If you’re hurt in a car wreck, you might think it’s just easier to settle with the insurance company. And in some clear-cut cases, you’re probably right. For example: I once got hit head-on by a guy eating Chinese food while driving in heavy rain. He jumped out and said “Sorry… that was totally my fault! I guess I owe you a new car, huh?” Even the police told him to shut up or else they’d have to take him to jail. But other times, you’re better off getting an auto accident lawyer to handle your case. Below are five things an attorney can do to get you the most money your injuries deserve.
1. An Attorney Shows The Insurance Company You’re Not Playing Around
This probably goes without saying, but if you’re hurt in an accident and it’s not your fault, you deserve compensation. Sadly, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a dime out of the at-fault driver’s insurer. Insurance companies are highly motivated to settle accident claims for as little money as possible. They’re less likely to lowball you if an auto accident lawyer steps in to negotiate your settlement. Even if you’re stuck filing a claim on your own policy, an auto accident lawyer can maximize your damages. If an insurance company knows you’re willing to take them to court, they’re more likely to make a reasonable offer.
2. An Auto Accident Lawyer Knows Local Traffic & Insurance Laws Better Than You Ever Will
How do these laws impact how much money you’re owed for your car wreck injuries? A lot, as it turns out. Let’s say the police show up and determine you’re 51% at fault for your accident in Houston. That’s bad news for you under Texas’ Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 33. This is the state’s statute on proportionate responsibility in car accident claims. It says “a claimant may not recover damages if his percentage of responsibility is greater than 50 percent.” In other words, you cannot sue or settle with the insurance company if you’re 51% responsible for causing the accident. You’ll have to pay all medical costs, car repairs and lost wages out of your own pocket.
An experienced auto accident lawyer can review what happened and advise you for free before taking on your case. An auto accident lawyer won’t accept you as a client unless your case is likely to win damages. That’s because they all work on contingency, which means you’ll pay no legal fees unless your case wins. If there’s a way to prove you’re less at fault and able to recover a cash settlement, an auto accident lawyer will find it!
3. A Lawyer Can Help You Avoid Saying Anything That Might Hurt Your Chance For Compensation
Once you’re hurt in a bad car wreck, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is sure to call you. “We’d like to record your statement about what happened,” the agent says. “It’ll only take a minute and we can’t start processing your claim without it.” Great, you think. Let me just tell my side and get the ball rolling so they can make a settlement offer.
That’s usually your first mistake, but it almost certainly won’t be your last.
You’re probably shaken up, in pain and confused. You may even have a concussion, but don’t realize it. In other words, you’re likely in no condition to give a legally binding statement. Insurance companies train claims adjusters to ask trick questions, preferably as soon as possible after the wreck. If you call it an “accident,” the adjuster can use that to say you knew the crash was unavoidable. This is a common trick that helps them avoid blame. Adjusters look for any way to make the at-fault driver appear not legally liable. They’ll ask seemingly innocent questions, such as: “Was it raining? Did the police call an ambulance for you, or not?” For this reason, don’t give your statement until you talk to an attorney first!
An auto accident lawyer knows you should wait a few days before giving any statements. In addition, you should never talk about your injury or describe symptoms until after a doctor looks you over. Some injuries don’t show up until several days after your collision. Telling the adjuster you only have some bruises makes it hard to prove a whiplash claim down the road. An attorney can stop you from accidentally hurting your case.
4. Attorneys Can Access Records Showing Settlement Amounts in Comparable Cases
You have no way to tell how much insurance companies pay others with similar car wreck injuries. An auto accident attorney will calculate damages you probably don’t consider when negotiating a settlement yourself. These damages can cover a variety of different things, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Property damage (i.e., car repairs, lost or destroyed personal items, clothing, etc.)
- Physical rehabilitation/therapy
- Punitive damages in cases that may warrant them (e.g., drunk drivers, hit-and-runs, etc.)
The reason we mention this is because most insurers settle for 54% of car accident costs, according to NHTSA data. That means you’re likely owed twice as much money as the claim adjuster’s willing to offer you. Without an auto accident attorney handling your claim, however, it’s almost impossible to get the full amount.
5. You’ll Get More Money With An Auto Accident Lawyer, Even After You Factor In Any Legal Fees
Most people think an auto accident lawyer costs more than they can afford. Since these lawyers work on contingency, you don’t owe any money right now. Instead, you’ll sign a fee agreement promising a percentage of your settlement award as payment. In fact, there’s no standard percentage charged for auto accident lawyer fees. Remember what we said about insurance settling for 54% of accident costs, on average? No auto accident lawyer we know charges 50% or more in legal fees. For that reason, an auto accident lawyer will always get you a larger settlement than you can negotiate yourself. Even with legal fees, you’ll still walk away with more money than you would without an auto accident lawyer. You have a chance to double your settlement award and keep most of that money for yourself.
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.