If you have been injured in a car accident, you may want an attorney’s services to help you resolve your claim against the negligent driver who caused your injuries. There are so many attorneys. It can seem like a daunting task to find the one right for you.
There are concrete steps you can take if you are trying to determine whether to hire an attorney to help with your accident case, and if so, which attorney to choose.
Complex Questions of Liability and/or Damages?
If yours is a case in which issues of liability or damages are questionable or complex, you will absolutely need an attorney’s help. Complex liability questions can include multiple vehicle accidents in which it can be difficult to ascertain legal fault. They can also include cases in which you bear some fault for the accident. Jurisdictions differ on how the issue of comparative fault are handled. In some jurisdictions, your fault will bar your recovery totally. In others, your damages may be reduced by the percentage you are deemed to be at fault. In that case, if a judge or jury deems you to be 25% at fault, your recovery will be reduced by that percentage. In yet other jurisdictions, you will be barred from all recovery if your percentage of fault is at 50% or above.
Sometimes your damages may be complex. If you have prior existing conditions exacerbated by your accident, or have serious medical injuries as a result of your accident, you should really hire an attorney with a fair amount of experience with complex issues.
How to Choose An Accident Attorney? Interview!
Experience counts. It counts for a lot. You want to make sure that you hire someone knowledgeable with regard to the particular area of law that your accident falls within. While an attorney may have general knowledge regarding personal injury, an experienced car accident attorney will know that area of law intimately. In addition, an experienced car accident attorney will know the insurance industry quite well, including particular claims adjusters. So choose an experienced car accident attorney. Talk to friends, check local bar associations, and get referrals.
Because it is likely that it will take some time to resolve your case, you want to make sure that you pick an attorney that you believe will work well with you. Most attorneys will give you a free consultation. Use that time not only to understand the nature of your case, but to weigh out the question of fit. If the potential attorney seems rushed, overly aggressive, lacks interest, overly confident, or fails to answer your questions during the initial interview, it is likely that the exhibited behavior will continue once you retain that attorney. If it bothers you now, it will bother you later as well. Find someone that is a good fit for you and your personality and needs. There is nothing worse than being in a long term professional relationship that feels uncomfortable.
Above all, you want an attorney that you can trust. Listen to your instinct in this regard. You need to trust that your attorney will represent you to the best of his or her ability and that they will be forthright and honest with you in all regards. Do not be afraid to ask difficult questions regarding the value of your case, including any questions you may have about the murkier issues involved. If your lawyer is upfront with you about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, that is always a good sign.
You Have Hired an Attorney, Now What?
Once you have hired an attorney, you can expect that your attorney or someone else from that office will keep you apprised of the progress of your case as it unfolds toward resolution. Attorneys all handle this somewhat differently. Some send out status letters each month, some will apprise you of the general tasks that need to be accomplished along a time line and then will only send out letters at particular bench marks such as the first contact with the claims adjuster etc. Some attorneys will copy you on every communication with the claims adjuster. Ask your attorney how they handle communication. And remember, that you can always ask questions as your case unfolds, whether those questions are asked by phone, by email or in letter form.
In addition, an attorney should always contact you with regard to all settlement negotiation–each demand, offer, and counter offer should be fully discussed and approved by you as your case unfolds. Each decision about how to proceed should also be fully discussed with you as your case unfolds.
Do I Always Need to Hire An Attorney?
The short answer is no. But you want to be careful about this. Almost all accident claims will benefit from at least a consultation with an attorney in order to gain a clear understanding of the issues in your case. But if there are no injuries and/or very minor property damage to the car involved, you may not need to hire an attorney. When in doubt, always get a legal opinion from an attorney whom you trust.