Do I Need a Lawyer for my Car Wreck?
If you are in a car wreck, when should you hire a lawyer? If the accident is your fault, the answer is simple. Report your claim to your automobile insurance company and they will hire a lawyer for you. Do this as soon as possible. If you believe that the other driver is at fault, then there are some other factors involved.
If you were not injured and only suffered damage to your car, you typically can resolve the claim with the other driver’s insurance company yourself. You will want to get estimates from three reputable garages as soon as you can and provide them to the insurance company. The other insurance company should provide you with a rental, but typically will try to provide it for as little time as possible. As a result, act as quickly as you can. You may also be able to recover the diminished value that your car suffered as a result of the accident, but you will need some proof of this diminished value, such as a statement from a car dealership or report from a diminished value expert.
If your car has been totaled, then you will want to gather information on comparable cars from services such as Edmunds.Com, Kelly Blue Book and NADA. You can also find similar cars for sale online and use these as “comparable.” You can also hire companies that will help you by providing an appraisal.
Injury claims are more complicated. An insurance industry study shows that individuals who are represented by lawyers receive settlements over three times higher than individuals who represent themselves. You can resolve a minor injury claim yourself, but need to make sure that you take into account any amounts that have been paid by your insurance or Medicare that you will have to reimburse, any medical bills that you have already paid, and any future medical bills. You will also want to make sure that your injury is not more serious than you initially believe. For this reason, it is usually not a good idea to agree to really quick settlements with the insurance company.
If your injury is serious and the other party is at fault, then you should see a lawyer due to the complicated medical, insurance, and proof problems that are involved. While you will have to pay an attorney’s fee, the fee probably will be justified by a higher settlement and by not having to worry about repaying health care providers, insurance companies, and Medicare.
How Should I Hire an Attorney?
Your choice of attorney can have a serious impact on your case, and you want to make sure that you hire an attorney that will take the time and care to give your case the attention it deserves. While lawyer billboards line our highways and promise big recoveries, you need to dig a little deeper and ask the following questions:
- Is the lawyer rated by a trusted rating service like Martindale.com? Martindale Hubbell, now known as Martindale.com, has been rating lawyers for over a hundred years. The highest rating on Martindale is AV which means that the lawyer is very competent and ethical. The ratings on Martindale come from other lawyers.
- Did the lawyer go to an accredited law school?
- Is the lawyer licensed in the state in which the accident occurred?
- Does the lawyer receive positive reviews from former clients?
- Does the lawyer’s website provide valuable information, or does it just promote how great the lawyer is?
- If the lawyer advertises on a billboard, will the lawyer on the billboard be handling your case and how many cases have they tried?
- Does the lawyer take the time to make you feel comfortable and help you understand the process?
- Are you treated like a person and not just a number?
Take the time to make sure that you pick the right attorney because you could be living with the consequences of your decision for a long time.
How Do Lawyers Charge for Car Wreck Cases?
Lawyers charge a fee for their services. In car wreck cases, this fee is usually a contingency fee. A contingency fee is a fee that is contingent on whether the attorney recovers money for you or not. In other words, the attorney takes a fee if they obtain a settlement or win a jury verdict. In car wreck cases that our firm takes, at the time of this writing, we charge 25% of the amount of the recovery if the case settles before bringing a lawsuit, 33 and 13% if it settles after we file a lawsuit and 40% if we have to go to trial.
In addition to the fee, car wreck attorneys typically advance the expenses relating to getting the case ready. Like the fee, you do not have to pay these back unless there is a recovery. Expenses include amounts that the attorney has to pay for things like filing fees, depositions, experts, and copies. If there is a recovery, these amounts will be reimbursed out of the recovery.
Under Rule 1.5 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, any contingency fee agreement must be in writing and set out the details of the arrangement. At the conclusion of a contingency fee case, a lawyer must provide a written statement explaining the outcome of the case. In addition, if there is a recovery the lawyer must provide a written statement showing the fee and all expenses.
How Do I Know Whether I Have a Case?
This is really a legal question and best answered by a lawyer after taking a look at the specific facts of your case. Generally, to have a case against another driver for an accident, you must show that the other driver was at fault and that this caused damages. One way of doing this is by showing that the driver was negligent. Negligence is the failure to exercise ordinary care or, to put it another way, not being reasonably careful. Every driver owes every other driver a duty to exercise ordinary care to not harm other people on the road. In addition, every driver has a duty to look out for where other people are on the road.
Some actions are nearly always negligent. For instance, rear-ending another driver who is stopped at a light is nearly always negligent. Furthermore, Alabama has safety laws called Rules of the Road and a violation of these will usually be negligent. These include: (1) no texting while driving, (2) following too closely, (3) failing to yield the right of way at an intersection, (4) failure to yield the right of way when pulling out onto a public highway from a drive, (5) running a stoplight or stop sign, and (6) traveling at an unreasonable speed.
Another type of claim is a wantonness claim. To show wantonness, you must prove that the other driver “consciously act[ed] or fail[ed] to act with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others, and (he/she) [was] aware that harm [would] likely or probably result.” Wantonness requires more than just carelessness or inattentiveness, it requires that the other driver consciously understood that they were doing something dangerous. As a result, wantonness is hard to prove, but might occur when a driver engages in a behavior known to be dangerous, such as driving while drunk, driving while texting, taking a curve too fast on a wet road , speeding in an area with construction and poor visibility, failing to yield at an intersection while speeding, or going too fast on a wet road.
Yet another type of claim that can sometimes be asserted in a car wreck case is negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment occurs when someone allows another person to use a vehicle when they know or should know that the person they are allowing to use the car is incompetent. A person is incompetent if they are irresponsible or likely to use the vehicle dangerously. For example, if an employer allows its employee to drive a company car even though the company knows the driver has had several DUIs, the employer could be held liable for negligent entrustment.
If the other driver was uninsured or fled the scene, you may be able to bring a claim against your insurer if you have uninsured motorist benefits. With a claim for uninsured motorist benefits you will still need to show that the other car was liable and the extent of your damages. You will have six years to bring a claim for these benefits.
How Much Money Can I Recover for my Car Accident?
There is no hard and fast rule for how much money you can recover for injuries resulting from a car wreck. Generally, the amount of money will be based on the amount of damages that you have suffered (see next question). However, this amount may be affected by other factors. For instance, if the defendant was texting or driving while drunk, it likely will increase the value of your case. If you have some fault, it may decrease the value of your case. In addition, you likely will recover more money if you are represented by a lawyer. Of these, a skilled lawyer who actually tries cases in court likely will be able to obtain more money than a less experienced lawyer or a lawyer who does not try car wreck cases.
What Damages Can I Recover?
Damages is the legal term for money that a jury or court awards in a lawsuit. Damages can be recovered for different types of things. If you or a loved one are injured in a car wreck, you can recover damages for the following things:
- Medical Bills that you or your insurance company pay or become responsible for
- Future medical expenses and other expenses of care
- Pain and Suffering from the wreck
- Lost wages or Income
- Lost future wages or income
- Damage to your ability to earn a living (impairment of earning capacity)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- The damage to your car
- Loss of use of the car
- Lost rentals in some cases
The purpose of damages is to restore the value of everything that you lost as a result of the accident.
How Long Do I Have to Bring My Claim?
Generally, in Alabama, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit for negligence against another driver. However, in certain situations, such as claims against municipalities, you might have less time. For instance, any claim against a municipality or its employee must be filed with the municipality within six months of the accident. A claim against a county or its employee must be presented to the county commission within one year from the car accident. As a result, if you are going to take legal action make sure you do so as soon as you are able. Also, you should verify the correct time limit with an attorney.
I’ve Been Contacted by the Insurance Company. Do I Talk to Them About the Accident or Give a Statement?
No. There are at least three reasons that you should not give a statement or talk to a representative of the insurance company before you have spoken to an attorney. First, the insurance company’s claims adjuster has an unfair advantage. The claims adjuster or defendant will be in possession of evidence like pictures, video, witness statements, etc. that you do not have. The claims adjuster is also a professional who asks questions for a living and may attempt to bring out any thing that might prove that what you are saying is wrong. If your case makes it to trial, the lawyers for the defendant will pick apart your statement looking for anything that they can say is an inconsistency. They will compare your statement to evidence in the case and other statements that you make about the accident or event.
Your memory may be flawed. While many of us think that our brains store memories of things that have happened to us in the same way that an I-Phone saves a video, this is not the case. Every time that you remember an event, your brain re-creates the image from scratch. Studies can show that these “re-creations” can vary from time to time and can differ greatly from what actually happened. If you have suffered a head injury or other traumatic event it could further affect your ability to remember. This doesn’t mean that you should never rely on your memory; it just means that you should be careful.
Some people tend to think out loud. This means that when they give a statement, they spend much of the time trying to piece together what happened out loud. It is perfectly fine to do this in a conversation with friends, but not in a statement. If you do this in a statement, it can seem (especially if someone is looking at a paper transcript of the statement and not listening to a recording) that you don’t know what you are talking about.
In summary, if you give your statement without having spoken with a lawyer first, you may actually give a statement that does not reflect what really happened.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Settlement from a Car Accident?
It can take anywhere from a month or two to several years. The answer will depend on the facts of your case. If your injuries are fully resolved or clearly exceeds the amount of available insurance coverage, you may be able to get a settlement within a month or two. However, in most cases, you will want to make sure that your medical condition has stabilized and that you have a good idea of what, if any, additional treatment you will need. This could take several months as you receive treatment and your lawyer obtains medical records, medical bills, and opinions from your doctors. It is important not to try to rush this process because you likely will only be able to obtain one settlement for your claim and it will need to account for all of your damages.
If you have to file suit, the process can take longer and sometimes a few years. Sometimes the insurance company will see that you have a valid claim after you file suit and will want to address settlement quickly. Other times, they will want to take your deposition and gather information before discussing settlement. Still other times, when they will not be reasonable, you will have to take your case to trial.
Do I Have to Accept a Settlement from the Insurance Company?
No. You should be very careful about accepting a settlement from the insurance company. Some insurance companies will try to pressure you to accept a low-ball settlement offer and even discourage you from obtaining a lawyer because they know that they will have to pay more money. Allstate was the first insurance company to use this tactic which was part of a strategy called “From Good Hands to Boxing Gloves.” Since Allstate started doing this in the nineties, other insurance companies have followed them.
An attorney can help you negotiate with the insurance company. If you can’t reach an agreement, you can always take your case to court.