Car accidents are prevalent in the U.S. – it records the most road crash deaths,…
Virtually all drivers have either been involved in a car accident or will be involved in one sooner or later. In light of that, many motorists find themselves asking, "Should I Get A Lawyer for a Car Accident?" after being involved in a collision.
If you are injured or your property is damaged in an accident caused by another motorist, you will probably file an insurance claim with your insurance company or the other driver's insurance company.
You'll also likely be faced with the decision of hiring a personal injury attorney to represent your interests. Naturally, many lean towards securing a lawyer when considering filing a lawsuit. But is it necessary to hire one if you're leaning on an insurance company for a resolution? More importantly, how can you be certain that the insurance company is acting in your best interest?
Car accident attorney Nathan Fitzpatrick has represented hundreds of car accident victims. In this post, he discusses the way motor vehicle accident claims are handled and the benefits of having a lawyer present during negotiations. He will also cover some situations where obtaining legal counsel may not be necessary.
Key Takeaways: Should I Get A Lawyer for a Car Accident?
Determining whether or not to hire an attorney after a car accident is crucial. The following key takeaways can help guide your decision on the matter:
Immediate Post-Accident Actions: It's essential to call 911, seek medical treatment after a car accident, exchange information, gather evidence, and be careful with statements after an accident in Georgia.
Legal Implications: Not reporting an accident with over $500 in damage in Georgia can lead to fines and even jail time. There must be a police report filed.
The Role of Fault: Georgia uses the comparative negligence doctrine, so any awarded damages will decrease by your percentage of fault.
When to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer: It's advisable to consult a lawyer, especially in cases of severe injuries, disputed facts, or dealing with uncooperative or underinsured parties. However, minor accidents with clear fault and agreement may not.
Insurance Dynamics: Insurance companies aim to minimize their payout, making negotiations adversarial. An experienced auto accident attorney can assist in ensuring fair compensation.
Financial Considerations: Hiring a lawyer involves a cost, either hourly or through a contingency fee, but they may help in securing a more significant settlement.
Non-Financial Benefits: Apart from financial advantages, having a lawyer provides peace of mind and expert guidance. It also ensures that you aren't taken advantage of by insurance companies.
The Aftermath of a Car Accident
If you are involved in a motor vehicle collision, a flood of emotions will probably prevent you from thinking clearly. You will be angry because another person’s reckless actions have injured you or damaged your car, and you may worry about how much the accident will end up costing you. You could also be concerned about the welfare of bystanders or the occupants of the other vehicle or vehicles involved. The things you say and the actions you take in the minutes following a traffic collision can cast long shadows, so you must try to put your emotions to one side and focus on what must be done.
Immediate steps after the accident
Here are some of the steps you should take if you are involved in a motor vehicle collision in Georgia:
Call 911: Georgia law requires motorists to report accidents that cause injuries or more than $500 in property damage. This means that you have a legal duty to call 911.
Seek medical treatment: You should seek medical treatment following a traffic accident even if you feel fine. Serious auto accident injuries do not always present symptoms right away, and failing to seek treatment at the scene could harm your claim if you find out later that you were injured and seek compensation for your medical expenses.
Exchange information: Drivers customarily exchange information after an accident. If the other driver becomes belligerent and refuses to share their details, you should wait for the police to arrive.
Gather evidence: Use your cellphone to take photographs of the accident scene. These images could be used to determine what happened and who was at fault. They could also reveal the location of cameras that may have recorded the events as they unfolded.
Collect Medical Records: Get with your healthcare provider to secure your latest medical records. Maintaining an updated set of medical records is essential, as these documents provide a comprehensive account of any injuries sustained and can be instrumental when presenting evidence or substantiating claims following the accident.
Be careful what you say: Georgia is an at-fault state, which means police officers dispatched to accident scenes are required to allocate blame. The police report will be one of the most important pieces of evidence if you submit an insurance claim or file a personal injury lawsuit, so you do not want it to contain statements that suggest you were responsible or paint you in a negative light.
Legal Ramifications of Car Accidents
The actions you take in the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident can have legal as well as financial and medical ramifications. A common mistake motorists make after minor accidents is shaking the hand of the other driver involved and leaving the scene. Failing to notify the authorities about an accident that causes more than $500 in property damage violates Georgia law, and it is punishable by a fine of between $300 and $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year.
The role of fault in car accidents
When a peace officer in Georgia writes a motor vehicle accident police report, they allocate blame based on their observations and the statements made by the motorists involved and bystanders. Apportioning blame is important because Georgia follows the comparative negligence doctrine in negligence cases. That means that any lawsuit damages you are awarded will be reduced to reflect your degree of fault.
If you file a lawsuit after an accident that the jury determines you were 30% responsible for causing, the damages you are awarded will be reduced by 30%. An insurance company could also reduce the amount they offer to settle your claim if you were partly responsible. That's a tough pill to swallow, especially if you have mounting medical bills.
Common legal consequences
The legal consequences of being involved in a traffic collision are sometimes severe. Motorists who crash while impaired by drugs or alcohol can be sent to jail, and they can spend decades behind bars if they cause serious injury or death. Crashing while driving at reckless speeds or after ignoring a red light or stop sign can also have dire legal consequences.
You can hire a lawyer if you are in trouble here, but the legal process is unforgiving in these matters. It's best to avoid this type of trouble and only rely on a law firm for things that you can't easily avoid.
If you crash while you are sober and obeying traffic laws, the actions you take could have legal consequences if they result in a police report that weakens your claim or bolsters the other driver’s claim.
When Getting a Car Accident Lawyer Might Be a Good Idea
There are times when having a good car accident attorney in your corner after an auto collision is a good idea. For instance, a settlement reached by them can pay expensive medical bills when you are severely injured.
On the other hand, there are times when hiring an attorney or investing in the legal process may not be necessary. Before you make this decision, you should discuss your case with a good car accident lawyer before making up your mind. Most car accident attorneys offer new clients a free consultation for their potential car accident case, so this should not cost you any money.
Severe car accident injuries or fatalities involved
If the accident you were involved in caused serious injury or death, hiring a personal injury lawyer is probably a very good idea. Major injuries can cost tens of thousands of dollars to treat and prevent people from working for weeks or even months, so the sums involved when serious car accident insurance claims and lawsuits are settled can be significant. When the figures being discussed have six, seven, or even eight figures, you should really have an experienced professional in your corner.
Hiring a car accident lawyer is also advisable if the facts are in dispute. In these situations, the party that has the most evidence usually prevails. A car accident lawyer could strengthen your insurance or personal injury claim by gathering evidence that supports your account of the events. They could visit the scene to find cameras or interview witnesses, and they could have the vehicles involved inspected to find mechanical defects or evidence of botched repairs.
Uncooperative or under-insured parties
If you are involved in an accident with a driver who refuses to share information or becomes belligerent when asked basic questions, your road to a settlement will probably be long and contentious. When settlement discussions are likely to be combative, you will probably fare far better if you are represented by an experienced negotiator. You will also probably want to hire an attorney if you are injured by a negligent motorist who is uninsured or does not have enough coverage to compensate you for your injury, loss, or damage. If this happens, you will have to file a lawsuit to receive compensation.
Minor Accidents: When You Might Not Need Legal Representation
Most car accidents cause no injuries and only minor property damage, and very few of them lead to lawsuits. If you are involved in a minor collision, getting a car accident lawyer to represent you may not be necessary.
No injuries and minimal damage
If you are involved in an accident that causes no injuries and only minor property damage, the insurance claims filed by you and the other driver involved will likely be fairly routine. There will be no heated negotiations, so you probably will not need a lawyer to represent you. However, you should still report the accident to comply with the law, and you should seek medical attention to check for undiagnosed injuries.
Both parties agree on fault and settlement
Contacting an experienced lawyer may also be unnecessary if the facts are not in dispute and the other party accepts that they were to blame. However, you should bear in mind that the other driver could have a change of heart after they learn how much the crash will raise their auto insurance premiums. If the other driver admits fault at the scene, you should make sure that the responding police officers know this and include it in their reports.
Insurance Company Dynamics
Insurance companies are businesses that exist to make money. They claim to be compassionate in their advertising, but they try to settle claims for as little as possible to boost their bottom lines. If you are in an accident that causes significant injuries and property damage, obtaining adequate compensation will probably involve a lot of hard work.
How insurance companies evaluate a car accident claim
Insurance companies evaluate car accident claims in much the same way that juries do when drivers file lawsuits. They first assign dollar figures to the claimant’s economic and noneconomic damages, and then they apportion blame to determine how much of this money should be paid. Insurance adjusters are experienced professionals who are trained to keep these figures as low as possible, so you should expect your medical bills and other documents to be scrutinized closely.
The role of car accident lawyers in insurance negotiations
Car accident settlement negotiations are adversarial in nature. The insurance company wants to settle the claim for as little as possible, and the accident victims want to receive as much as possible. Car accident attorneys work to ensure their clients are fairly compensated by making persuasive arguments, presenting evidence, and challenging the evidence presented by insurance companies. They could also use their knowledge and experience to spot insurance company tricks and prevent their clients from making costly mistakes.
Hiring a car accident lawyer to negotiate on your behalf with an insurance company will almost certainly involve a financial outlay. If you do not pay anything upfront, your attorney will deduct their fee from the settlement you receive. This means that you have to do some basic math to figure out whether hiring an attorney makes financial sense. Hiring an attorney will probably lead to a more generous insurance company settlement offer, but you may not be left with any more money after you have paid all of your legal bills.
Costs associated with hiring a car accident attorney
Most attorneys offer prospective clients a free consultation, so you are unlikely to be handed a bill after learning more about your legal options. If you speak with reputable attorneys, they will probably tell you if hiring them does not make financial sense. Should you decide to hire a lawyer, you will either pay them an hourly rate or sign a contingency agreement. If you sign a contingency agreement, your lawyer typically keeps about a third of your settlement. A contingency arrangement will save you money in the short term, but it could cost you more in the long run.
Suggestion: If a lawyer claims a third of your settlement as part of their contingency fees, they should enhance your anticipated outcome by over 50% to make their involvement worthwhile. So, if you anticipate a settlement of $100,000 without legal representation, they would need to secure upwards of $150,000 to justify hiring costs incurred.
Evaluating the potential for greater compensation
To determine whether or not hiring a lawyer is a good idea, you will need to have a clear idea of how much your claim is worth and how high your legal bills are likely to be. You will probably be able to gather this information during an initial consultation as experienced attorneys will tell you about similar cases they have handled in the past and how much those accident victims received.
Non-Financial Benefits of Legal Representation
Motor vehicle accident victims hire lawyers to negotiate on their behalf during settlement discussions because they want to receive as much compensation as possible, but going into these talks with an experienced professional on your side provides more than just financial benefits. Knowing that a skilled lawyer is handling your case will provide peace of mind, and experienced legal guidance could also prevent someone from taking advantage of you.
Peace of mind and expert guidance
Being involved in a motor vehicle collision and then dealing with police officers and insurance adjusters can be very stressful. If you have skilled legal help that's looking out for your best interests, you will have less to worry about. A lawyer could help you gather the documents an insurance company will want to see, and they could also provide you with expert advice and guidance if you have questions or concerns.
Preventing exploitation and ensuring fair treatment
Almost all insurance companies are publicly traded companies, which means they have a legal obligation to generate as much profit as possible for their stockholders. This is why deceptive practices are common in the insurance sector. If you want to be treated fairly when you negotiate an accident settlement with an insurance company, you should look for a lawyer who knows about these deceptive practices and how to contend with them.
Timing: When Should You Decide?
You may want to consider your options before you decide to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit over a traffic accident, but you should not wait too long. The passage of time causes memories to fade and makes evidence harder to find, and most insurance companies have strict time limits for claims. If you decide to sue a negligent driver, you will have to file your lawsuit within the time permitted by Georgia’s statute of limitations.
Statutes of Limitations
Georgia law gives plaintiffs two years from the date of their injury to initiate litigation, but the clock is paused or tolled in certain situations. You will have more than two years to file a lawsuit if the negligent driver you sue is sent to prison for driving drunk or committing some other offense. You will also be given more time if they flee the state or hide from the authorities.
Bear in mind that the ticking of the clock starts right after the incident occurs, making it essential to act promptly and consider whether to hire a lawyer to guide you through the legal complexities. That way, you ensure your rights are protected.
Selection Criteria: Choosing the Right Lawyer
Choosing a lawyer to represent you in an automobile accident case is an important decision, and it can also be a difficult one. Every lawyer claims that they are skilled and will diligently fight hard for your rights. Meanwhile, how do you go about finding one that actually lives up to its promises and consistently delivers results?
Reputation and Expertise
Lawyers specialize in certain areas, so you should look for one who has handled traffic accident cases in the past and has a good track record. These will probably be among the first matters discussed during an initial consultation, so you won’t have to do too much detective work. If you meet with a lawyer who does not tell you about his or her previous successes, you may want to keep looking.
Fees and payment structures
The amount that you can afford to pay will influence your choices when you look for a lawyer, but you may not have to write a check to get a legal professional on your side. That is because many attorneys who handle motor vehicle accident cases offer to work for clients with limited funds on a contingency basis. You won’t have to pay any upfront fees if you sign a contingency agreement, but you will have to give your lawyer about a third of your settlement.
Being involved in a motor vehicle accident is a traumatic experience that can cause debilitating injuries and significant financial losses. If this happens to you, you will want to receive as much compensation as possible. If you are involved in a minor accident, you could deal with the insurance paperwork yourself, as the sums involved are likely to be modest. If you suffer serious injuries, it will probably make sense to hire an experienced legal professional to advocate on your behalf.
Car Accident Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does a car accident lawyer typically cost?
This answer depends on several factors, including the complexity of the case and whether you file a lawsuit. If your injuries are serious and reaching a settlement is likely to take quite a long time, you may be able to lower your upfront costs by entering into a contingency agreement.
Can I switch lawyers if I’m not satisfied?
You can switch lawyers if you want to, but it may not be a good idea. It will take a new lawyer time to get up to speed, and they may not perform any better than the lawyer you fired. If you want to avoid this situation, you should perform thorough due diligence before you hire a lawyer in the first place.
How long does a car accident lawsuit usually take?
Car accident lawsuits can take years to resolve, especially when the insurance company tries to lowball settlement. Luckily, most of them are settled long before they go to trial. If your lawyer is an experienced and skilled negotiator, things should be wrapped up pretty quickly
What if I was partly at fault for the accident?
Police reports in Georgia include the responding officer's opinion about the at-fault driver or at-fault drivers. If you bear some of the responsibility, you can still recover damages under Georgia's comparative negligence law.
If You Are Considering Getting a Lawyer For A Car Accident Case, Contact The Fitzpatrick Firm For A Free Consultation
All car accident victims deserve to be compensated fairly, but not all of them are. If you suffer accident injuries caused by the other driver's negligence and want to make sure that you receive a fair settlement, you should go into negotiations with an experienced attorney at your side.
The Fitzpatrick Law Firm has represented hundreds of accident victims. And we don’t leave money on the table. If that sounds like the kind of legal representation you want, call us at (678) 607-5550 or use our form below to schedule a free initial consultation.