Do I Need a Lawyer after Being in a Car Wreck?
An overview of how an attorney can assist you if you have been injured in a car wreck.
The risk of a serious car crash is something most of us face every day when we get behind the wheel to travel to and from home. With one in every 150 people in this country injured or killed in a vehicle accident each year, the odds are that most of us will sustain some sort of injury in a car crash by the end of our lifetimes. In fact, the numbers are staggering. There are more than 2 million traffic accidents involving injuries every year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many of these wrecks involve serious injury, and sadly, more than 50,000 of these accidents result in death.
If you are one of the millions of victims injured in a wreck each year, you will probably need legal representation to ensure a fair recovery. An automobile crash easily becomes a complex and lengthy dispute when serious injury occurs, often involving multiple parties, a variety of state and federal laws, medical billing and treatment disputes, complex health and automobile insurance settlement negotiations, and there is always the potential your claim could involve a jury trial. In many accidents, you'll need a lawyer to not only successfully recover from the person who hit you, but also recover from your own auto insurance. Throughout this process it is essential that your interests are protected by a skilled and experienced legal professional.
For example, there are a number of critically important questions which need to be answered in the aftermath of a wreck to increase the chances of a successful claim. Which car was responsible? Were any traffic citations issued? Is the owner of the car insured, and was the driver at the time of the crash the owner? If not, was the driver covered under the same auto insurance as the owner, or does he have his own auto insurance coverage? Who are the liability insurance carriers, and what are the limits? Were any other cars involved, or passengers injured in the wreck? Are they also seeking liability payments from this same driver, potentially decreasing your recovery? If the answers to any of these questions are left unknown, it could potentially jeopardize your entire claim.
It's also critical to know all of the insurance coverage to which you have access especially if the responsible driver's liability policy won't cover all your damages. This is often the case. So you need to know if you have access to any uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. You'll need to know what type of UM policy provides you coverage - "excess," or "reduction" - and what are the limits? Are there other UM policies that could be combined or "stacked" to your policy? There are important laws and rules that govern how much insurance is available in every accident, which policies pay first and for how much, and some laws that could prevent any insurance from applying to your accident at all. It is vital to have an experienced attorney from the outset of your claim find every dollar of available insurance coverage that could potentially apply to your accident. Why you have to sue your own UM insurance carrier to recover and Health Insurance - Do I have to repay my carrier if my case is successful?)
Because most of the damage in an auto accident involves bodily injury, the source of those injuries and cost of treatment is often a matter of dispute. When you go to the emergency room or see your doctor after a wreck, you will be treated or proscribed some form of treatment or therapy. If your injuries require surgery, tests, or lengthy therapy, it won't take much for the damages in your claim to skyrocket past $50,000. Often, multiple surgeries could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. It is absolutely vital that you prove all of these treatments are tied to your wreck. Keeping accurate records of every procedure, from a doctor visit to a multiple-hour surgery, is needed to properly document the dollar amount of your damages. Auto insurance carriers -- which you are putting on the hook to pay all or most of your damages -- have an obvious financial incentive not to pay any damages that may not be linked to your accident. The insurer could argue a gap in treatment - say a month between the wreck and your first doctor visit for the injury, precludes them from having to pay. Insurers frequently allege that some of the damages are due to pre-existing illness or injury. For example, if you had surgery on your neck two years before the accident, and hurt it again in the crash, the insurance carrier may claim that some or all of the damage to your neck were due to the pre-existing injury and refuse payment. It's imperative that you hire someone experienced with personal injury and auto insurance claims to argue the accident caused, or at least aggravated, the injury. This is often the difference between recovering, or not recovering, thousands of dollars for damages related to your accident.
Many automobile and personal injury claims are settled out of court instead of going to trial. However, the possibility of a trial is an important factor in those negotiations. Insurance companies are corporations with large and well-funded legal departments. They almost always have quality, expert attorneys representing their interests in an injury claim. But trials are expensive, and the outcome is never certain. A successful verdict for the victim often costs the insurance carrier far more in legal fees and damage payments than they would have spent to settle the case quickly. Therefore it is essential that you have an aggressive, experienced attorney representing your interests who is willing to take your case all the way through trial if that's what it takes. Knowing that you have a successful litigator capable of winning at trial -- and possibly winning big -- is even more motivation for the insurance company to offer settlement terms in your favor.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.