Should I hire a Lawyer for a Car Accident?
You may suspect that as a lawyer my answer would always be “Yes” to this question. That is not the case. There are some car accidents where an attorney is usually not needed. Yet, there are others where working with a good car accident lawyer like myself is imperative. The big issue is determining which category your case falls into.
So do you need a lawyer for a car accident? Most often “Yes” but not always. How do you know?
Do I need an Attorney for My Car Accident | A Word of Caution
First, a word of warning. As an attorney who has litigated many car accident cases, I recommend erring on the side of caution on this question. There are many smart and competent people in this world. It is just that the world of car accident claims can be complicated. You are free to represent yourself in any car accident lawsuit. But that would be like me trying to do your job. It may work out sometimes and I can do a passable job, but you are going to be much better at it. Any job requires training honed by experience.
With all of the questions and issues involved in a personal injury claim, it doesn’t pay to take chances There are also experienced professionals working against you on behalf of your adversary, giant insurance companies, who will catch any mistakes made. Do you want to take the risk?
Let me give you an example of one of the potential pitfalls. A friend came to my office once to ask me my opinion about his claim. He had been in a car accident two years before and suffered an injury. Since the accident was not his fault, he made a claim on his own and believed he did pretty well. He received a payment from the at-fault driver’s insurance company based upon how he was doing then. He felt good to have money in his pocket. He signed papers provided by the other side and thought he was done with the claim. The problem was the injury was still bothering him. It had hurt a bit at the time of settlement but he thought it would go away. Now, he wanted to go back to the other side for more money. “Could I reopen my case?” he asked me.
The sad answer to the question was “No”, he couldn’t. He had signed away that right when he agreed to the settlement. Courts are sympathetic to injured parties, but they do enforce settlement agreements. The fact that he did not know how badly he was injured did not change this fact. So what could have been a claim for ongoing injuries ended too early and my friend had no idea.
This is obviously a dramatic example but similar issues are not unusual. Attorneys who deal with car accidents are very familiar with the pitfalls to avoid and can help you steer clear of them. They can assist you in getting a fair outcome that compensates you for your entire claim.
So what are the cases where a lawyer can be helpful but is not always necessary?
Cases where you may not need a lawyer:
Property Damage Only
There are thousands of car accidents every year that are handled without a lawyer. If no one is injured from the car accident, there is insurance for all the vehicles involved and the only issue is damage to the cars there often is no need for an attorney to get involved. This is particularly true if both cars have liability and collision coverage. Each of the insurance carriers has a vested interest in getting paid for the damage done to their vehicle and have professionals whose job it is to handle these claims. Importantly, they also have a duty to their insured to act in a certain fashion towards them. Your insurance company will treat you differently than the other car’s insurance, in other words. Let me give you an example of the type of case I am referring to.
One rainy day, another friend was headed home from her office after a day at work. Due to the heavy rainfall, as she was stopped at a light, the car behind her was unable to stop and hit her car in the rear. It was a bit of a jolt to both cars and both ended up with mangled bumpers but minimal other damage. Both drivers got out of their cars, agreed they were ok and then exchanged information before leaving the scene. They both had insurance which my friend confirmed with her insurance company. She then asked me whether she should get me involved?
My answer was that she could if she felt more comfortable, but given the circumstances, it was probably not required. Her insurance company would repair her vehicle and the other drivers would do the same for them. Her insurance company would then recover the cost of the repair from the driver that hit her in the rear. Unless there was a dispute about the repairs, there would be nothing for me to do.
These cases can get more complicated so there are cases where an attorney would be needed. If the other driver does not have insurance or you do not have collision coverage to pay for your property damage, for example. But generally, there are many simple car accidents handled without an attorney every day.
If you are wondering whether you should hire an attorney for a property damage case, give me a call and we can talk it over (443)543-6767. I offer free consultations and would be glad to help you make an informed decision.
Minor Car Accident Injury Case – Possibly
In a case where a car accident occurs and there is a minor and temporary injury, you may not need an attorney. I believe that you will be better served hiring a good car accident attorney in most of these case, but if you feel comfortable not doing so then these are the type to do so. If you have been in an accident where liability, the fault for the accident is clear and you have suffered a minor injury, it may work in your favor not to hire an attorney. I will emphasize minor because as my above-referenced example showed, sometimes what we think is a temporary injury is simply not. It is just the warm-up for more problems. What is an example of these type of cases?
I was involved in a case where a passenger in my client’s car went to the hospital for a check-up after the fender bender type accident. He was examined and released with no findings of injury. For weeks after the accident, he showed no symptoms and was immediately back to his regular routine, including a vigorous workout schedule. He settled his case with the insurance company on his own for a minimal amount and continued about his life. Car accidents are always unpleasant and dealing with insurance companies often equally so. He was just happy to get on with his life.
If you are wondering whether you should hire an attorney for this type of case, give me a call and we can talk it over (443)543-6767. I offer free consultations and would be glad to help you make informed decisions.
Car Accidents Where You Need a Lawyer – Most Other Accidents
The issues in a car accident case are complicated. Even where the fault for the accident seems clear, there is often a huge distance between the other driver’s admission of fault and getting their insurance company to agree with their driver. It can be an even longer journey for them to pay fair value for your claim. There are many legal pitfalls in between. One of the biggest issues you may face never even realizing you ran into trouble until it is too late.
One example of this is the many people who are offered an early “take it or leave it offer” from the insurance company. This is a tactic that companies use to try to put early pressure on the injured party and get you to settle before you understand the full amount of your injuries. The insurance company will come a few weeks after the accident and make an offer seemingly out of the blue. The amount offered is chosen to try to get you to settle BEFORE you know your rights and before you hire an attorney. Once it is accepted and a release signed, there is usually no going back. The case is over before it started. Insurance companies use these tactics as a way to limit the value of claims against them. They are not in the business to look out for you so whether it is fair or not is not part of their strategy.
The Insurance Company is Working Against You
A car accident or personal injury claim is always an adversarial situation. This means the goal of the giant billion dollar insurance company you are facing is directly contrary to yours. They work for their stockholders, not you. Their clear objective is to make as much money as possible and increase the value of the company. The less they pay on auto claims, the better it is for them. They have lawyers and insurance agents working for them on your claim as soon as it is reported. They work to protect their insured, the other driver, and defeat or limit your claim. Some are very nice people but they simply do not work for you and are not looking to do what is best for you. That is simply not what they are there for. Since they are in this specific business dealing with thousands of claims, they are experienced and often very good at their jobs.
Take a look at State Farm, the largest auto insurer in America, for example. The company writes almost 20% of all US auto policies. State Farm has a net worth of 97 billion dollars. GEICO is number 2 in the Us according to the same study with 12% of the market and an estimated net worth of 52 billion dollars.
Some companies are better than others in this respect. Some seek to convince you that their value on your claim is simply more reasonable than yours. Others focus their whole car accident litigation strategy from the moment you report your claim to being as difficult as possible. The more injured parties they can force into settlement out of sheer weariness, the better it is for their company. It is like David vs. Goliath, where Goliath also has the help of other giants and has 97 billion dollars of cash to use against you.
Having a lawyer who is just as experienced, good at handling car accident claims and knows the different tactics the industry giants use to try to minimize your claim is really important as a result.
These are just some of the reasons why I recommend having a lawyer for just about all car accident cases where there is an injury. While this does cost money, it pays for years of training and expertise as well as the peace of mind that goes with knowing that you were not taken advantage of.
Navigating the complicated world of car accident litigation for others has been my job for the past 20 years, I would love to put that experience to work for you.
If you are looking for a good car accident lawyer to protect your interests, give me a call and we can talk it over (443) 543-6767. I offer free consultations and would be glad to help you make an informed decision on your case.
Thomas E. Neary
The Law Office of Thomas E. Neary, L.L.C.
6400 Baltimore National Pike
Catonsville, Maryland 21228