How to Find the Right Lawyer After a Car Accident
Data from the National Safety Council indicates that the incidence of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. increased in 2016. The NSC report states that 4.6 million were seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents while other events resulted in 40,000 fatalities. In 2016, the costs of property damage and other losses reached $432 billion, representing a 12 percent increase. You may also be faced with lost wages and a decline in productivity due to a debilitating injury.
In the last decade, road traffic increased in many metro and suburban areas due to stable gas prices, access to affordable automobiles and the need to commute for work, school or entertainment. Accident statistics rise as vehicular traffic builds up on the nation’s overburdened highways.
Responsible drivers should maintain adequate insurance coverage. However, ensuring that you can maximize collection of benefits and reimbursement of expenses can be a complicated process. The services of an attorney who specializes in personal injury and auto accident cases is crucial to a favorable resolution. Expect the process to include plenty of paperwork with legal language. You will also have to heed deadlines for paperwork submission, some of which are mandated by state or federal guidelines. You may have to negotiate assignment of responsibility and reimbursement amounts with different insurance carriers including:
- Your auto insurance provider
- Your medical insurance carrier
- The other parties’ insurance providers if the incident was not a single-vehicle accident
What to Do After an Accident
It is difficult to remain calm when you are involved in a car accident, but if you are conscious and capable, there are specific steps you should take immediately.
- Do not leave the scene of the accident. When it is possible and practical, move your vehicle to a safe section of the shoulder to avoid being hit by other vehicles and to prevent unnecessary traffic buildup. If the vehicle was disabled due to the accident, leave it in place and get to a safer area by the roadside.
- Check on everyone involved in the accident. Unless absolutely necessary, do not attempt to move anyone who is badly hurt or in pain. Call 911 immediately if anyone requires medical attention.
- Calling emergency services will also summon law enforcement and accident investigators. They will prepare the police report that you will need to file with your claim. Make sure you have the badge numbers and contact information for the responding officers.
- Police officers will collect the necessary information of all drivers involved in the incident. This information will be part of the police report. In any case, be prepared to show your driver’s license and proof of insurance. Exchange contact information and insurance data with all other drivers involved. You may also ask witnesses for their contact information.
- Take pictures of damaged vehicles at the site of the accident. Call your auto insurance carrier to report the accident, but remain objective in reporting the details. Your carrier may deny coverage of your claims if they find misleading or fraudulent information in your report.
- If you are seeking medical attention after an accident, make sure to keep track of documentation, including test results, diagnosis and discharge papers as well as bills and receipts incurred for emergency or urgent care services. You must seek medical help for pain and discomfort within a reasonable time after the accident for the personal injury claims to be covered in your claim as the window of opportunity may be a few days to a few weeks, depending on your state.
Insurance and Medical Records
Once you call your auto insurance provider to report the accident, expect a flurry of paperwork that will jump start the processing of your auto insurance claims. Your carrier may give you a deadline for submitting crucial paperwork such as:
- Police report/incident report
- Medical records showing what treatments you received immediately after the accident
- Permanent medical records to make sure that your pain and discomfort do not pre-exist the car accident
- Proof and contact information for any other insurance you may have such as health insurance
- Bills and receipts for medical treatments and therapies received because of the accident
- Any insurance forms that you are asked to complete and sign
What a Lawyer Can Do for You
The role of the auto accident attorney is to make sure that you receive compensation for losses you suffered as a result of the accident. If the accident is a simple fender bender, you and the other parties involved may exchange insurance information and pursue compensation by simply reporting the incident to your insurance carrier. However, in cases where damages and injuries are substantial, it is to your advantage to seek legal guidance from an experienced lawyer. Your lawyer’s expertise should include:
- Personal injury
- Loss or damage to property
- Liability determinations
- Wrongful death
- Federal, local and other applicable laws that may affect your case
- Case preparation, including obtaining evidence to support your case
- Investigative resources to gather evidence for your case
- Experience in negotiating with insurance companies for optimum settlements
Auto accident lawyers typically work on a contingency structure, which means no costs upfront for you. Legal fees are collected only after a settlement is reached and proceeds are disbursed. The fee structure should be specified in the memorandum of agreement that you sign when you hire an auto accident attorney to investigate, process and litigate your case if that becomes necessary.
It is advisable to contact an auto accident attorney as soon as you realize you will need one especially under the following circumstances:
- You or someone covered under your policy has suffered severe injuries. This is why you have to seek medical attention even without obvious symptoms. Injuries to soft tissues and internal organs are not always immediately evident.
- You anticipate major medical expenses and the need for long-term medical care for injuries resulting from the accident.
- You are faced with major losses, including lost wages and property damage.
- Your insurance provider is offering a quick and early settlement. Make sure to contact an attorney before you sign papers pertaining to any settlement agreements.
- Disputed liability or other cases where the insurance carrier refuses to settle or make any payments or the other party may have initiated a lawsuit.
Property Damage Valuation
Make sure to follow instructions from your insurance provider regarding towing, storage and repair procedures for your damaged vehicle. Determining the condition and residual value of your damaged vehicle is the responsibility of the adjuster, and the insurance company may have preferred providers to carry out these tasks.
However, you do not have to accept the values that your adjuster provides regardless of the technical details offered to back up the assessment. You may, at your own expense, have a qualified third party assess damages. Make sure to prepare an inventory of your vehicle’s features, accessories and other personal property that may have been damaged or lost due to the accident.
Reaching an equitable settlement may require several rounds of negotiations. Having an experienced auto accident attorney negotiating on your behalf can help you achieve the most productive settlement to help you move on with your life. An auto accident lawyer with the expertise, stellar reputation and experience in these cases should be able to shepherd your case through this stressful process. Although good lawyers may have a heavy caseload, they should not be negligent in providing updates and working toward a successful conclusion of your claim.
The road to settlement can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the complexity of your case. You can be sure that the first settlement offers will be lowball offers. An experienced attorney will see this for what it is and move on to Plan B, which involves more negotiations. Let your lawyer know if your goals are for a quick and lowball settlement or a larger and more equitable award that may take a few years of waiting. If your lawyer supports your decision, then you have found the best ally to pursue your auto accident case.