Using a Car Accident Lawyer for an Insurance Claim
If you have been in a car accident, and if you are like most individuals who find themselves in this position, you may not be sure of what to do or who to call. A big question many people have after a car accident is: do I need a lawyer?
In the first instance, consulting a lawyer after a car accident is never a bad idea. You may feel overwhelmed and not sure of your rights or even the proper steps to follow in light of the circumstances of your particular accident.
However, you may be reluctant about hiring a lawyer to handle all aspects of pursuing your insurance claim. A general rule of thumb is that for small fender benders, you may not need a car accident attorney’s help, however, the more damage to property and the more injuries (and potential hospital bills and wage reimbursements) involved, the more advantageous it will be for you to retain an experienced car accident lawyer. To help you decide whether you should retain a lawyer, here is what a good car accident lawyer could and should do to help you file your insurance claim.
Handle Negotiations with Your Insurance Company
Often, people who are in car accidents assume that their insurance companies are on their sides and advocating fairly for them. Hopefully, this is the case, but sometimes it is not. As such, there are a few things you should note and be aware of.
One of these is to make sure that you understand your coverage and that your insurance company is fairly compensating you according to your policy. In particular, you should know exactly what types of reimbursements you are eligible for, what is excluded from your policy, as well as understand the fine print and potential exceptions to coverage that your insurance company could claim. You should also know the deadlines and paperwork/documentation you will need in order to file a valid claim. Relatedly, it is possible that you have other forms of insurance that can help cover the costs of the accident. A lawyer can help you understand your policy, the requirements for filing a claim, and the intersection of your various policies to get a complete picture of what you are covered for and what you need to do in order to be compensated.
Another best practice when dealing with your insurance company is to make sure you keep track of all conversations with your insurance company and keep notes and documentation (and if possible, pictures) of all property damage, medical bills, and loss of wages. A lawyer can help direct you with respect to the information that you should keep track of, and even work with your doctors to ensure that the documentation you receive from your medical treatment is sufficient for the purposes of your insurance claim.
Finally, be wary of accepting estimates or appraisals that your insurance company gives you. Similarly, be careful about giving your insurance recorded statements or signing releases or waivers of any type before fully understanding your policy and knowing the full extent of the damage or injuries arising out of the car accident. While a lawyer can help you in many ways, this is an area in which your lawyer can be invaluable when negotiating with your own insurance company(ies). Specifically, an experienced lawyer will know or have researched what a typical reimbursement is for the type of accident that you were in, and be able to spot if your insurance company is underestimating the amount of damages you will ultimately be liable for. In addition, a lawyer can parse through the legalese and fine print of any agreements your insurance asks you to sign and warn you of any harmful language or negotiate with the insurance company to remove such harmful language.
Handle Negotiations with the Other Drivers’ Insurance Company
Often, another driver will be involved and at fault in your car accident. Like when negotiating with your own insurance company, but to a greater extent, the other driver’s insurance company will likely try to underestimate the amount you are owed as compensation for the accident. The other parties’ insurance company may also attempt to deny responsibility for the accident altogether, either by saying that you were at fault or that they are not liable under the state’s insurance laws.
An experienced car accident lawyer will know your state’s laws and be familiar with whose insurance company is responsible for what claims. Further, having a lawyer on hand to advocate for you will help ensure that these negotiations run smoothly and efficiently. Moreover, lawyers are practiced advocates and may be better able to impartially and aggressively defend your interests because they know from experience and research what you are entitled to and when an insurance company is undervaluing your claim. As a practical matter, it can be hard for an individual with a full-time job and other responsibilities to handle the minutiae and logistics of negotiating an insurance claim. Not only should your lawyer know the steps that need to be taken, but it will also be their job to ensure that your insurance claims process continues to run smoothly and without interruption.
Contingency Planning for Worst-Case Scenarios
Not all insurance claims processes go smoothly. Sometimes, the parties’ insurance companies cannot come to an agreement on who is at fault and what claims which party is liable for. As a result, sometimes insurance claims processes proceed to arbitration, mediation, or trial.
Needless to say, it is advisable to retain a lawyer in any sort of adversarial proceeding. However, having a lawyer from the start can be advantageous in a number of ways. First, your lawyer will have full knowledge of the facts of the accident, the parties involved, and the insurance policies of the parties. Second, your lawyer should be taking notes and maintaining records of conversations and correspondence with insurance adjusters, doctors’ bills, the costs of repairing property damage, etc., all of which would be available as evidence on your behalf in any proceeding. Third, your lawyer will know when to get other experts involved in preparation for an adversarial proceeding. For example, your lawyer will make sure to have any police reports, expert witnesses, doctors’ reports, documentation of time off from work, etc. necessary to prove liability for the accident.
In general, hiring a lawyer will certainly save you time, as they will handle much of the documentation and back-and-forth with the insurance companies involved. Many people often question whether lawyers save them money. Lawyers do charge an hourly rate or a contingency fee, and, therefore, if you were in a small accident where the amount of damages and process is clear-cut, then it may not make the most financial sense to hire a lawyer. However, if your damages were more than a few thousand dollars and your injuries severe enough to require that you miss work for more than a few days, it is likely that the accident may trigger more serious negotiations (and cost-saving attempts on the part of an insurance company). In these cases, it makes sense to hire a lawyer in order to maximize the amount of your claim, ensure you have all the correct documentation, and the process runs smoothly, and to look ahead and prepare for any worst case scenarios.