When Do You Need a Lawyer?

Auto accidents are scary!  You are driving down the street and suddenly a careless driver comes out of seemingly nowhere and collides with your car. Then there are lights and sirens everywhere as law enforcement, fire and ambulance crews descend on the scene. The officer asks you questions about how the accident occurred, and whether you are injured. Then you may be transported to the emergency room at a local hospital for obvious injuries or simply to be “checked out.” Later, after the law enforcement officer finishes his investigation he prepares an accident report, showing how the accident took place, who the witnesses are and that the other driver was cited for making an illegal left turn in front of your vehicle.

A day after the accident, while you are nursing your stiff back and bruises or worse, an adjuster from the other driver’s insurance company calls you and asks you for a statement. You haven’t done this before, but there is no doubt in your mind that the other driver was at fault, so you agree to give a statement. You describe for the insurance adjuster the accident, the damage to your vehicle and your injuries and give the adjuster permission to get a repair estimate on your car.

Two days later another adjuster calls you and tells you that she is handing the property damage and has an offer for you. Yet another adjuster who is handling the bodily injury portion of your claim calls later that week and asks you for permission to contact your medical care providers to get copies of your bills and doctors records that detail your treatment. Three weeks later, the same adjuster calls you back with an offer to settle with you for injuries. Because you haven’t been in an accident before you begin to ask yourself:  what if I continue to have pain after I sign the paperwork; and will the amount the insurance company is offering for my car be enough to replace the reliable vehicle that was destroyed by the other driver? These are common questions for many people who have been involved in motor vehicle accidents simply because they have never been through the process of handling a claim with an insurance company.

My advice to clients in these circumstances is not to rush into anything with the insurance company whose goal is to settle each claim for as little as possible. Give yourself time to see how you feel.  Are you having health problems that you didn’t have before the accident? Is the offer that the adjuster made for your vehicle fair, given the mileage and condition of your vehicle prior to the accident? If you have been thoroughly checked out by a doctor and don’t have any continuing pain or limitations and the insurance company has offered to pay all your medical bills plus something for pain and suffering and pay you what your vehicle was worth as well as any out-of-pocket expenses, then you might want to settle your claims without retaining a lawyer and incurring the costs and emotional investment that come with retaining counsel.

If, on the other hand, as is commonly the case, the insurance company adjuster tells you that the whiplash caused by the accident is only a “soft-tissue injury” and they aren’t going to pay for your physical therapy bills and the ruptured disc in your low back was not caused by the accident, or the car that you lovingly cared for and just replaced the transmission and tires is worth only a fraction of  what it costs to buy a reliable vehicle, it is a good idea to see an attorney. Personal injury lawyers handle these sorts of disputes on a daily basis, and know how the insurance game is played, so to speak. We understand from experience that in addition to payment for your property damage you also may be entitled to payment for things like the loss of use of your vehicle, and medical payment coverage which may amount to thousands of dollars. Also, having a lawyer on your side often results in an increase in the insurance company’s settlement offers. No one wishes for anyone to be involved in an automobile accident. Accidents are hugely disruptive to lives and can cause great financial hardships. However, if you find yourself the victim of another driver’s fault and are overwhelmed by the process of resolving your claim it is good to know that you can always speak with a personal injury lawyer who can answer your questions, protect your interests and help you get you get back to living life again.