After suffering the emotional and physical trauma of a car collision you may wonder when to hire a personal injury attorney for a car accident to represent your case and safeguard your rights. You may not even know your rights.
Whether to sign on with a car accident lawyer or not is an important decision. Your choice can mean the difference between getting your entire recovery paid for or ending up with medical expenses you’ll face for the rest of your life.
When to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney for Car Accident
According to California’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), in 2020, Los Angeles County recorded an astonishing 40,314 traffic accidents. Those collisions led to 57,610 documented injuries and a truly tragic 577 lost lives. Los Angeles traffic hazards are well known across the nation and it’s not a joking matter when so many lives are affected by these crashes.
When you land in an accident due to the carelessness of another driver, determining if you’ll need an attorney will depend on several factors.
If You’ve Suffered Injuries
When your car accident involves property damage and “minor” injuries, you may or may not require an attorney. Sometimes injuries that may appear to be serious can worsen over time, especially if not treated and evaluated properly.
If you’ve received a serious injury, everything changes. You might see hospital bills stack up, and every week you are off your feet may mean another lost paycheck at work. You’ll battle the at-fault driver’s insurance provider and try to negotiate a fair settlement from them.
Insurance companies train their employees to keep you on the line until you’re desperate. Then they hit you with an unfair offer. Or they may just refuse to pay you anything for your hardships. We’ll get into more of their tactics when dealing with injured victims below.
The fact is compensation awarded to two different people with the same injury can vary greatly. You may not know what your injury is worth or what you can expect in medical costs in the months to come, but a car accident lawyer has experience in making sure victims don’t get cheated.
If Your Injuries Lead to a Permanent Disability or Disfigurement
The effects of severe injuries rarely end when you leave an emergency room. When you’ve suffered a permanent disability, you’re facing years of medical treatment, perhaps multiple surgeries, the costs of physical therapy, and the possible expense of medical equipment.
What’s more, your career may be in jeopardy. The means by which you support yourself and your family may suddenly become impossible due to a disability. You could need money for career training when your physical condition makes it impossible to perform the duties of your old job.
Disfigurements are devastating because they affect our self-image and influence the way others perceive us. Disfigurement can include a limp, the use of a cane, the loss of a limb, a scar or burn anywhere on the body, road rash for a motorcyclist, and many other physical issues.
An attorney will work to see that medical invoices now and those expected in the future are all included in a personal injury claim. That may include the cost of a new wheelchair every few years. It could include vehicles designed for disabled patients.
These may all be expenses you wouldn’t think of if you don’t hire an attorney. Insurance companies will know about these potential costs but certainly won’t bring up any factor that could cost them more. It’s up to your car accident lawyer to demand all of these damages are covered for however long they are present.
If Your Accident Was Caused, in Part or in Full, by Someone Else
The costs of recovery should never fall to an innocent victim in an accident, especially if it is the fault of a careless or reckless driver. A police report assigning blame to the other driver acts as powerful evidence in your favor and can make it hard for the driver’s insurance company to deny you compensation when you demand it.
Compensation can remain a possibility even if you feel you were partly to blame for an accident. First of all, you may think you were partially at fault, but then your lawyer investigates the incident and dispels that belief. So never admit guilt. Your lawyer can get his or her hands on the police accident report and visit the scene and might inform you that you did nothing wrong.
If you do end up having to accept some liability in an accident, it doesn’t always mean you’ll have to give up your hopes of getting help with your bills. California is a “comparative negligence” state. It’s a legal concept that means you can share the blame for an accident with another driver.
You might have to accept 25% of the responsibility in a collision. The other motorist might have to accept 75% of the liability. It means you could still receive a considerable settlement to help pay for your recovery, but your final award would have your 25% portion of the blame subtracted.
If Your Accident Was Caused by a Government Agency
An accident involving a city bus, a school bus, or a county work vehicle can carry very different restrictions when you try to file a claim.
The deadline for filing your injury claim with a public government entity in California is shorter than in a normal accident. You will have six months to inform the agency that you are bringing a claim against them. Wait any longer and you have lost your chance to sue them.
Government agencies are also often afforded certain legal protections you may not be aware of. Your personal injury lawyer will know about these special provisions and may also know how to get around them to earn you the compensation you are in desperate need of.
If You’ve Been Offered a Lowball Settlement by an Insurance Company
After a painful injury and pushing through the tough rehabilitation process, dealing with an insurance company might become the next most discouraging part of the recovery journey.
Insurance companies can finally respond to the car accident injury claim only to extend a settlement offer that doesn’t cover all of your medical expenses. It may not even cover the entire cost of your ambulance transport and emergency room visit, let alone the weeks of physical therapy you’ll need in the future.
If you haven’t been in a serious accident before (hopefully you haven’t), you may not even recognize a “lowball offer” when you see one. You can be forgiven for not spotting one. Your injury and rehabilitation may be worth much more in compensation, but insurance companies aren’t required to tell you that.
These offers can be intended to test you to see just how low an offer you will accept. Signing off on it will relinquish your rights to ever go to them again for compensation. The insurance agent saves the company lots of money, perhaps even earning a bonus for talking you into a less than fair settlement.
An experienced attorney can easily spot an unfair offer from an insurance company. They can also head them off early, hopefully cutting down on the negotiation period to get you the money you need faster. Insurance companies will take your claim much more seriously when they know you have an attorney looking over their offers. They will want to get the offer right so they don’t get taken to court.
Other Tricks That Car Insurance Companies Use
Insurance company profits are determined by the amount of money they can withhold from injured victims each year. They have tried and true tactics they’ve used for decades to keep claimants confused and in the dark about what they should expect.
Here are just a few of the strategies you either need to watch out for or have an experienced attorney spot for you:
Delay Your Car Accident Settlement
Before they make you a lowball offer, insurance adjusters can purposely delay getting back to you on your claim. As they wait, your hospital invoices can grow and grow while you miss more and more paydays at work. The situation can get dire and you are then softened up enough for them to float an unfair offer to you. You may just be desperate enough to accept.
The Bottomline on Car Accident Attorneys:
When you are in an accident that involves minor injuries you may or may not need a personal injury lawyer. However, if your accident involves a serious injury, you should discuss your options with a legal representative. The high value of serious injury claims will have insurance companies looking for ways to get you to accept as little as possible for your hardships.
Question Your Injury
Insurance adjusters can also start digging into your injury history. They could claim the injury you said you got in the recent accident was actually from a previous accident. However, it is often the case that a new accident results in an aggravation of an old injury or the prior injury fully resolved before a subsequent accident.
Insurance companies may also dispute the nature and extent of your injuries and the reasonableness of your medical expenses from the accident. If there is a lawsuit, a defense medical examination will likely occur.
As strange as it sounds, insurance companies have also been known to spy on injury victims. They try to get evidence that an injury isn’t as bad as you claim.
Pretend They Don’t Have to Pay the Medical Bills
Insurance companies might tell you that since you have health insurance or workers’ comp that they are off the hook when it comes to paying your medical bills. That’s not the truth.
As car insurance companies make you wait for financial support, you may have to use your health insurance to help cover some of your medical bills. When you finally receive money from an insurance company you may have to pay some of the amounts back to those other sources of coverage. Likewise, if medical treatment is rendered on a lien basis, those bills will have to be resolved when a claim and/or case settles.
Demand a Recorded Statement from You
This is often the first thing an attorney will tell you in your initial free consultation, “Don’t give any recorded statements.” Representatives for the at-fault driver will call you, often acting like they are concerned with your welfare. Then they quickly ask you to make a statement about what happened in the accident or about your injury.
Politely decline to give them a statement. The questions they’ll ask you are worded in a way to get the response they want. You can misspeak or simply talk about something you aren’t sure about and give them ammo to use against you later. Let your car accident lawyer handle all communication.
You should also exercise caution at the scene of an accident. When talking to the at-fault driver, don’t make common statements like “I’m okay” or even say “I’m sorry.” These nice statements can be turned on you later.
Deny Your Car Accident Claim
Insurance adjusters can decide to deny your claim. By failing to admit liability on your claim the insurance company can score a major victory. With a personal injury lawyer at your side, this can be fought and litigated if the facts are in support of your claim.
The insurance company often won’t have the courage to try this strategy when they know you’ve hired an attorney. An attorney will motivate an insurance company to behave fairly and abandon certain tricks.
With the right attorney on your case, insurance adjusters will know that you won’t hesitate to take their insured to court, if necessary.
Get You to Sign Off on a Settlement Before You Talk to a Lawyer
As you can see, life gets much harder for insurance companies when you trust your case to a lawyer. Their strategy could shift to getting your case wrapped up before you have time to speak to a legal expert.
They can float you a lowball offer that appears to cover your needs and end their dealings with you before you find out everything you should receive for your hardships.
If insurance adjusters know they’re only dealing with you, they can start relying on the fine print in an insurance policy to find ways to avoid blame. They could purposely misinterpret a clause in the contract knowing you won’t have the knowledge of insurance law to spot their deceit.
Fool You into Thinking Every Bill is Covered
After hospital treatment, you’ll get a different bill for almost every service you receive. It can be difficult for the average person to keep up with every invoice. You may not know when you’ve gotten your last one.
Insurance providers take advantage of this confusion by letting you think they’re paying for every cost you have when in fact they know there are likely more bills to come. Once you sign off on a settlement though, those future bills won’t be the insurance company’s problem. They will all fall to you.
What Personal Injury Lawyers Can Do that You Probably Can’t
Create a Plan for Your Accident Injury Claim
Great personal injury lawyers must have real courtroom experience and negotiating skills that have won victims positive settlements and verdicts. They must also be well versed in California state law and know every right and protection a traffic collision victim is provided under that law.
Your accident injury lawyer will have a timeline mapped out according to the statute of limitations that apply to your case. California allows injured victims in most cases up to two years to file a lawsuit. Your personal injury attorney typically won’t file a lawsuit on your behalf unless there is an impasse in attempting to negotiate a settlement.
Identify All Parties at Fault
One of the most confusing factors in an accident case is the possibility that multiple defendants should be named in your claim.
A rideshare driver may have crashed into your SUV. So who should bear responsibility for the damages? Perhaps the driver’s insurance policy, Lyft or Uber’s coverage, or perhaps your own car insurance policy? Your car accident lawyer will sort this out for you according to legal guidelines.
If you fail to identify the right person and/or company in pursuing your bodily injury claim who by law should provide you compensation, then you’re only costing yourself money.
Calculate the True Value of Your Claim
Insurance companies may try to get away with offering you only enough compensation to cover your initial trip to an emergency room. They may not include the cost of necessary therapy, imaging, consults with doctors, or future medical treatment such as surgery. It’s all part of the same injury that their driver caused, but once you sign off on a lowball offer, any medical care needed in the months and years ahead will come out of your pocket.
Insurance adjusters aren’t required to tell you that your injury is worth more and will cost you much more than they are offering. A personal injury attorney with a background in helping victims with all sorts of injuries will know what lies ahead and will make sure all potential items of damages are included in any settlement.
Collect Evidence to Build a Strong Case
The sooner you can talk to an accident lawyer about what happened to you, the sooner your lawyer can begin building a rock-solid case.
Personal injury lawyers will start their own investigation into an accident by visiting the scene, if necessary, and securing footage from any nearby surveillance cameras that caught the accident on video. Your lawyer will contact witnesses to make sure your case includes their statements and keep tabs on their whereabouts in case they are required to testify in court.
Obtaining traffic collision reports, medical records, and bills, and pay stubs that show lost wages will also be part of your lawyer’s duties.
Handle Insurance Adjusters and Other Lawyers
The at-fault driver in your accident case will have insurance adjusters contacting you and asking you to make statements and sign documents. These steps often don’t get explained very well and could harm your chances of earning the compensation you need.
Attorneys know how the insurance industry works and can force them to treat you fairly and honestly. In fact, you may never have to engage with an insurance adjuster with your personal injury lawyer on the case for you.
Insurance adjuster tactics can be bad enough, but when a lawsuit becomes necessary, insurance defense and/or corporate lawyers are brought in to weaken your claim by any means necessary. This can mean questioning your character and bringing up your past. Having your own legal team can make companies think twice before sending their lawyers after you.
Create a Plan to Protect Your Family After Losing a Loved One
The most tragic car accident cases, of course, involve the loss of a life. If your family has lost a close relative due to the negligence of another driver, legal action may be the only way to protect the family from the financial hardship to come.
A wrongful death claim can be filed on behalf of the family with the at-fault driver’s insurance provider. This claim can provide compensation for economic damages like the financial support the victim would have contributed to the family during his or her life expectancy or the life expectancy of the plaintiff, whichever is shorter, funeral and burial expenses, and the reasonable value of household service the victim would have provided.
Just and as, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support provided by the victim to his or her family can also be provided to them as compensation in the form of non-economic damages.
A wrongful death attorney can file this claim on behalf of qualifying family members and investigate the circumstances of such a heartbreaking loss of life. A lawsuit can be filed thereafter if the claim cannot be settled.
Stay Composed in the Courtroom
Personal injury claims almost always settle before trial, but the threat of a courtroom visit makes for powerful leverage when trying to get a fair settlement offer from an insurance company.
If you don’t have an attorney preparing your case and collecting the appropriate evidence, insurance companies won’t be as worried about a potential trial. They’ll be bold enough to offer you a lowball settlement knowing you’d have a very difficult time taking them to court.
With a personal injury lawyer on your team, that threat becomes much more real. It’s the kind of pressure that persuades insurance companies to improve their settlement offers to victims.
Contact a Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer
Talking to a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney after an accident can make a huge difference in the stress and worry you’ll experience through your recovery. Victims should be allowed to heal for as long as they need without anxiety over getting medical care paid for and meeting normal monthly expenses.
Learning the basics of when to hire a personal injury attorney for a car accident can turn knowledge into a weapon for your injury case. We will tell you whether you need an attorney. If you don’t need our help to get fair treatment, there’s no need to waste your time and money or ours.
Allen Vaysberg, Esq. manages the personal injury practice of the Law Offices of Steers & Associates. By aggressively investigating the facts and using every available resource, Allen and the legal team of the Law Offices of Steers & Associates work tirelessly to defeat the tactics of insurance companies who attempt to withhold fair compensation from injured people.
Contact Allen Vaysberg and the Law Offices of Steers & Associates for a free, no-obligation consultation to find out how they can help you.