When you should think about hiring an attorney after being involved in a car accident depends on:
- Whether the severity of the accident and injuries is likely to affect the complexity of the settlement or litigation.
- Think about how comfortable you might be when working with insurance company lawyers, claims adjusters, and the other side’s lawyers and adjusters.
- Think about who was at fault in the accident.
Do you think you’ll have to file an insurance claim or sue to recover for all your damages? If the answer is yes, you should immediately contact a car accident lawyer for help.
Understanding Your Rights And Obligations
There are a lot of issues to consider after a car accident. You have rights and obligations from the very first moment after the accident. For example, you must, in most states, remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives. Failure to do so can result in fines, jail time, and suspension of your license.
Leaving the scene can get you charged with hit-and-run if you were at fault in the accident. If someone else fled the scene of the accident, they violated the law, and you should call 911 so they can hopefully be accountable.
You may have to report the accident as well. State requirements vary in the amount of time they give you to report and the circumstances in which you must report, but most do make reporting an accident mandatory. Your insurance may also require a police report for your coverage to apply. Try to get a copy of the police report as soon as possible, if there is one.
You should also check on your passengers. If someone suffered injuries, you should remain at the scene and wait for medical help if someone called 911. It’s also wise to check the scene itself to see if there are conditions that might put you or your passengers at further risk.
You have the right to gather information at the scene. Talk to the other driver or drivers involved and get their information.
Take photos of the scene. You should make sure to get:
- The location and the position of the vehicles - take these pictures before any vehicles are removed or rearranged at the scene
- Damages to the vehicles - fault can often be indicated by the damage to the vehicles; a T-bone accident is virtually never the responsibility of the driver of the car that another car T-boned
- Damages to anything else at the scene - were signs knocked over, or did the accident damage other property on and around the scene
- Evidence of debris or obstacles on the road - did pre-existing debris or obstacles contribute to the occurrence of the accident? It’s important to document those potential causes with photos
- Weather conditions - were weather conditions challenging for even the most careful driver? If there are signs of ice and snow or heavy rainfall, document that as well
- Skid marks on the road - skid marks can help determine how the accident happened. They can be crucial evidence in determining fault or causation.
Severity And Complexity Of The Case
The severity of the accident also contributes to the need to contact an attorney. If you have a simple collision with no injuries and minor property damage and met your legal obligations, then you may be able to work with the various insurance companies and bring your case to a close quickly and easily. In cases like those, most likely, you and the other driver will exchange insurance information, and the insurance company will make the payments relatively quickly and cleanly.
However, if your case involves multiple vehicles and drivers, injuries or serious property damage, or unclear fault, working with an attorney is vital to your case. Fault is harder to determine, and insurance companies will pointing fingers at each other, trying to avoid liability. Your attorney will look past this gamesmanship and apply a laser focus to your needs and damages.
How Serious Are Injuries And Property Damage?
Property damage in a car accident can be extensive and can sometimes be far beyond the amounts your insurance will cover. Similarly, if there are a lot of severe and complex injuries, insurance may not cover everything. There may be life-long care issues and disabilities that will increase the potential damages to very high amounts. If you are the injured party, you will want an attorney to protect your rights. If the insurance company tries to shortchange you or downplay your injuries, working with experienced counsel is important to your financial protection.
How Many Are Involved In The Accident?
As discussed above, if your case involves two drivers in a simple, low-damage case, you may not need an attorney. But if you’re in a ten-car pileup on the highway, a car accident attorney can help you avoid the burden of balancing all those competing interests and claims. And, with lots of drivers and insurance companies involved, the claims process itself can feel like another ten-car pileup. An attorney will be able to cut through the extraneous distractions and get to the heart of your damages and your recovery.
Multi-vehicle accidents are common in areas where weather extremes are common. Snow, ice, and rain can reduce disability and make roads more hazardous. But they are not the only causes of multi-vehicle accidents. Such accidents can also occur when one driver is under the influence or falls asleep. Speeding—alone or as part of a police chase—can also create ideal conditions for a multi-car crash. And, with today’s latest and fastest-growing accident cause, multi-car accidents often happen due to distracted driving, including the use of handheld devices and texting.
Fault can be hard to determine in a multi-car accident. Most often, because of the potentially high settlement, none of the drivers will want to admit that they might be at fault. This reluctance means that the evidence at the accident scene itself must reveal which drivers were at fault. An experienced multi-vehicle accident attorney can help to work this out so that you will receive full compensation for your injuries.
Are There Commercial Vehicles In The Accident?
If any of the vehicles in your accident are commercial vehicles, that is, vehicles owned and operated as part of a business (think FedEx delivery truck, for example), your case is immediately more problematic. You will have potential additional defendants in the business owners of the vehicle, and a more convoluted theory of liability as legal doctrines like agency may come into the case.
As a general rule, employers or “principals” are responsible for the acts of their employees or “agents” when on the job. Thus, a delivery truck driver who hits someone on the way to deliver a package may be covered by the employer’s general liability insurance. On the other hand, the employer may well try to argue that the employee was somehow outside the scope of the assigned work and was on a “frolic and detour,” making the employer not liable. This situation is a great time to call in an attorney.
Your attorney will be aware that commercial businesses generally carry much higher levels of insurance than individual drivers. If your accident left you with severe injuries and extensive future recovery costs, your knowledgeable car accident attorney would be able to obtain the necessary higher settlement from the business owners rather than from an individual driver. Since agency law is, as mentioned above, sometimes subtle and obscure, this is an excellent opportunity for you to use an attorney.
Was there A Cause Other Than Drive Negligence?
Sometimes an accident is not caused by the negligence of one of the drivers. There may have been extreme weather conditions or roadway hazards that were unavoidable. In such cases, the path to recovery of your damages may be more confusing.
If a third party created the conditions that contributed to the accident, you can hold that third party financially liable for the resulting damages. If, for instance, a firm creates and ignores an oil slick on the road and sliding through it causes cars to hit one another, the company creating that hazard may well be liable for much of the damage in the accident. An attorney can help you work through the complications here.
Has It Been Some Time Since The Accident?
Litigation, particularly personal injury litigation such as car accident cases, has relatively short time frames for filing a case. That number is as low as two years in many states, while only seven states allow for more than three years. Even if the statute of limitations is not knocking at your door, witnesses disappear or forget what they saw, and physical evidence may be lost as well. The twists and turns of the litigation process can be daunting for amateurs like accident victims, and attorneys highly skilled in the process are best equipped to handle them. The skill and experience of your attorney will help you avoid missing some small but critical rules in the litigation process.
Your Comfort Level With The Process
Some people—and they often end up as lawyers—are natural bulldogs who love the confrontation and process of handling an accident. Others, like most non-attorneys, are far less comfortable with that process. Think about some of the tasks involved:
Talking With The Other Parties
Some of us can sit down and talk comfortably with anybody anytime. Others are shy or lack sufficient self-confidence to engage with the other drivers and witnesses. One of the things attorneys provide is that they will undertake these conversations for you. Confrontation is a natural legal skill and talent; take advantage of it.
Talking With The Other Parties’ Insurance Companies
The insurance companies—even your own—are not in the business of paying the highest claims possible. Rather, they make money when they pay the lowest settlement amount they can. Your car accident attorney understands this and may well have worked with these companies or even these lawyers before. It isn’t a bad idea to rely on that experience.
Talking With The Other Parties’ Lawyers
If you don’t have counsel, you will be at a serious disadvantage when talking to the other side’s attorneys. They will understand all the rules and intricacies of car accident claims and litigation; you will not. Don’t think that you will find a level playing field.
Were You At Fault?
If you think you were at fault in the accident, even in a no-fault state, you will want to retain an attorney to make sure that your rights are protected. Even though your own insurance should cover your losses, the company might try to use tactics to take advantage of you as an unrepresented claimant. Having your own counsel will go a long way to ensuring that you fully protect your rights in the case.
In a messy accident case, you are trying to figure out who is liable, and it can be daunting. Rather than face this process on your own, using a car accident attorney will give you an advocate entirely focused on your interests in the case.
Is One Of The Insurance Companies Not Treating You Well?
As we said above, insurance claims adjusters and insurance company lawyers are not your friends. They—even the ones for your insurance company - work for the insurance companies. Their job is to protect the insurance companies’ interests and not yours. They will make a low first settlement offer. They hope that you won't know that and take it.
If you think one of the insurance companies is not treating you respectfully or may lowball your claim, retain counsel. Your Bronx car accident attorney, experienced and knowledgeable in these cases, will doesn't care about insurance company profits. They only want to protect you and get the best settlement possible for you.