After a car accident, you are likely dealing with injuries, additional expenses, and the stress of navigating the legal process, especially if you incur significant damages. A lot is at stake, and your decisions following a car accident can significantly influence your physical and financial recovery.
These crucial decisions mean you need a skilled car accident lawyer protecting your best interests, whether establishing fault, demonstrating the full extent of your damages, or negotiating with insurers.
Going for an initial consultation with a potential attorney helps them learn about your case and provides you with the opportunity to ask questions and find the right fit. Take your time to understand who they are, what their team has to offer, and how they plan to safeguard your legal rights throughout this process.
What Kinds of Damages Can I Pursue? What Is the Value of My Car Accident Claim?
Car accidents are incredibly disruptive and often come with long-term consequences, such as financial stress from medical bills and the physical and emotional stress from severe injuries. You can pursue damages, or compensation, for your losses due to another party’s negligence, such as irresponsible driving that causes a collision.
A skilled car accident lawyer can evaluate your case and determine the damages you may recover, which can include:
- Economic damages: Compensation for the tangible financial costs from an accident, such as medical expenses, lost income, and property damage to your vehicle.
- Noneconomic damages: Compensation for the more subjective aspects of being in an accident, such as pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress disorder, and loss of enjoyment.
- Punitive damages: This category of damages is much less common. A judge may award punitive damages to punish the at-fault party if they engaged in extremely reckless behavior, such as driving drunk and causing a fatal crash.
Determining the exact value of your car accident claim is impossible because every case is unique.
To give you a ballpark estimate, an experienced car accident attorney considers:
- Your injury severity and its influence on your income and quality of life.
- The details of the accident and the evidence available to establish the party at fault.
- The payout limits of any applicable insurance policies.
These questions give you a realistic, reasonable range of what to expect, allowing you to make informed decisions moving forward. Be cautious of any attorney who promises that they can recover a specific monetary amount right off the bat.
What Is the Expected Timeline for Resolving My Case? Will I Have to Go to Court?
Car accident claims have several stages, each with a timeframe that depends on the circumstances of the case. These stages can include reviewing all the evidence of the accident and the events leading up to the accident, filing all paperwork to initiate the legal process, negotiating a settlement with insurers, and, if necessary, proceeding to court.
An experienced attorney can provide an estimated timeline depending on:
- The complexity of the case.
- The complexity of determining liability.
- The time it takes for your injury to reach maximum medical improvement—a stage where your condition is stable enough for a medical professional to assess the long-term consequences of your injuries.
- How willing the insurance company is to settle.
Most car accident claims achieve settlement without the need to go to trial, but there are exceptions. When victims suffer significant damages, such as a catastrophic injury that requires life-long care, you may need to escalate the claim to a formal trial. Pursuing a court trial may add time to your claim but it may provide the best option for recovering fair compensation when negotiations fail.
A skilled car accident attorney can prepare you for every possible outcome and guide you through every step of the legal process. They have the resources to present a strong case before a judge or jury, if necessary, but can also negotiate to settle the claim out of court whenever possible.
What Should I Do If an Insurer Contacts Me?
You will likely receive a call from representatives, also known as adjusters, of the at-fault party’s insurance company shortly following your car accident. You might think speaking to them is just part of the process, but tread carefully with these conversations, as they will use your responses to undermine your claim. Insurance companies are highly profit-driven, and anything you say, including innocent statements taken out of context, can minimize the amount you recover.
A car accident lawyer can provide valuable guidance on how to avoid accidentally compromising your case when dealing with adjusters, including:
- Do not admit fault: Even if you feel your actions contributed to the accident, never express this to the insurance company. Fault is a legal determination, and you should never accept fault prematurely before all the facts are in.
- Limit communication: Do not disclose anything until you speak with your lawyer, especially any details about the events leading to the accident or the nature of your injuries.
- Do not accept the first offer: Insurance companies try to resolve claims for as little as possible, even if the compensation barely covers your damages. Your attorney will explain each settlement offer and determine a fair amount depending on your circumstances.
When an insurer contacts you, the easiest and safest response is that your lawyer will handle all communications. An experienced car accident attorney will know the tactics adjusters use to reduce payouts, and they can advocate for you effectively.
What Is Your Fee Structure? Will I Incur Any Out-of-Pocket Expenses?
Potential costs for accessing legal help are a significant concern after a car accident, especially if you are already dealing with financial pressure due to your injuries. Having an attorney can help you recover more compensation than you could on your own, but you should clearly understand the fee structure from the beginning.
Most car accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only receive payment if they win your case.
The fee is usually a percentage of the settlement or award.
While this makes high-quality legal services much more accessible, you should clarify:
- Percentages for different scenarios: Ask what portion of the settlement the attorney will take as their fee, which typically varies depending on whether the case escalates to a court trial.
- Potential costs after a loss: You should know whether you will need to pay any costs if the attorney does not win your case.
- Out-of-pocket expenses: Cases may have other legal expenses aside from the lawyer’s time, such as court fees, expert witness fees, and administrative costs. Ask who will cover these and whether they deduct them before or after calculating the contingency fee.
Do not hesitate to clarify any part of the fee structure you do not understand. A reliable attorney will openly discuss all fees and costs and provide the contingency fee agreement in writing.
Who Will Handle My Case? How Will You Communicate With Me?
In many large law firms, the attorney you meet first might not be the one who ends up doing the bulk of the work. Junior associates or paralegals may take on a lot of the general tasks, with a senior lawyer only stepping in for the most crucial moments, such as investigating the case and negotiating the settlement.
Ask who to contact when you need to discuss the progress of your claim and who will make the critical decisions.
This discussion can include asking the primary attorney handling your case for their experience, qualifications, and track record.
You should also clarify:
- How often will I get updates on my case?
- Will these updates be through email, phone, or in-person meetings?
- How quickly can I expect a response if I contact your office with questions or concerns?
Understanding these specifics about case management and communication style can make a significant difference in your overall experience throughout a very stressful and emotional time and the potential outcome of your case. Have clear answers to these questions so you feel comfortable with your legal team’s approach.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
Being in a car accident can turn your life upside down, creating issues with your health, finances, and overall well-being. Working with an experienced attorney can make a significant difference in the handling and resolution of your claim.
The initial consultation allows you to find the right legal representative and build a good working relationship. If you or a loved one was recently in a car accident, contact a qualified personal injury attorney to discuss your case today.