The short answer is that you likely will not get an adequate settlement without legal help. If you try on your own, you will probably end up with a settlement that won't begin to cover your expenses, leaving you having to pay thousands of dollars in medical costs and auto repairs.
If you have a complex case involving many potential defendants and complicated liability issues, you want a lawyer to take your case.
Don’t Represent Yourself
You might wonder if you can handle a claim yourself. The following are some scenarios when you might question the need for a car accident lawyer - and why you should never do so.
Fault Seems Clear
Sometimes, you might think there are no open issues of fault (fault sometimes matters even in a no-fault state like New York) and that settling is just a matter of reaching the number that satisfies everyone. However, even if you think it is clear who was to blame, insurance companies can challenge fault in many ways.
They might raise doubt regarding who is responsible and to what extent, making you far more likely to get to a reasonable settlement with an attorney arguing for you. A knowledgeable car accident attorney will know how to make a case for the compensation appropriate to your recovery.
Your Injuries Don’t Seem That Bad
If your injuries seem simple with no anticipated long-term consequences, you might think you can define the injuries and the related damages. Even seemingly straightforward injuries can have lingering and latent consequences that may not be obvious to you but that you need to account for in your final settlement. Never assume that you know the full impact of your injuries and the losses you will have. Let an attorney determine this based on their experience handling similar injury claims.
All Things Are Never Equal
Anytime you hear an argument that begins with the phrase "all things being equal," all things are virtually never equal. Similarly, the party or parties at fault are seldom immediately obvious, and the full extent of your injuries is hard for a layperson to determine.
Remember, those you will need to negotiate with have far more knowledge and experience than you do. No matter how simple your case seems, someone with more experience will sit on the other side. You need someone with a better grasp of how to obtain the full settlement you need.
How Lawyers Help With Every Step of the Process
Before you decide to try to negotiate your settlement yourself, consider all the things an attorney will do for you. Knowing all the work involved in the car accident claim process should be enough for you to set up a free case evaluation. Initial consultations and case evaluations are cost-free and can give you some valuable information about the worth of your cause and how the process works.
Your car accident lawyer can take care of the following steps, among many others, to protect your rights.
- Gather information - You may have already collected some of this needed information at the accident scene, but you need to have contact and insurance information for all parties to the accident. You’ll also want the contact information of any attorneys involved in the case. Also, make sure you have contact information for any potential witnesses. If you did not get this information, your lawyer handles it all for you.
- Gather documents - Your attorney will get copies of any accident or police reports filed in the case and, if possible, copies of insurance policies, witness lists, and the traffic citations issued at the scene, if any. If anyone on the other side is also claiming damages, they can obtain documentation of those expenses, including paid bills, lost wages, and more.
These are steps in the initial claim process, and it is only the beginning of gathering and presenting evidence. This process is time-consuming, and you likely do not have the time to figure it all out. Your attorney will keep all your documents and information together. Timing is everything if litigation happens, and your lawyer makes sure you don’t waste time making mistakes or missing deadlines.
After your accident, your main focus should be on doing everything your doctors tell you to do. If you stop following medical advice or fail to complete treatment, the other side can use your failure to follow the treatment protocols assigned by your doctors as evidence that your injuries are not as serious as you claim. Trying to deal with a claim can interfere with your treatment. You should continue with your treatment and caring for your physical health and allow a car accident lawyer to handle the rest.
To properly set up successful negotiations, it is necessary to have a fairly complete understanding of your potential damages and the compensation you need for them. That understanding, of course, comes from the totality of the facts and circumstances of your case compared to similar claims. This is something you want an experienced car accident lawyer to handle.
Many people have no idea how much they can seek for injury-related compensation. The compensatory damages that you may recover for these injuries might include some or all of those below.
Economic or Special Damages
Economic damages from an accident are those that have a measurable cost that you can easily show with a paid invoice or, in the case of lost wages, by former pay stubs. Economic damages include both your out-of-pocket expenses and the expenses that your insurance paid.
Your lawyer will present evidence to prove all of these losses. They can demonstrate your expenses with medical bills, insurance statements, pay stubs, and estimates for any needed repairs.
Examples of economic damages include
- Hospital and medical expenses
- Psychiatric or physical therapy
- Lost income
- Diminished earning capacity
- Property damage
Non-economic damages are more subjective and difficult to calculate than economic damages. These are, in essence, the not-so-clear consequences of your accident.
Non-economic damages, which you can only sue for in a car accident case if you have suffered a serious injury (see below), include:
- Pain and suffering
- Depression and other mood disorders
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
In New York auto accidents, the law bars a lawsuit for non-economic damages unless you have suffered a serious injury.
Under Article 51 of the New York State Insurance Law, you suffered a serious injury if the injury resulted in any of:
- Significant disfigurement;
- Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system;
- Permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member;
- A significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or
- A medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature that prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts that constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.
The last several of these leave a lot of room for argument about what they require and what happened to you. You will need to prove your serious injury, which usually takes more than a simple statement from your physician that you have a serious injury. This burden of proof is yet another reason why working with a knowledgeable car accident attorney can seriously impact your recovery.
A Lawyer Can Make All of This Work Easier
Overall, you will benefit in many ways by hiring an attorney to settle your case. An attorney will have previously handled cases like yours and will understand the full potential extent and costs of your injuries. They do this all the time and know what the other side will probably do as well. Finally, remember that the attorney is on your side and will be a passionate but not emotionally involved representative of your interests. The knowledge and commitment of your lawyer will help to ensure that you receive appropriate compensation for all of your injuries.
It’s Their Job
Insurance companies, their lawyers, and adjusters want to make a profit. They do that by taking in more premium payment dollars than they pay out in settling claims. Unlike you, they are experienced and skilled in negotiating claim offers that are usually far lower than you expect and that may well not completely reimburse you for your damages.
Once you hire an attorney, they will tell you to avoid certain things.
Some of these steps to avoid when working with these adverse parties and protect your interests while you consider retaining counsel are:
- Don’t accept the first settlement offer; it will almost always be a lowball offer designed to take advantage of your emotional and physical distress and your money worries.
- Don’t make a recorded statement for any insurance company unless it’s your own, and even then, only if your policy requires you to do so
- Don’t apologize for anything; people can read it as an admission of fault, and the insurance company lawyers will certainly treat it that way.
- Don’t admit fault - you can state the facts, but don’t share your possible opinion that it was all your fault with the other side.
- Don’t downplay your injuries or damages to your vehicle. Again, the insurance company lawyers will use these statements as admissions against your interest. Contact your doctors, get treated, and follow what they tell you to do.
- Don’t try to sue on your own. This pro se method of seeking redress is cheap, but you’re getting what you pay for - an amateur fighting against real pros in their playing field.
- Don’t talk to the other side about the accident, and don’t go on social media about the accident.
- Don’t provide your own insurance company any more information than you need to at this point - delay any statement while you decide about retaining counsel.
They’re Committed but Not Emotionally Involved
You’ve just been through a terrible time. You’re hurt, you’re worried about your income and expenses, and you’re emotionally distraught. Your attorney, a zealous advocate for your interests, can work with knowledge of your damages and of insurance company strategies to obtain the full and fair coverage you need for your injuries.
Can I Afford to Use an Attorney to Settle?
Yes, you can. Car accident attorneys take cases on a contingency basis. In a contingency fee agreement, you will enter into a written agreement with your attorney stating that you will only pay fees if your case resolves successfully for you. This means that either your attorney negotiated a settlement satisfactory to you or, at trial, won an award for your damages.
The fee agreement will state what fees you will pay to your attorney (usually as a percentage of your award) at which points in the case and address your payment of other fees and expenses aside from attorney’s fees.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer Today to Settle Your Case
If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a car accident, think seriously about whether you should take on the settlement process yourself (you shouldn’t). At a time in your life when you should focus on your physical and mental recovery, the last thing you can deal with is fighting with insurance company lawyers and claims adjusters. Contact a car accident attorney today for an initial consultation and case evaluation and help deciding how to proceed with your case.