Over the years, the legal process surrounding an automobile or other motor vehicle accident has become increasingly complicated, so it’s more important than ever to have the information you need to make the best decisions possible.
Consider these facts —
- In an accident involving injury or multiple parties, you will be dealing with experts in several fields — medical, insurance, and legal — all with an obligation to protect themselves and their own interests first.
- An attorney who specializes in this type of law can help you navigate through each of these areas while keeping an eye on the bigger goal of doing what’s best for you and your family.
- There are some important and sometimes even surprising reasons why contacting an attorney early in the process is the best strategy even in matters that have nothing to do with your injury claim.
As you read through the information about auto accidents in this Help Center, please remember that the best advice we can give you is to make every effort to find and connect with a legal expert who can act as a skilled and experienced guide through this often confusing process.
Why an Attorney is Important
People who have been injured in an auto accident usually wait too long before getting in touch with an attorney who can help. Usually even the most quick-acting person is going to wait days and more commonly weeks or months. While you shouldn’t feel the need to call an attorney directly from the scene of an accident, there are important reasons to seek legal advice from an experienced attorney as early as possible. Here are a few things to consider:
The Defense – the defense side (representing the other driver, for example) is going to be pretty quick about getting in contact with a victim. They often use soothing words like “send me your bills and we’ll take care of things.” But sending your bills and having them actually do something with them in a timely manner are two very different things. It’s easy to become complacent and suddenly another month has gone by. The bills continue to pile up. This is just one of the many things that can happen making you think there’s plenty of time to deal with all of this. Also, your attorney can keep you from making any ill-advised statements to the defense that might impact your case negatively at a later time.
Multiple-Person Accident – another issue to consider is the case where there are multiple people involved in the accident. Insurance policies are often capped for a single incident. If you do not act quickly the entire policy limit may be used up by the other parties before you ever even submit your claim. You’ve got real bills but once the policy limit is reached there is no more available to you.
Serious Injury – if you had a serious injury that sent you to the ER but didn’t require surgery, you may go home and then back to work thinking that your soreness and pain will just go away. You get up and go to work. You’re put on light duty for a time. But things don’t get better. In fact, they get worse. There are some injuries where the actual impact may only show up later. Getting up and going to work becomes harder and harder. Eventually you may end up at an orthopedist who diagnoses you with a herniated disk. If you’ve already signed a release it will be harder and may be impossible to get compensation for that injury.
Access to Local Medical Experts – Experienced trial attorneys in your area should know competent doctors who can treat your injuries. They can steer you away from the rare doctors who might want to take advantage of your insurance situation (for example set appointments with you for 5-day a week physical therapy treatment until you exhaust your PIP account), and they’ll also help you avoid doctors who may eventually hurt your case because of prejudices against long-term injuries or a reluctance to get involved in legal matters (more about this later). It is hard to overcome a doctor who for whatever reason labels you as having “no permanent injury”, if that is not the case. You want a doctor that can give you excellent care for your injuries and a fair chance at your day in court, should you need one.
You shouldn’t take the “luck of the draw” when it comes to finding good medical care. The ER will always give you recommendation but those may not be the best choices for you. The same goes for your General Practitioner. These doctors will often refer from a very small group of peers and acquaintances with whom they have some sort of established relationship from a fairly limited circle. There is nothing wrong with that kind of personal recommendation but it just may not be the right doctor for your condition or circumstance.
You need a doctor with the skills to treat your condition and the willingness to write a report or testify properly as to your injury and its long-term consequences. Some medical doctors are so focused on practicing medicine that they don’t want to be disturbed or distracted by the time and effort needed to present your case in depositions or in court. In that case, you need to be careful that you don’t get a doctor who leans toward closing your case with a diagnosis that is more expedient than accurate.
Finding the Right Attorney
Choosing the right attorney will be one of the most, if not the most, important decision you make because it will influence all the decisions that follow. As we’ve seen, the more serious the accident — a severe or multi-vehicle crash or an accident that leads to significant injuries — the earlier you want an expert giving you sound advice and helping you make wise decisions.
One way to think about an attorney is to ask the question, “Who would another attorney hire if they needed representation?” It stands to reason that one attorney would know what to look for in another. The following is a list of character traits and descriptions that our attorneys believe are some of the most important factors when deciding on representation:
Competent — Actual hands-on experience in the practice area of your case is probably the most crucial factor in deciding whether an attorney is qualified to represent you. Does your attorney have actual experience trying cases in this area? How often has he/she been to trial? When is the last time he/she has tried a case? What kind of results has he/she seen?
Conscientious – An attorney’s character is incredibly important not just in how he/she deals with you, but also because of how it affects your case. An attorney willing to “bend the rules” or “hide the truth” is also at risk for getting caught and punished for that behavior. If and when they are caught and punished, you and your case are likely to be punished with them.
Cares about more than just your settlement – The practice of law is how an attorney earns a living, but being a lawyer is also a matter of identity for the best practicing attorneys. Attorneys are counselors, advocates, and guides. If your prospective attorney is only interested in discussing the financial aspects of your case, be cautious. A good attorney should genuinely care about both you and your well-being as a whole person, which includes your health, your family conditions, and your employment, as well.
Well-organized – A “working” office is to expected, but if the attorney or intake professional have unreasonable piles of paperwork that look unattended to and crowd their offices, it may be sign that they are either overwhelmed or are badly organized. Either one may be detrimental to your case, so be aware and ask questions about the amount of time they will be able to give to your case and keep an eye out for signs whether things in that office are “falling through the cracks”.
Asks good questions – A good attorney should want to know more than just the nature of your injury but also ask about the status of your medical condition, your insurance, your employment, etc. Remember, their job is to be a guide to the entire process. No matter how large the firm or successful the attorney, he/she or someone from their office should be concerned about your whole situation.
Answers your questions – The legal process can be complicated and confusing which is the reason you’re hiring an attorney in the first place. As your case progresses, you will definitely have questions about what is happening and why. Whoever you hire should be able to answer those questions patiently, honestly, completely, and in a way that you can understand. Ask a few questions before you make your decision on representation and see how each firm and attorney reacts to your needs.
Has a Good Reputation – It’s hard to underestimate the importance of an attorney’s reputation – whether good or bad. An attorney with a good reputation of being a hard worker, highly skilled, with significant experience, and a record of success can leverage that reputation to negotiate from a position of strength and many times reach a better-than-average resolution of your case. An attorney with a bad reputation of being inexperienced, disorganized, and quick to settle claims, will often be at the mercy of other lawyers and insurance companies and unable to command anything more than an average or below-average offer. In short, reputation counts. And a good reputation counts for even more.
Although the information we present on this website is designed to help shed light on the often complex legal and procedural issues arising out of car and truck accidents, please remember that there will be times when it’s best to consult with a legal expert regarding your situation.
Please remember that hiring an attorney is an extremely important decision and you should take care in choosing one that’s right for you. By using the information found on this website, combined with the legal advice of an attorney, you should be well on your way keeping your family safe and resolving any issues arising from a car accident.
The above information is used with permission from the Legal Examiner Wiki as it appeared on June 17th, 2014. It is not legal advice and should not be taken as such.