One of the questions we hear repeatedly at Westbrook Law is whether an attorney is necessary to settle a car accident case. The answer is, it depends. Every car accident is different. Details that seem unimportant can make big differences. So it is important that you educate yourself so you can make the decision that is best under the unique set of circumstances of your car accident. You have made an excellent first step in deciding to read this blog. In this article, we will talk about when you should handle your own claim or seek help from an attorney.
Handle These Cases Yourself
There are two types of cases we feel are okay to handle without speaking to an attorney. In both situations, it should be clear that the other driver is at fault for causing the accident. The first kind of case is when there is only property damage. The second type of case is when there is very brief medical treatment, no missed work, and no ongoing pain or treatment. Let us look at each case in more depth.
1. Property damage only
This means that the wreck did not cause you to suffer any pain or injuries, you did not seek medical help, and do not expect to suffer any symptoms or pain from the accident in the future. Literally, the only damage from the wreck is what was done to your vehicle.
You can often negotiate and settle these types of cases without the aid of an attorney. In doing so, you may find that you do not agree with the adjuster’s evaluation of the property damage. The difference between what you think the claim is worth and what the adjuster thinks is often too small to justify hiring an attorney, however.
For example, suppose you total your car in an accident caused by somebody else’s carelessness. You believe the value of your vehicle is $10,000.00. The insurance adjuster values your vehicle at $8,500.00 and only agrees to pay you this amount. If you ask an attorney to handle this claim on a contingency basis, you would have to get over $12,000.00 to break even with what the adjuster offered in the first place. This is because attorneys traditionally take a minimum of 33% of whatever settlement you make in a car accident case. Additionally, the attorney will reimburse his or her costs and expenses from the settlement, lessening your takehome. Also, if the attorney has to file a lawsuit at the courthouse, usually their fees go up to 40% of the recovery. This does not even contemplate court costs and filing fees incurred.
Because it is difficult to make the math work when you hire an attorney for property damage claims, it is often best for a client to handle the claim on their own.
2. Little or no medical care
Have you had very little medical care (perhaps one visit to a clinic)? Did you recover quickly from your injuries and experience little pain? Were you free of significant injuries such as broken bones? Were you able to return to work and thus not lose any income due to the accident? If you said yes to all of these, then you might be able to negotiate a fair settlement on your own.
To do this, you would want to gather your medical records and bills and then present them to the insurance adjuster. Before settling, you want to make sure that you have agreed to enough money to pay back any subrogation rights that your health insurance may have, as well as any outstanding hospital liens filed in your case. What you do not want is to settle your case and then later find out you owe money to a third party for medical treatment. Also, even if you later discover you owe more than you thought you did when you agreed to the settlement, there is no going back to the insurance company for more money once you sign the settlement papers.
Even as simple as the previous cases sound, the adjuster may still try to hinder your settlement. If you want to prepare yourself to recognize some common insurance adjuster tactics, read our article on the subject here.
When to Seek Attorney Guidance
You should seek a consult with an attorney if your case is more complicated than the ones outlined above, or if you have a simple case but cannot reach an equitable settlement with the insurance company.
1. Your Case is More Complicated
Here are a few things that can complicate a wreck claim:
- Liability is not clear cut
- You are seriously injured
- You required multiple doctor visits or treatment
- You missed time from work
- You need help finding medical providers
- There are multiple vehicles involved
- There are multiple occupants in your vehicle
In these cases, consider consulting with a personal injury attorney before you accept any offer of settlement from the adjuster.
2. Can’t Reach a Settlement with Insurance
Sometimes, no matter how well you represent yourself, an adjuster simply will not present you with a fair settlement for your injuries. Rather than give in just to get it over with, take a breath and call an attorney who can help you figure out what a good offer for settlement would be in your specific case.
Remember, whichever route you do choose, there are time limits that control how long you can wait to bring a claim against the driver who caused the accident, and if you wait longer than is allowed, you will not receive any money at all. The name of this time limit is the statute of limitations. The adjuster knows exactly when the statute of limitations in your case tolls and you can no longer file a lawsuit and they will use that knowledge against you if they can. So, if you cannot reach a reasonable settlement on your own, make sure you do not delay in seeking professional representation.