What Do Car Accident Lawyers Do?

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If you’ve recently been involved in an auto accident, you may assume that contacting and cooperating with your insurance company is all you’ll need to do to receive adequate compensation for your damages. However, insurance companies are generally more interested in settling a claim as quickly—and cheaply—as it can rather than ensuring that you’re truly made whole.

Below, we’ll discuss the role an auto accident attorney can play after you’ve been in an accident, some benefits of talking to an attorney, and what to expect from the process.

What Auto Accident Lawyers Do: An Overview

Auto accident attorneys represent accident victims in their legal claim for damages—whether you’re pursuing a claim against the other driver or drivers, a municipality or government entity, or even your own insurance company. An attorney can ensure that your claim is as complete and comprehensive as possible, helping you secure the maximum damages available.

More specifically, auto accident lawyers are responsible for:

  • Organizing and analyzing evidence, including evidence of fault
  • Communicating with your health care providers to access and obtain necessary records
  • Finding investigators and, if necessary, experts who can testify on your behalf
  • Communicating and negotiating with insurance adjusters and underwriters and the attorneys representing other involved parties
  • Communicating and negotiating with potential lien holders (including health insurance, disability insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance providers)
  • With their client’s approval, negotiating and agreeing to an amount that will settle any outstanding legal claims.

Even when a claim seems fairly straightforward, shepherding it through the legal process can be complicated. Auto accident attorneys can help protect your rights after any vehicle collision, whether minor or life-altering.

Investigating, Making First Contact, and Evidence-Gathering

Immediately after a car accident, your primary concerns likely fall into two camps: (1) your own physical health and safety; and (2) the logistics of getting your vehicle repaired or replaced. The more serious an accident is, the more likely that issue (1) is going to take up much of your time and mental energy. An attorney can play an important role in these early days by allowing you to focus on what matters most—your recovery.

Investigating Your Accident

An auto accident attorney can get the ball rolling on a claim, investigating the circumstances that led up to the accident, gathering evidence (including photos and videos of the scene), accessing your medical records, and negotiating with the other parties involved. Your attorney can speak to witnesses and get their stories on record before they leave the area or their memories fade.

By clearly setting out exactly how you’ve been damaged and what the accident has cost you (and is likely to cost you in the future), your attorney can ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what constitutes a fair settlement.

Valuing Your Claim

You may assume that your damages are limited to your out-of-pocket costs. However, when your attorney is starting to build your claim, they’ll look at all the ways the crash has impacted you currently, as well as how the crash is likely to affect your health, mental state, and earning ability in the future. Accepting a settlement for your out-of-pocket costs can mean leaving money on the table if you haven’t accounted for other costs that may accrue down the road.

Another key role an auto accident attorney plays involves helping you distinguish between good and bad advice. Auto accidents are common enough that most people you’ve talked to likely have an accident story or two of their own—and these stories often come with unsolicited advice on how you should proceed. But auto accident litigation isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, and the decision of how best to approach your case will depend entirely on the unique facts at hand. Your attorney can examine your case in detail and set out your options, ensuring that whatever decision you make is a well-informed one.

Negotiation, Litigation, and Settlement

After your auto accident attorney has begun to build a strong framework for your claim, the negotiation begins.

Negotiating with Defendants and Insurers

Insurance companies are invested in settling claims as quickly and efficiently as they can. In many cases, this can mean relying on high-pressure tactics as a way to push plaintiffs into agreeing to a settlement without time to reflect. For example, an insurance representative may suggest that if you don’t immediately accept a settlement offer, it will be withdrawn.

But an experienced auto accident attorney will already have done the math on your claim’s value and can confidently reject any settlement offers that aren’t enough to make you whole. Allowing your attorney to do the negotiating for you can reduce the stress of claims management and improve your odds of a full financial recovery. Just some of the damages that your attorney may seek on your behalf after an auto accident include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Property damage to your vehicle and its contents
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earning ability
  • Pain and suffering

Settling or Dismissing Liens

If a health insurance, short- or long-term disability insurance, or workers’ compensation insurance policy has paid benefits to you or on your behalf as a result of an auto accident, they may try to recoup some of these costs by placing a lien on any damages you recover. This will reduce the total amount recoverable by subtracting the lien proceeds from the amount otherwise payable to the plaintiff.

However, your attorney can negotiate with these lien holders, often offering them a settlement that will resolve all claims and ensure that the funds you recover are yours, free and clear.

Litigating an Auto Accident in Court

Relatively few auto accident cases ever end up in a courtroom; most are settled either before a lawsuit is ever filed or before a case proceeds to trial. But there are some exceptions, and having an experienced auto accident attorney will ensure that your claim is diligently pursued whether it ends in pre-trial settlement or a jury verdict.

The rules of evidence aren’t always intuitive, and going up against an insurance company (or a defendant represented by their own counsel) by yourself could make it much tougher to prove your claim. Your attorney will be well-versed in trial procedures and can fight for your legal rights throughout the process.

Having an attorney with you at this stage gives you options. You may decide that you’re not mentally prepared to go to trial and settling—even for less money—is the better choice. In other situations, you may want to ensure that the at-fault driver is appropriately penalized for their reckless actions—which could mean taking a case to the mat.

Is it Ever OK to Handle an Accident Claim Yourself?

States don’t restrict the ability of private citizens to represent themselves in court (with one important caveat—that they’ll be held to the same set of standards as a licensed attorney). And in fact, some specialized small claims courts can even discourage legal representation as a way to streamline claims and make the process more accessible. So you may assume that if your accident claim is a fairly small one, hiring an auto accident attorney to represent you can seem like overkill.

However, while there are some situations in which you can handle an accident claim without legal assistance, whether you should is a tougher question. If you’re comfortable gathering all the evidence you’ll need to build an airtight case and you’re prepared to negotiate with attorneys and insurance representatives—potentially all the way to court—you may be able to handle a claim on your own.

But in the vast majority of cases, having a skilled legal professional at your side will reduce your stress while improving the outcomes available. What’s more, even if you ultimately decide to proceed on your own, talking to an attorney can give you a better idea of what your claim might be worth, whether settlement is a likely option, and what complications may arise over the course of the claim.

Because each state has strict statutes of limitations on civil claims like auto accident lawsuits, waiting too long to pursue compensation could leave you unable to recover any damages at all; your attorney can help ensure that all deadlines are met and no potential paths to recovery are left unpursued.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a crash and are wondering about your next steps, talk to one of our experienced auto accident attorneys today. We’ll review the facts of your case and explain the options available to you.