A few years back, the Insurance Research Council did a study on the effect that hiring an attorney had on the financial recovery in a personal injury case. The study found that on average, claimants who had an attorney had recoveries that were 2 to 3 times larger than claimants who did not have an attorney.
For reasons we will discuss more below, this does not mean you should always hire an attorney after a car accident. However, you should ALWAYS consult an attorney after a car accident. If your case meets certain criteria, you are likely to do much better with an experienced personal injury attorney than you would by yourself.
When I get asked the question “Do I need an attorney for my car accident,” I usually want to find out more about 2 issues: 1. Who is likely to be considered “at fault” for the accident, and 2. How significant or long lasting are the injuries?
Sometimes the question of fault is clear. Maybe someone was texting or not paying attention and they rear-ended you, or maybe they ran a red light or were driving while intoxicated. Often, the at-fault driver admits fault to the responding police officer. Of course, even when fault is clear, some insurance companies will still try to blame you for some percentage of fault as a tactic to pay you less for your damages.
Other times, the question of fault is less clear cut. It is a common occurrence for different witnesses to give different accounts of the events in a car accident, especially if the witnesses are the drivers involved in the accident.
If the insurance company is going to fight you on the question of who is at fault, you likely need to hire an experienced attorney. You need to remember that the insurance company deals with car accidents every day, but most people only have to deal with a car accident a handful of times in their whole life. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you level the playing field.
Unfortunately, even if the insurance company is not going to fight you on the issue of fault, they may try to pay you a lot less than what your injuries are worth. This brings us to the next issue I ask potential clients about, their injuries.
Car accidents can range between minor and severe. Generally speaking, the more significant the impact, the more likely you are to suffer serious or long-lasting injuries. That said, you can still suffer a serious injury from a relatively minor impact depending on different factors. Pre-existing conditions you have may make you more vulnerable to be injured. How your body is positioned during the impact can also play a role.
Generally speaking, the more serious the injury, or the longer the injury affects you, the more likely it is that you should hire an attorney. That is because the insurance company will want to pay you as little as possible for your injuries and will try to cast doubt on every aspect of your claim.
Conversely, the less serious the injury, and the faster your return to normal, the less likely it is that you will need an attorney. This is because there is an economic aspect to an injury claim. For example, if your total medical bills from an accident are on the low end, let’s say $5,000, with no broken bones or long-term impact, the insurance company is not likely to pay very much on the case, whether or not you have an attorney.
The leverage that an experienced personal injury attorney provides you after a car accident comes from the threat that the attorney represents to the insurance company. If the insurance company does not pay you a fair amount for your injuries, your attorney will take the case to trial and end up costing the insurance company a lot more than they would have had to pay had they just been reasonable in the beginning.
However, the insurance company knows that going to trial is expensive for the Plaintiff’s attorney, both in terms of actual financial expenditures (costs) as well as time spent on the case. This can be a problem in cases with smaller damages. For example, in a case where the medical bills are low and there is no evidence of a long-term impact on the Plaintiff, there is a significant risk that a jury award at trial will be too small to justify the costs and time spent in getting to the jury award. The insurance companies know this, and this knowledge means they will not pay very much in cases with small damages, even if you have an attorney.
It is AWLAYS a good idea to consult with an attorney after a car accident, especially if the consultation is free. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine if your case is big enough for you to benefit from hiring an attorney. Even if your case is not big enough to hire an attorney, during a free consultation the attorney can answer your questions and give you advice on what to expect and what mistakes to avoid. At the Beard Law Firm, we offer free consultations to anyone who has been injured in a car accident. If you know you need an attorney, or just want to ask some questions, give us a call.