If you’ve had a serious accident and suffered injury or substantial property damage, you may need to file a civil case to recover damages.
The following are a few situations where you may need to hire an automobile accident attorney, and how to choose the perfect attorney for your case.
Automobile Accident Civil Lawsuits
A lawsuit isn’t the first place you’ll turn immediately after an accident. Legally, in every state, drivers are supposed to carry at least a minimum amount of liability insurance to cover the other driver’s damages.
It’s only when the actual damage costs exceed insurance limits that you may be able to file a civil lawsuit to cover the rest of your damages.
Your state’s stance on “no-fault” can also impact when and how much you can sue for.
There are about a dozen states that have no-fault laws when it comes to auto accidents.
These states include:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
How No-Fault Law Works
No-fault law requires drivers to purchase minimum insurance to cover injuries and damages in the case of an automobile accident.
If you’ve been in an accident in such a state, you need to file a claim with your own insurance company first. However, if your injuries or damages surpass a certain financial limit as defined by state law, you are allowed to file a lawsuit against the other party who caused the accident so you can recover damages.
To collect from your insurance company first, you need to file a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claim. In some cases your insurance company may require you to file what’s called a “mini-tort” claim with the other driver’s insurance company, depending on state statutes.
The goal of no-fault laws are to cut down on how many lawsuits are filed in state court.
With that said, even in no-fault states, if you’ve suffered from serious property or injury damages from the accident that exceed the no-fault limits, you are allowed to seek compensation for those damages in civil court. You can seek to financially recover damages for things like auto damage, medical costs, or lost wages.
If your injuries are “life-altering” you may also be able to seek compensation for non-economic damages (pain and suffering).
How Filing a Lawsuit Can Help
If you don’t live in a no-fault state, or your damages surpass the legal limits in a no-fault state, you have the right to file a lawsuit. You’ll need a lawyer to navigate this path correctly. But filing a lawsuit in the case of an automobile accident has a number of advantages.
- It shows the other insurance company that you aren’t willing to back down with a small payoff that doesn’t cover your damages.
- You will gain leverage in negotiations. Having a court case scheduled will pressure the other driver’s insurance company to settle the case so it doesn’t go to trial.
- Filing a lawsuit opens the door to the worst case option if the insurance company refuses to cooperate. You will still be able to recover damages in civil court.
Since most states place a statute of limitations on how long after an accident takes place that you can file a lawsuit (the limit is typically between 2 to 6 years depending on the state), it’s important to file as soon as possible.
This is why, if your damages are significant following an auto accident, you should retain a lawyer as soon as possible.
Finding an Automobile Accident Attorney
When you’re looking for an attorney to help you file your automobile accident lawsuit, there are a number of important factors to take into account.
- Low volume: It’s better to secure a local lawyer that isn’t overwhelmed with a case load. During the filing of your lawsuit, you’ll need to reach out to your lawyer for advice. The last thing you want is to be ignored for days at a time, or handed off to a legal assistant who’s unfamiliar with the laws.
- Experience: Most personal injury law firms that handle such court cases list past successful lawsuits on their website. Make sure to fully research these websites and look through the lawyer’s past successes. The more successful your lawyer has been in the past, the more likely they’ll serve you well in your own court case. This won’t guarantee that you’ll win your case, but it’ll certainly improve the odds.
- Personality: Probably one of the most important aspects of picking a lawyer for an automobile accident lawsuit is how well you get along with them. An accident can be a very traumatic experience that can generate a lot of emotions. Your lawyer should be able to ease your concerns and understand your stress or worries following an accident. When you’re facing serious damages or personal injuries, that last thing you need is a lawyer who acts like they don’t really care about you very much.
- Specialty: Many personal injury lawyers cover many different areas of personal injury law. It’s better to choose a lawyer that specializes in automobile accidents. This is because with experience in these lawsuits comes a deeper understanding of law, and the intricacies of of how the courts handle such cases. A lawyer with experience in this area will give you far better odds of success.
- Responsibility: It’s a common practice within many law firms to have inexperienced subordinates handle cases for senior lawyers. Many times you’ll even meet with a senior lawyer first, but your case then gets handed off to a subordinate. You can get around this by asking who will handle different aspects of your case. If you get a sense that your case will be handed off to someone other than the senior lawyer, consider looking elsewhere.
Automobile Accident Law
As you can see, the laws surrounding auto accidents, insurance claims, and lawsuits can get pretty complicated depending which state you live in.
In many cases, these laws are put in place to discourage frivolous lawsuits, but they can also hamper legitimate claims.
This is why it’s so important to find an effectively lawyer who can help you navigate these waters and position yourself to recover enough financially to repair your car, restore your health, and move past the trauma and stress that auto accidents can bring into your life.