Car accidents can turn your life upside down, especially when they result in serious injuries. Afterward, you may face physical, emotional, and financial challenges and uncertainty about navigating the legal system.
If you wonder whether you should contact a lawyer to discuss your case, the simple answer is yes. Car accident claims can get contentious and complicated, especially in cases with disputed liability. A knowledgeable car accident attorney makes all the difference by protecting your legal rights and pursuing the best possible outcome for your unique situation.
To help you find the right lawyer, here are some essential questions you should ask during your initial consultation and after hiring a lawyer. They aim to help you make sure you’re working with a skilled professional who knows what they’re doing, has a transparent fee structure, and can advocate effectively on your behalf throughout the claim process.
Have you handled car accident cases similar to mine?
The circumstances of a head-on collision will be very different from a T-bone crash, and an accident between two vehicles may require a different approach than to a multi-car pileup. Car accident cases can vary significantly in complexity, severity, and type, all involving specific factual and legal issues.
An attorney with experience working on claims similar to yours is most likely to have the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the unique challenges of pursuing compensation for you.
- Commercial truck accident cases can present challenges because the injuries tend to be severe and truck owners have plenty of resources to spend on their legal defense. Building a solid claim can require a lawyer who understands the intricacies of trucking regulations and the most effective forms of evidence for establishing liability.
- Rideshare accident cases often require a lawyer who knows how to untangle the complexities of getting you compensation from large supplemental accident liability policies that rideshare drivers must carry.
- Drunk driving accident cases can benefit from a lawyer who has familiarity with local drunk driving laws and options for holding parties like bars, restaurants, or social hosts financially accountable for a drunk driver’s misdeeds.
- Accidents involving vehicle malfunctions may require a lawyer capable of overseeing and taking full advantage of an in-depth investigation into a vehicle’s design or manufacturing defects, and how to manage a potentially high-profile litigation against a large automotive business.
These are just a few examples of why it helps to have a lawyer who knows their way around cases similar to yours. Every car accident presents distinct legal and factual issues that may require tailor-made strategies. A lawyer with relevant experience will be best equipped to anticipate the challenges that can come up and to build the strongest possible case on your behalf.
How much is my car accident claim potentially worth?
In a free consultation, an experienced attorney can often give you an initial estimate of the potential value of your claim that highlights the case-specific factors that could affect the outcome. It will typically take the attorney more time and work to determine the precise amount you can claim and expect to recover, however. And remember, no attorney can guarantee you’ll recover a specific amount for your damages.
Instead of focusing on the amount the attorney estimates, pay attention to how they approach the analysis.
You can expect a skilled car accident lawyer to consider factors like:
- Medical expenses: The severity of your injuries and the cost of treating them is often the most significant contributor to the value of a car accident claim. You generally have the right to claim payment for the cost of your past and future medical treatment of your injury and any health complications it causes. Bring any documentation you have of these losses to your initial consultation, if possible.
- Lost income: If you were unable to work for an extended period due to your injuries, or if your injuries will prevent you from working in the future, those losses can constitute part of your claim for damages. A skilled attorney will want to review your work history and future plans with you in detail to evaluate the scope of your loss. Bring any documentation you have of these losses to your initial consultation, if possible.
- Pain, suffering, and life disruption: Serious car accidents can cause a great deal of physical discomfort, emotional struggle (such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder), and interference with your day-to-day life and relationships. You deserve compensation for these difficulties. Through the effort of a skilled lawyer, they may constitute a significant portion of your claim for damages.
- Property damage: The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, or any other personal property damaged in the accident, can also form part of your car accident claim, and you can expect an experienced attorney to ask about them. Bring any documentation you have of these losses to your initial consultation, if possible.
- Punitive damages: If someone’s grossly reckless or intentional misconduct caused your car accident, you may have the right to claim additional, punitive damages from the at-fault party. An attorney will typically want to know about the details of the crash to assess the potential availability of punitive damages in your case.
Remember, an attorney can’t guarantee you results, and the value of a case an attorney gives you in a consultation is only an initial estimate. But asking questions about your potential accident claim value can give you insight into how the attorney may aim to maximize your financial recovery.
How much does it cost to hire you?
Car accidents cause a great deal of financial stress. Many crash victims worry about whether hiring a lawyer will increase their strain. After all, your goal after a car accident is to end up with more money in your pocket, not less.
The right lawyer for your car accident case should put your financial concerns at ease. Reputable car accident lawyers typically work on a contingent fee basis, which means their fee depends on them getting you results. If they don’t win for you, you owe them nothing.
In a typical contingent fee arrangement, you and the attorney would agree that the attorney gets to keep a certain percentage of the money recovered in your case—usually in the range of 25 to 40 percent, depending on the case’s complexity and how quickly it gets resolved. Many lawyers will also agree to cover the administrative costs of the case, such as travel expenses or expert witness fees, subject to reimbursement out of any recovery.
A car accident lawyer should clearly discuss their fees and costs. A written agreement between you and the attorney should spell everything out, in advance and in plain English.
Are there any steps I should be taking to protect my rights?
The aftermath of a car accident can be a very confusing and overwhelming time. It can feel difficult to know how to make the right decisions to protect your rights.
Part of a lawyer’s job is to act as a client’s counselor, answering their questions and advising them on crucial choices that might affect their interests.
Skilled car accident lawyers often give valuable guidance about:
- The importance of seeking medical attention for car accident injuries. Your well-being should always be the top priority after a car accident, and protecting it starts with seeking medical attention as soon as possible, even if your injuries appear minor. Some hidden injuries, like whiplash or internal bleeding, can have delayed symptoms. Lawyers frequently advise their clients that getting prompt medical care is essential not just for their health and also, crucially, for their legal rights. Medical records can serve as crucial evidence supporting a claim for damages.
- Don’t talk to insurance companies. A common mistake car accident victims make is speaking directly to the at-fault party’s insurance company without consulting with their attorney. Insurance adjusters are trained to solicit information that could be used against you to minimize the value of your claim. They may ask for a recorded statement and then try to use what you say against you. They may also pressure you to accept an unreasonably low settlement offer. A skilled attorney can handle these communications on your behalf to make sure your best interests stay protected.
- Not writing about your accident on social media. Car accident lawyers routinely advise clients to avoid posting about their accident or the legal process because doing so can have unintended consequences. Insurance companies often scour your online profiles for any information that could undermine your claim. Online activity can and does affect the legal process, so it’s essential to be discreet and update your privacy settings to limit access as much as possible.
Should I accept a settlement offer?
If you receive an offer to settle your claim directly from an insurance company or at-fault party (or that party’s lawyer), take it to your attorney right away. Never agree to or sign anything settlement-related without getting your attorney’s advice about what to do.
If you have already hired a lawyer, no one should be making settlement offers directly to you. All negotiations should go through your lawyer. But it can still happen.
If you don’t have a lawyer yet, receiving a direct settlement offer is a bright flashing sign that you need one immediately. Settlement offers made directly to car accident victims like you virtually always fall far short of the amount you have the right to receive. The parties who make them hope that you’ll take their money and give up your valuable rights in the process before a lawyer has told you what your claim is really worth.
Don’t fall for these tricks. Always ask a lawyer about any offer someone makes to settle your claim.
What deadlines do I need to know about?
Every state has a statute of limitations that sets a deadline on pursuing legal action in personal injury cases. Other deadlines may require you to give notice to an at-fault party or insurance as a condition of making a claim. Missing these deadlines can put your car accident case in jeopardy, and may cause you to lose your rights altogether.
An experienced attorney should know about all potential deadlines that apply in your case, and have the capacity to make sure you meet them. Lawyers may also set their own internal working deadlines for preparing your case. Once a case is filed or claim is submitted, procedural deadlines can also arise as the legal process moves forward. It’s important for you to know about all of these dates and milestones, to make sure you’re able to participate in the lawyer’s advocacy as much as you want.
How, and how often, will you communicate with me about my case?
It’s crucial to have an open and accessible line of communication with your attorney. The right car accident lawyer for your claim will understand the importance of regular communication about the status of your case, especially when there are significant developments. You can facilitate and get the most out of communications with your lawyer if you know in advance the best way to get hold of them phone, email, text, etc. and when you can expect updates and check-ins.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
Your initial consultation with a prospective car accident lawyer represents a crucial opportunity to evaluate their experience, skills, and familiarity with the issues in your case. Asking the questions above can help you take full advantage of the time you have with them, and their answers can guide you in deciding who to hire.
Just don’t wait to get started. The sooner you have a lawyer fighting for you, the better your chances of receiving maximum compensation for your car accident-related losses. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in California today for a free consultation.