Are you wondering when to get a lawyer for a car accident? You’re not alone. This question is one of the most commonly asked following a car accident, with many people uncertain of what types of accidents require additional legal support.
If you’ve been in a car accident or want to know for future reference, this post will tell you everything you need to know about the circumstances that determine when you need to get a lawyer for a car accident. Many people assume they won’t need a lawyer for a minor car accident, but this isn’t always true. Sometimes, even straightforward cases would benefit from some legal assistance. We’ve put together a list of the 10 most common reasons to consider it based on our experience. Let’s dive in.
You were injured in the car accident
In California, if you have an injury resulting from a car accident, you need to prove the other party was liable to receive compensation for your injuries. To do this, you must file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Unlike states with no-fault laws, this involves a considerable amount of paperwork and processes that must be followed properly. Because of this, you should consider hiring a lawyer if you were injured and require compensation.
The good news is you’re also able to receive financial compensation for non-economic damages. This means the amount you receive can be greater than the financial losses you incurred as a result of the accident. For example, you can claim for any pain you’ve encountered, with the amount you’re entitled to dependent upon the extent of the wrongful actions of the party responsible.
A lawyer with expertise in this area will be able to guide you through the whole process. Not only will this maximize the likelihood you’ll succeed in your claim, but it can also increase the amount you receive from the insurance company.
Someone else was injured in the car accident
If another party was injured in the car accident, even if it wasn’t your fault, you may also wish to hire a lawyer.
Here in California, we have what is known as the “Pure Comparative Negligence Rule.” This rule means the blame is often shared between parties involved in the accident, with the claim reducing in line with any share of the blame attributed to them.
Because of comparative negligence, otherwise straightforward cases can turn out to be complicated. And, even if you don’t think you were at fault, the other party might not see the incident in the same way. In short, if there’s any chance another party involved in the accident could sue you for their injuries, it’s best to consult with a lawyer to ensure you don’t end up in a situation you can’t find your way out of.
You lost income as a result of the car accident
Injuries aren’t the only reason for a financial claim. If you lost income as a result of the accident, either in the immediate aftermath or in the future, you could also sue the person responsible for compensation.
Although this sounds straightforward, the right to claim lost income doesn’t just apply to the period immediately following the accident. It may also include projected lost income in the future. A lawyer is trained to help you calculate the total income lost and put your case forward to the insurers.
The car accident affected your mental health
Physical injuries aren’t the only kind of injuries you can claim for following a car accident. Many people experience adverse mental health outcomes after a car accident, from mild anxiety to post-traumatic stress. These conditions can have substantial impacts on quality of life and may require treatment, incurring large medical or therapy bills.
As we mentioned previously, California laws state compensation isn’t limited to financial damages. Therefore, you may be entitled to compensation for any mental health damages even when you haven’t paid for treatment. The impact of car accidents on mental health can be just as debilitating as physical injuries, so it’s important to get the support you need that will give you the best shot at recovering and moving forward. A lawyer can help you get the compensation you need to do this.
The car accident was your fault
If the accident was your fault, we understand all this talk about compensation can be concerning. But all is not lost, and a personal injury lawyer can help you negotiate the best possible outcome in these situations.
Accidents happen. But, as California is an “At Fault” state, the person who caused the accident must pay damages to all injured parties. This means your insurance company will need to deal with claims from everyone who makes a personal injury claim as a result of the accident.
However, even if you perceive the accident to be your fault, there may be a way to reduce this liability. That’s because, as we mentioned earlier, California law also states those partially at fault hold some liability. In legal terms, this is known as comparative negligence. This rule often applies as car accidents are complex events that may involve a series of errors by multiple parties.
A lawyer specializing in this area can help you establish the extent to which you were at fault and identify mistakes made by other parties.
There’s a dispute about responsibility
What if the car accident wasn’t your fault, but the other party disagrees? In these circumstances, you would almost certainly benefit from legal assistance. Unless there are witnesses or a police report to back up your claim, it can be your word against theirs.
Sometimes, damage to the car can tell us a lot about the accident and who was at fault. Legal assistance from someone with expertise in the area can help you establish this proof, which will be useful when negotiating with insurance companies and obtaining the appropriate settlement.
An accurate police report can also help here. Police don’t always attend the scene of an accident. But when they do, the report will contain their perspective of the scene when they arrived, such as the position of the vehicles. So, it can be a good idea to keep the vehicles in their original positions until the police arrive, unless it’s not safe to do so. They will also comment on aspects such as tire marks on the road, damage to the vehicles, and any debris at the scene — all things that can provide clues about responsibility and reinforce your claim.
You need to go to court
Some car accident claims are straightforward and can be settled between the insurance companies, with legal assistance improving the settlement figure.
Other car accidents, however, may involve a lawsuit that reaches court. This may occur if the insurance companies can’t establish who was at fault or fail to agree on the settlement figure. When this happens, you might be the one petitioning for settlement or you may be defending a claim against you. Both require legal assistance.
If you’re seeking compensation and feel the amount offered by the insurance company is inadequate, you must come to court fully prepared. The jury will make a decision based on what they hear, so you need to convince them the amount offered isn’t acceptable. An experienced lawyer can help with this, preparing your case for the court to ensure you have the best chance of success.
Likewise, if you’re defending a claim against you, you must have all the facts covered — and be prepared for what may come up in court. This is especially important, given you may be required to pay the settlement from your own pocket. A lawyer can help you present a strong defense.
The circumstances of the accident were reported inaccurately
As we’ve already mentioned, police collision reports can provide useful evidence to determine liability. But it’s vital to recognize they’re not objective documents. A police report contains the details gathered when the officer arrived at the scene. By this point, vehicles are often in a different position to the accident, and other items may have been cleared from the road.
The police report also includes an element of subjectivity as the police officer will report on events from their perspective. This perspective can be influenced by conversations at the scene, as well as their past experience.
If you disagree with anything in the police report, it’s important to act quickly with a legal representative to contest the information and provide additional evidence.
You need help dealing with the insurance company
Are negotiations moving too slowly, do you lack trust in the insurance providers, or have you reached a stalemate? A lawyer can act as a mediator between you and the insurance company, speeding the process along.
Insurers know that the longer they drag out the process, the more likely you are to accept any claim that comes your way. This is just one trick of many — if you lack trust in the insurer, it’s not without good reason.
The goal of an insurance company is to pay out less than they make in insurance premiums, so they will always try to offer you less than you deserve.
If you’re not accustomed to dealing with insurers, you may fall into their biggest trap: thinking you’ve negotiated yourself a good settlement. A common tactic of insurers is to start low, renegotiating based on your feedback. In these cases, a lawyer can make all the difference between a substandard settlement and a good one. With experience comes knowledge, and this is something you’ll benefit from when you seek legal assistance.
You don’t understand what’s going to happen next
Car accident claims tend to follow a standard process, but this can be confusing to understand. If you don’t understand the process and what is required at each stage, it makes it easier for the insurance companies to pay you less than you deserve (see above).
Again, hiring a lawyer means you benefit from their expertise and knowledge. It also lets the insurance company know they can’t get away with tactics that undermine your right to a fair settlement.
It’s also crucial to understand what you’re entitled to before you accept a settlement. An experienced lawyer can talk you through your rights, outlining what you’re able to claim for. This includes pain and suffering, as well as financial costs that traditionally make up the car accident claim.
When you have someone guiding you through the process, it closes the loopholes available to insurance companies. If the process is already underway, the most important thing is that you don’t sign anything until you’ve sought legal advice.
You need the case resolved quickly
How much time do you have to deal with your claim? This isn’t a trick question — it’s something people often fail to consider.
In California, you have two years to initiate a claim. But it’s a good idea to consult with your lawyer as soon as possible after the accident to maximize your chances of a positive outcome.
Unless you have a considerable amount of time to deal with insurance agencies and, potentially, the courts, a lawyer can help you get the best results, without the time investment. The simple reason for this is that they do it for a living — they know the process inside out, and they know the fastest way to get results.
Someone else already hired a lawyer
If someone else hires a lawyer, including the opposing driver or an insurance company, this is a big red flag. You should also seek representation immediately.
Quirk Reed is here to help you get what you need from your claim
We hope that after reading this article, you understand the value an experienced lawyer can bring to your car accident case. Sometimes, even accidents that seem straightforward can take years to resolve — but having the appropriate knowledge and expertise on your side can help you get better results faster. If you need tailored advice more specific to your circumstances, please get in touch to arrange a no-obligation conversation with one of our car accident lawyers.