When you find yourself in financial straits, it seems like you would do anything you could to find a solution. And yet when someone gets in a car accident and has a totaled car, medical bills, or other unexpected expenses, they don’t call a personal injury attorney. Instead, they struggle to pay their bills and carry on by themselves.
You may know such a person or even be such a person yourself. Why don’t people get legal assistance after a car accident? The answers may surprise you.
Reason One: “I can’t afford an attorney.”
Despite personal injury and accident attorneys clearly advertising to clients that “we don’t get paid until you do,” the number one reason people hesitate to call a lawyer after an accident is the cost of hiring one.
It is true that hiring an attorney for a civil case or criminal defense is very expensive. Even a mid-range attorney will want several thousand dollars for a retainer, and billing usually costs hundreds of dollars per hour. Someone who has just suffered a serious accident and may be missing work can’t afford to hire an expensive attorney. It’s better to just file their paperwork with the insurance company and take their chances.
Why This Isn’t a Good Reason
Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. That means that, unlike family lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, or business attorneys, a personal injury lawyer only gets paid after a case is settled and the plaintiff is paid.
Moreover, by law, personal injury attorneys are limited on how much they can receive from a legal settlement. In most states, the highest percentage they can receive is 35%, and in most states, it’s one-third or 33.3%.
Before the settlement, none of the fees come out of your pocket. The only thing your attorney may ask you to pay is the cost of initially filing the case, and even that can sometimes be waived if you are genuinely unable to pay it.
The bottom line is that you can afford an attorney in a personal injury case.
Reason Two: “That driver can’t afford to pay me.”
There’s an old saying; you can’t get blood from a turnip. Some people look at the beat-up truck or 15-year-old Sedan that hit them and assume that the driver can’t possibly have any money to spare. Even if they have insurance, it’s probably the bare minimum. Liability insurance won’t cover much more than the price of towing the wreck away.
On the other hand, you may think you can cover the damage yourself. This often happens when there are no medical bills and only minor or moderate vehicle damage. Rather than going through the hassle of dealing with insurance companies or going to court, you may think it would be simpler to pay for it out of pocket and worry about insurance another day.
Why This Isn’t a Good Reason
First, you have no way of knowing whether the defendant has insurance. They may not have told you the truth at the scene when they said they didn’t have insurance. Sometimes this is a ploy to get you to pay for your own damages or to keep you from calling the police.
In some cases, an investigation may reveal that there are other parties involved. For instance, if the other driver was a commercial driver or drove for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft, you may be able to file a claim against their insurance company. You may also be able to file a claim against a third party if there were outside factors that contributed to the crash, such as road construction or a mechanical failure. Any of these could lead to a settlement for you.
Finally, even if the other driver has no insurance, an attorney may be able to reach a settlement for you through some other means. Once you have settled a case, there are alternate methods for collecting a settlement, including liens, wage garnishment, or payment in kind.
Reason Three: “It was partially my fault. Actually, a lot of it was my fault.”
People commonly believe that if they are partially responsible for the accident, they won’t be able to recover anything in a legal case. In fact, they might have to pay for the other person’s injuries and damages. Worse, their insurance rates could go up, and they could be looking at fines or prosecution.
It’s common for people who were involved in accidents to overestimate their responsibility and downplay the other driver’s fault. Not every traffic collision is the other person’s fault, and sometimes an accident may be nobody’s “fault.” Because of the tendency to take the blame for ourselves and let others off the hook, some drivers may let the legal case slide.
Why This Isn’t a Good Reason
Depending on your state laws, if you were partially to blame for the accident, you may not be able eligible for financial compensation. But it isn’t as serious as you may think.
Courts use a comparative negligence doctrine when determining who may be eligible for financial compensation after an accident and how much they can recover. Comparative negligence means looking at how the accident happened and deciding who was most responsible for the injuries and damage. For instance, if the other driver ran a red light and t-boned your car, but you weren’t wearing your seatbelt, both factors would be considered in weighing comparative negligence.
Four states, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, follow a very strict contributory negligence rule, which means if you are even 1% at fault, you cannot recover anything from the other party. These are the only four states that follow this rule.
Thirteen states use a pure comparative negligence rule. This means that even if you were partially at fault, you could still recover, but your recovery will be based on your percentage of fault. If you were 80% at fault, you could only recover 20% of your damages from the other party.
The remaining states use a modified comparative negligence rule. You can recover if you were partially at fault and if your percentage of fault was below 50% or 51% (depending on the state).
The only time you cannot recover in any state is if you were at fault due to intoxication or other impairment. So it is always in your best interests to contact an attorney and see what they can do for you.
Reason Four: “I heard it will take years. I don’t have the time.”
Everyone has heard dreadful stories from friends and families about lawsuits that dragged on for years and years. Some of them are even true. Once someone is involved in an accident, anyone who has had a bad experience with the courts and insurance companies will gladly tell them stories about how they went up against an insurer and spent weeks going to hearings and depositions.
People also say they don’t understand what is involved in the legal process. What should they do if the other driver’s insurance company denies their claim? How do they respond if the other driver sends them medical bills? It seems easier to leave it alone and trust that the insurer will send the check eventually.
Why This Isn’t a Good Reason
Time is not on your side in an accident case. First, you don’t always know how badly you are hurt. Some types of injuries, such as closed head trauma, concussions, or neck and back injuries, can take days or even weeks to appear. Unfortunately, insurance companies can use that time against you, making it seem like you’re not really hurt or the injuries are from a separate event.
When filing an insurance claim, you need to be prompt. Your insurance company wants to know about the accident as soon as possible, and the other driver’s insurer will call you as soon as they receive their report. Insurance agencies tend to request that you file a claim within 30 days of the accident.
Finally, there is the statute of limitations. It differs in each state, but most states give you between two and five years to bring a claim against an insurance company after an accident. This might seem like a long time, but in the rush of daily life and recovering from an accident, it isn’t as long as you think.
When you have an attorney at your side, time is no longer an issue. The law firm, not you, handles deadlines and court dates. The lawyer will contact the insurance company, go to court for you, and leave you free to get well and get back to your life.
Reason Five: “I just don’t think I need one.”
Perhaps the real reason so many people fail to hire an attorney when they’ve been in an accident is that they just don’t think they need one. They don’t think they were hurt enough to need medical care. They think their insurance company will handle everything. The mechanic said the repairs should be no problem.
In the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture of America, we all want to think we can handle everything ourselves. Unfortunately, when something serious happens, we discover just a little too late that we really need an expert to get us out of a serious pickle.
Why This Isn’t a Good Reason
Look at all the things listed above. Now think about everything you’re already juggling each day between work, family, friends, and your daily routine. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you won’t have time to learn all the things you need to do to manage your legal case against an insurance company.
Missed deadlines and improperly filled-out forms are two of the most common reasons insurance claims are denied. An incomplete form or one sent a day late can cost you your claim, or at the very least, it can cause you weeks of delay as the documents are sent back for correction.
When you have an attorney doing the hard work for you, the forms will be complete and sent to the right place at the right time. You won’t need to worry about anything being incorrect or late.
Additional Benefits of Hiring an Attorney
Whether you are filing an insurance claim or not, it is always a good idea to meet with a personal injury and accident attorney following an accident. They can talk you through the legal process, determine whether you have a case, and help you through any difficult situations that may arise, such as:
When You’re at Fault
Another time you may want an attorney is when you are partially responsible for the accident. Insurance companies will focus on anything that might let them reduce or deny your claim. If you were texting or not wearing a seatbelt, their legal team will take advantage of that to bring you over the 50% limit and cut your recovery amount.
This is why you need a good attorney. In cases where a question of fact needs to be decided, where you want a judge or jury verdict to make your settlement for you, a skillful attorney can explain or minimize the fault you may have had in your accident.
For instance, suppose you were not wearing a seatbelt, a common cause of fault in accidents. Your attorney can call expert witnesses to show that even if you had been wearing a seatbelt, it would not have impacted the severity of your injuries.
When You Waited Too Long for Medical Care
If you waited too long to seek medical care, the insurance company will assume you were not hurt and don’t need insurance coverage. In this case, you do need an attorney. Some types of injuries do not appear immediately, and others may worsen over time. If you have a “pre-existing condition,” you may need evaluation by a specialist to show that the accident made it worse.
Don’t Wait to Call a Personal Injury Attorney
If you hesitate to call an attorney after an accident, you’re not alone. However, a personal injury attorney can minimize the negative impacts that an accident has on your life.
Your best choice is to contact an attorney to let them professionally evaluate your case. If you were sick, you would go to a doctor. If you needed home repairs, you would go to a carpenter. If you are hurt, there is no harm in getting a legal opinion and making an educated decision as to whether to pursue a case. Morris & Dewett Injury Lawyers, with over 1200 positive reviews on Google, will gladly assist you in Louisiana and Texas at (318) 221-1508 or via our website.