 months.
Why Should I Contact A Car Accident Lawyer Right Away?
It’s smart to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after an auto accident for several reasons.
You learn your legal rights. Knowledge is power, and an experienced car accident attorney can advise you of your rights to compensation. Whether you hire the lawyer or not, knowing your rights makes you stronger when you face off with the insurance company.
You don’t miss the deadline to file. If you don’t file a claim before the statute of limitations expires, you may be barred from compensation forever.
An investigation can begin. A lawyer can get to work on your case immediately so that valuable evidence is not lost or erased.
You avoid settling too soon. In catastrophic car accident injury cases, it can take time for victims to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). That term —determined by a medical professional — means the patient has healed as much as can be expected and no more additional treatment or rehabilitation is likely to make a difference. It can take months or longer for a person to reach MMI. An attorney can advise you on the best time to file a claim in cases where a victim’s chances of a full recovery are uncertain.
What The Champion Firm Can Do For You
At The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C., our legal team understands how much a serious car accident can disrupt your life. You shouldn’t have to suffer because of someone else’s recklessness. Let us fight for you to win the compensation you deserve.
Our diverse team of seasoned accident injury lawyers has a track record of success in handling Georgia car accident claims, including:
$2.06 million recovered for the family of a man killed in a car crash
$1.375 million for a victim who needed spinal surgery after being rear-ended by a tractor-trailer
$212,500 settlement on behalf of an auto accident victim
Request a free consultation with one of our Atlanta car accident lawyers today. We’ll listen to your story, answer your questions and discuss all of your legal options.
The Champion Firm is a full-service personal injury law firm serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. Our award-winning team of attorneys specializes in car accidents, wrongful death, premises liability, and slip-and-fall cases. Learn more about our team here.