If you’ve been injured in an accident, you may have far more questions than answers. When will you recover? What will your life look like afterward? And what can you do now to protect yourself and your loved ones in the future?
In many situations, the answer to some of these questions will depend on whether you have a personal injury lawyer fighting for your rights throughout the recovery process. Below, learn more about the actions a personal injury attorney can take on your behalf after an accident and a few of the situations in which hiring an attorney just makes sense.
What Does a Personal Injury Attorney Do?
A personal injury attorney helps you recover financial damages and protects your legal rights in any situation where you’ve suffered damages due to another person’s negligence. Your attorney acts as your legal representative throughout the legal process, from preliminary investigation through the filing of a complaint through the settlement process or even a jury trial. Your attorney can negotiate with the defendant’s insurance company, investigate the accident and guard against any potential defenses, and gather the evidence that will help you prove liability and damages.
Attorneys are often able to get access to information and internal documents that can be tough for the average person to find. For example, your attorney may subpoena the defendant’s cell phone records, reports of prior accidents at the same spot or intersection, or vehicle maintenance records. Drilling down into these records can give a more comprehensive picture of the circumstances that led up to your accident or injury and help you prove your entitlement to damages from the defendant.
In many personal injury claims, insurance plays a part—whether auto, homeowner’s, renter’s, medical or legal malpractice, or a general umbrella liability policy. But insurance companies, whether they’re your own or someone else’s, have a vested interest in resolving each claim for as little as they can, as quickly as they can. This means that a settlement offer that may appear generous at first can be anything but.
An experienced personal injury attorney can negotiate with the insurance company, appeal any decision the insurer has rendered against you, and help you secure the compensation you deserve.
How Personal Injury Attorneys are Paid
The thought of paying out of pocket for an attorney when you may be facing medical bills or other budget-busting expenses can be overwhelming. Fortunately, most personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee arrangement, which means you won’t need to pay any legal fees unless you recover damages from the defendant or their insurer.
Most contingency fee agreements are structured by providing payment in a percentage of the total recovery—generally anywhere from 25 to 40 percent. Certain fees and court filing costs may be included in the contingency rate or assessed separately. The fees may also vary based on when in the process the lawsuit ends. For example, you may pay a lower percentage of the total recovery if your case settles before trial, while proceeding all the way through a jury trial can be more expensive.
When Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
The decision when to hire a personal injury attorney depends entirely on the circumstances of your case. Some of the questions to ask when considering whether to hire a personal injury attorney include:
- How serious are your injuries?
- What caused your accident, and how many participants were involved?
- Do you have insurance?
- Does the responsible party have insurance?
- Do you know who is liable for your injuries?
- Do you know how much your case is worth?
- Are you comfortable researching statutes of limitations, drafting your own legal pleadings, and taking other necessary actions on your own?
- If the responsible party’s insurance company made you a settlement offer today, would you be comfortable accepting it?
- Did you sustain any property damage in the accident?
Consider Hiring a Lawyer When:
The other side is represented.
Whether the responsible party has their own attorney or is handling the claim through their insurance company, it’s likely that they’ll have some legal representation on their side. Going into battle against an attorney while you’re unrepresented can be risky, as it’s tough to navigate the legal process without an expert. Even if you’re unrepresented, you’ll be held to the same standard as a licensed attorney—the trial court can’t give you legal advice or help you introduce the evidence that will support your claim.
Your injuries are more serious than you initially thought.
Under Nevada law, you have two years from the date of an injury to sue the person or people responsible. Though these two years can pass quickly, they do mean you don’t have to instantly decide whether to sue or not sue. In many cases, injuries you may have initially thought were relatively minor end up being more serious or long-term than expected. In these situations, it can only make sense to hire a personal injury attorney and pursue compensation for all the injuries you’ve suffered.
You aren’t sure about the extent of your injuries.
Many types of injuries, especially concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and soft tissue injuries like whiplash, won’t reveal their true severity for months or even years after your accident. Since the two-year statute of limitations can easily run before you realize the full extent of your injuries, filing a lawsuit within this two-year period can help preserve your claim while you investigate the true impact the accident has had on both your short-term and long-term physical health.
The responsible party has engaged in suspicious or dishonest behavior.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for defendants who are facing a personal injury lawsuit (and potential judgment) to try to hide or move assets so that they can’t be garnished once a judgment is entered. Having an attorney at the outset of a personal injury lawsuit can reduce these shenanigans and ensure that the trial court has a watchful eye over both parties throughout the process. Your attorney may even ask the trial court to order the defendant to post a bond or some other security to ensure that there will be adequate funds available to help repay any judgment that’s levied against them.
You’re not sure about the responsible party’s finances.
It’s also a good idea to hire an attorney when you’re not sure whether the responsible party is judgment-proof—that is, they don’t have enough income, assets, or earning potential to satisfy any judgment. If a defendant is judgment proof and lacks adequate insurance coverage, you may be forced to rely on your own insurance coverage (whether uninsured/underinsured motorist or homeowner’s liability coverage) to compensate you for your injuries or financial damages.
You’re entitled to damages for pain and suffering.
If you’re offered a monetary settlement, it may not include damages for “pain and suffering”—these damages are intended to directly compensate you for the pain you’ve endured. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may also be entitled to emotional distress damages. A jury can award these damages based on the evidence you present; if you feel confident you’ll have a sympathetic jury, it may not be in your best interest to accept a settlement offer that doesn’t specifically include pain and suffering or emotional distress damages.
You May Not Need a Lawyer When:
The case is likely to be resolved in small claims court.
In Nevada, all civil claims that involve less than $10,000 in damages can be filed in a local small claims court instead of civil court. Small claims courts have simpler rules than traditional civil courts and are designed to be navigated without an attorney (though some small claims litigants will still hire an attorney, especially if it’s not immediately clear that the damages fall below the $10,000 threshold). If it’s apparent that your case isn’t going to make it out of small claims court, you may not need an attorney to recover damages.
You’re happy with the insurance company’s settlement offer.
It’s always a good idea to get a second (legal) opinion on an insurance settlement offer to ensure that it will adequately compensate you for all your injuries. But if you’ve received a second opinion and remain happy with the compensation amount you’ve been offered, you may not need an attorney just to help you accept this settlement.
Because most personal injury attorneys will offer you a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your claim, there’s nothing to lose—and everything to gain—from contacting an attorney after you’ve been injured. Don’t let your legal rights pass you by or leave money on the table by accepting a too-low settlement offer.