Auto accidents have no upsides. They can result in injuries, a destroyed car, rising car insurance prices, emotional strife and even death. If you or a loved one were involved in an accident, a car accident lawyer could help you get the financial compensation you’re entitled to.
The trauma of a car crash can extend well beyond the event itself. The financial impact from serious injuries and the associated medical bills, possible lost income, and the damage to your vehicle can cause undue hardship for you and your family. You don’t want the additional stress of trying to fight with insurance companies on your own to get compensated for your losses.
An experienced attorney will protect you from scams or extortion and allow you to focus on healing and moving on with your life. Read on for information on how to find the best car accident lawyer for your case.
What does a car accident lawyer do?
In most states, the law requires all drivers to have at least a minimum of liability coverage, but insurance companies won't always cover every expense you might face in the aftermath of a collision. A car accident lawyer is a type of personal injury lawyer that can help file a claim if you’ve been involved in an auto accident.
By representing you, a car accident injury lawyer can guarantee you receive the money owed to pay medical bills and make up for lost wages. In the worst cases, when a car accident causes the death of a relative or loved one, a lawyer that handles fatal car accident cases can help you file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even if nobody was injured in the collision, a non-injury car accident lawyer will help you file a property damage lawsuit and can also help you receive compensation for emotional distress.
Suppose you were involved in a collision and someone files a car accident lawsuit against you. In that case, a defense attorney will navigate the processes involved in negotiating a settlement and defending you against claims that may not be your fault.
Tips for finding the best car accident lawyer
For a car accident, you’ll need to find a personal injury lawyer, but not just the first car accident attorney you find online. You want someone experienced in dealing with auto insurance companies and car accident cases. Several lawyers in your area likely advertise their experience with auto accident injuries and claims, so knowing what to look for can help narrow the search for the best attorney for you.
Look for lawyers with extensive experience
Some attorneys don’t specialize in any one practice area of law, but rather handle everything from divorces to real estate transactions to wrongful death suits to personal injury claims. While these lawyers may handle all types of cases equally well, you’re better off finding a lawyer or law office with years of experience specializing in personal injury cases, specifically auto injury cases.
You want that experience to include a case or two that have ended up in a courtroom. Ideally, you’d have an attorney willing to go to court if necessary, not just looking to take the first settlement offer, but focused on the best possible outcome for you. Most car accident injury cases never go to trial, but if yours does, you don’t want it to be the first one your attorney argues in court.
Keep in mind that auto insurers have their own extensive expertise in settling claims brought against them by accident victims. Insurance adjusters typically look to settle a car accident claim for as little as possible, as quickly as possible. An experienced attorney will ensure you don’t necessarily have to settle for whatever the insurance company is willing to give you. They’ll be familiar with the insurance company’s tactics and know how to best negotiate on your behalf.
Research their track record
Choosing the right attorney requires research and a willingness to ask questions. First, go to your State Bar Association’s website. There, you should be able to search for attorneys in your area who specialize in personal injury law. Begin a list of those you’d like to research further by writing down their contact information. Nowadays, just about every law firm or attorney has a website you can visit for more details.
Once you’ve narrowed your list, you’ll want to contact each candidate to arrange a phone or in-office consultation. Most attorneys will provide a free consultation for you to ask questions about the types of cases the attorney has handled — but not provide you with legal advice or a case evaluation per se. You'll have the opportunity to explain your case so the attorney can decide if you have a case. A trustworthy attorney will have no issue sharing the approximate number of auto accident victims they have represented and the percentage of cases resulting in client compensation.
You might also want to consider looking into past clients. There are many independent review sites that feature testimonials and can help you narrow down your choices.
Some basic questions to ask when reviewing law firms:
- Is your prospective attorney's law firm well-respected?
- Do its peers speak highly of the practice?
- Does it have an abundance of satisfied clients leaving positive reviews?
- Is it actively involved in the community through charities or other local organizations?
Consider a firm that specializes in auto accidents
Firms with legal teams that specialize in auto accidents typically have more resources to devote to your case than an attorney in a solo practice. Firms often have one or more investigators with experience interpreting police reports to better determine fault or negligence.
Something like distracted driving or extenuating circumstances at the accident scene might have contributed to the crash, which may strengthen your case but not be discovered without the right resources. Sometimes the fault might lie with more than just the other driver.
Collectively, a firm’s attorneys may also have more experience with insurance companies than a solo attorney. Finding a firm that has already fought against the insurers you’re facing can only help your case. Just make sure the firm is not so big that you feel your case won’t get the attention it needs.
Ask friends and family
Unfortunately, auto collisions, even ones that result in injury, are too common. You likely know someone who has had to hire a car accident law firm or attorney and the may be able to give you referral. Speak with them about their experience with the attorney or firm, how they came to hire them and whether they would use them again.
Of course, you'll still want to research other possibilities and speak with any recommended lawyer before hiring them. However, having a fellow car accident victim give you the details on their experience can provide greater peace of mind.
Have a consultation before making a decision
A consultation can help you decide on the right car accident lawyer for your circumstances. Consultations are usually free and allow you to speak to an attorney about the merits of your case, the events that happened at the scene of the accident, your medical records, the type of injury you sustained (if any), the fees they charge and any other concerns that you want to discuss.
The following includes a few vital things to discuss with a car accident attorney to determine if they meet your requirements.
Discuss their experience
Your best chance of winning a car accident lawsuit comes from hiring an attorney who knows the system. Many factors influence a lawyer's quality, but nothing substitutes experience. If an attorney has won many cases, they likely researched relevant case law and have the tools to get you your entitled compensation. The more intimately they understand the quirks and potential pitfalls of cases like yours, the more likely they will succeed.
If possible, try to determine whether a lawyer is experienced in car accident suits and in your specific type of claim. A property damage lawsuit differs from a personal injury claim, an emotional distress case or a wrongful death suit. Get the lawyer to talk about how often they have handled cases of your specific type and ask for details on how those cases play out.
Discuss how payment works
Every lawyer charges their clients differently, so it's important to talk to a lawyer about how they charge for their services. Determine whether they charge an hourly rate, require a retainer or work on contingency.
Many lawyers also charge you for additional costs, such as filing fees, transcription fees, jury fees and even printing fees and parking fees. These can add up, so you'll want a detailed breakdown of costs.
Lawyers have standard payment methods, such as flat or monthly fees. However, these types of payment methods don't often apply to car accident attorneys.
Discuss the lawsuit process
A good lawyer has a game plan. A car accident attorney specializing in your type of collision claim should have detailed knowledge about the possible outcomes of how your case will play out.
After you file your lawsuit and your complaint is served, your lawyer should be able to give you a basic idea of what to expect. While nothing is written in stone, a lawyer could discuss how each party might respond, how likely the case is to go to trial, and what to prepare for moving forward.
Discuss anticipated compensation
No lawyer can know exactly how much their clients stand to make from their claims. However, if your lawyer has experience with claims like yours, they should be able to estimate based on the compensation they've won for similar cases.
Key considerations when hiring personal injury lawyers
Take into account other experiences that can help you choose wisely. The following key factors can help narrow your search for the best lawyer for your car accident.
Legal service fees
The accident and resulting injury have likely already hit you financially, on top of which you’ll now need to pay an attorney. Many personal injury lawyers and firms work on contingency, meaning they don’t require payment until you get your settlement.
Some lawyers advertise that they don’t take a dime unless you get compensation. While those promises sounds appealing, keep in mind that, with an auto accident claim involving injury and property damage, there is almost always some settlement from the insurance company. You don’t want an attorney just looking for a cut of whatever settlement you happen to get. You want an attorney willing to work to help you get fair compensation for your injuries.
Personal injury law firms and attorneys typically get a cut of the final judgment amount, typically around a third, rather than billing you for the hours they’ve worked. That percentage, called the contingency fee, can go higher if the case goes to court.
An attorney will provide you with a fee agreement, so you know what fees you’ll be responsible for, regardless of the outcome of your case. Fees should be an important factor in choosing an attorney but certainly not the only one. Never forget the adage, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes a more expensive attorney or firm can be well worth the higher fees.
A law firm has a legal obligation to act in the best interest of its clients, but not all do. A personal injury firm with a reputation for quick settlements might not be the best if you’re seeking damages beyond your current medical bills. If you need to recoup lost wages, or a doctor has told you that you could have future medical issues related to the accident, you need a law firm willing to put in the time to fight for a fair settlement rather than just opting for a quick check. A law firm that aims to settle cases as quickly as possible for little expense is no better than the insurers you’re trying to fight.
Remember that not every case, even those involving injury, is worth more than an insurance company is willing to pay. An honest lawyer will advise you if they think you don’t have a legal right to compensation.
While an affordable, reputable lawyer might seem like the only thing you need, you shouldn’t discount their communication skills. You’re starting a relationship that requires communication and trust. There will be many questions to ask about your case and the legal process, and you want to work with someone not only willing to address any concerns you have but who can also communicate with you as a civilian and not a fellow legal expert.
On the flip side, be cautious of an attorney who wants too many meetings with you. They’re likely billing you for that extra time. Few lawyers use such tactics to leverage more money from their clients, but it does happen. Having a lawyer who clearly communicates their fees and when you’re being billed can help you avoid such a situation.
In addition to clarity, you want a lawyer who keeps the communication line open. Choose a firm that returns phone calls promptly and gets back to you regardless of how simple your questions might be. During the initial consultation, you should get a feel for an attorney or firm’s communication skills.
The benefits of hiring an experienced car accident attorney
Hiring an auto accident lawyer is usually necessary if you hope to pursue financial compensation beyond what your insurer’s personal injury protection (PIP) coverage allows. An attorney can help you get compensation in the following ways if they feel you’re entitled to it by law.
After an auto accident, the financial compensation you’re typically entitled to includes the total cost of your car repairs and expenses related to your physical injuries. Determining the value of the damage to your vehicle is pretty straightforward. Auto insurers calculate factors such as the condition and value of your car prior to the accident and the cost of repairs. However, determining financial compensation for your injuries is much more complex, and it’s why obtaining a lawyer can be so beneficial.
Damages for injuries are determined by the medical treatment — both its type and its extent. An experienced attorney or law firm will be aware that they need to collect all relevant medical records and other documentation to prove the severity of the injuries.
Further, personal injury attorneys will also calculate current and future lost wage.. If you’re unable to return to your job, they'll account for any occupational therapy you might need to return to work or any training that can allow you to take on a less physical job.
Your attorney will also consider any pain and suffering you’ve experienced. Trauma can affect you as much emotionally as it can physically, especially if your injury significantly impacts your quality of life. Perhaps you now suffer from chronic pain or even PTSD from the accident. Your attorney will do what they can to get you financial compensation for all of these things.
Coverage of medical bills
Thankfully, the PIP component of auto insurance is designed to cover many medical costs related to auto accident injuries. Still, neither your insurance nor the other driver’s insurance may cover your medical bills. Typical medical costs covered by PIP include:
- Hospital or doctor visits
- Medical devices, such as crutches or a wheelchair
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Mental health counseling
Other medical-related costs that might not be covered include home modifications like a wheelchair ramp. Perhaps you’ll need a different type of bed to accommodate a back injury.
Your lawyer will also consider any future medical costs incurred by the accident. For example, perhaps you’ll require ongoing physical therapy or additional surgeries. Again, a lawyer can help get you enough in a settlement to cover future and present medical costs.
Find the legal representation you need for your car accident
The best car accident lawyer is one that has extensive experience fighting auto insurance companies both in and out of court. Make sure you take time to research your options and choose an attorney or firm with reasonable fees and a good reputation. A serious auto accident injury can cause physical and financial repercussions for years, so you want to hire someone you trust to help you get all the compensation you deserve.
The information provided on this page is for educational purposes only, is not intended as legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. [Money] is not a law firm or lawyer referral service. Results are not guaranteed. The decision of which attorney to hire can be important and should not be based only on information on this page. Consult with a legal professional for individual legal advice.