Car accident fatalities are on the rise. In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died in car accidents in the US. That is a 10.5% increase from the previous year, when only 38,824 people died from a car crash.
Even more people developed injuries from auto accidents. If you or someone you know gets injured in a car wreck that happened because of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Injuries that happen due to car accidents often fall under personal injury law. An auto accident lawyer can help you recover medical expenses, lost income, and other financial burdens you acquired because of your injury.
But how do you know if you have a personal injury claim on your hands? In this guide, we are answering this exact question. Keep reading to learn when and when not to call a personal injury lawyer.
When to Call a Personal Injury Attorney Near You
In most states, pro se representation is legal for personal injury cases. That means you could technically represent yourself. Yet, courts require self-representatives to understand the laws that apply to their cases.
It is a much better idea to call a lawyer instead. Good attorneys offer free initial consultations. They can give you an idea of whether you have a legitimate personal injury claim on your hands.
If you are searching for a local car accident lawyer, get in touch here. But first, don’t forget to check out our top tips for determining if you have grounds to file an auto accident lawsuit in the first place.
You Sustained Severe Injuries
The more severe your injury, the higher your settlement can grow. For example, if you are injured in any of the following ways, consider calling an attorney ASAP:
- You have broken bones
- You had to stay in the hospital overnight or longer
- Your doctor believes you will have long-term complications
- You suffered emotional trauma, pain, and suffering, or loss of consortium because of the accident and/or your injury
The first three injuries fall under economic damages. The last one falls under non-economic damages.
Economic damages refer to quantifiable financial losses. There must be a connection between the accident, your injury, and the losses you incurred. Medical bills are an obvious financial loss many people face after a car wreck.
Non-economic damages are qualitative in nature. As such, they are much more difficult to prove in a court of law. Judges award non-economic damages to people who develop injuries that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
Of course, you should absolutely call a lawyer if an accident results in someone’s death. However, keep in mind that not all car accident attorneys handle wrongful death cases. Ensure you reach out to the right professional.
You Had to Miss Work
Lost wages from time missed from work is also a type of economic damage. Many victims of car crashes need time to recover from their injuries. An attorney can help you recover any wages you did not get paid during that time.
In some cases, car accident victims can also qualify for future lost wages. This can happen when someone develops a disability or complications from their injury.
A judge can also award you amounts for lost benefits, such as retirement benefits. This is usually only the case if you can no longer return to work after receiving your injury.
Keep in mind that all of this also applies to your spouse’s lost wages. For example, say your partner has to care for you while you are recovering from your injury. You can get compensated for that in your settlement, too.
You Got Injured in a Truck Accident
The law is hard on truckers and the companies that employ them. Truck drivers have stringent rules to follow about load weights, work hours, and more. If they violate these rules and someone ends up hurt, judges take this seriously.
That is why punitive damages are common in big truck accidents. Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages. That is because judges use them to punish the defendant in a personal injury case.
Punitive damages only apply when the defendant was particularly negligent. Fraud, malice, and intent are also reasons why a judge might order a defendant to pay punitive damages.
If you think this type of compensation may apply in your case, you should call a lawyer. Punitive damages can greatly increase your settlement. Any attorney would be happy to help you win your case for this reason and more.
Your Insurance Company Lowballs You
Insurance companies do not want personal injury claims to go to court. Court battles are expensive and take time. That is why most auto insurers prefer to settle.
It is critical to evaluate the insurance company’s settlement offer. If you do not think it is fair, you do not have to take it. Instead, you can call an attorney who will fight for the car accident compensation you really deserve.
But it is just as important to do the math regarding attorney fees. As we will discuss later, most personal injury lawyers will take their legal fees from your car accident settlement amount.
You need to factor that in when considering how much you have to gain. For example, say your insurance company offers you $100,000, but you know your case is worth more.
To justify hiring a lawyer, you need to be sure your case is worth at least 50% more than what the insurance company offers. That means you need to get $150,000 or more when you hire a lawyer. If not, you will lose money.
You File Within the Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. What happens if you do not file within the statute of limitations? You have to forfeit your right to file at any point in the future.
The statute of limitations generally begins on the day of the accident that caused your injury. Statutes of limitations vary depending on the state you live in and what type of lawsuit you file.
When it comes to personal injury lawsuits, statutes of limitations range from two to six years. The majority of states apply a two-year time limit. Maine and North Dakota apply the longest timelines (six years).
Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin apply three-year statutes of limitations.
Four states apply four-year timelines. These states are Florida, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. Missouri is the only state that allows personal injury victims to file a lawsuit within a five-year statute of limitations.
You Avoided These Common Mistakes After a Car Accident
There are some major mistakes people commonly make after a car wreck that can kill your personal injury case before you even call a lawyer. Some of the most serious mistakes to avoid include the following:
- Not calling the police
- Not collecting evidence at the scene
- Not seeing a doctor immediately after the accident
- Not adhering to your doctor’s treatment guidelines
- Not attending medical follow-ups
- Admitting fault to the other driver’s insurance company
- Admitting fault to your insurance company
- Not contacting your insurance company at all
- Posting about the accident on social media
- Taking a settlement without negotiating
As long as you avoid these big no-nos, a lawyer will be more than happy to take your case. But if you made one or two of these mistakes, don’t fret. An experienced attorney may be able to help you get out of them.
However, it is critical to reach out for legal representation sooner rather than later. Waiting to call a local attorney could leave room for more of these common mistakes to pile up.
When Do You Not Need an Auto Accident Lawyer?
The most obvious scenario where you don’t need legal representation is if you get in a wreck, but no injuries occur. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises are also not sufficient to file a personal injury claim.
Why else might you not want to call a lawyer after getting in a car accident? Here are a few possible reasons.
You Were Partially At Fault for the Accident
In some states, being even 1% at fault for a car wreck means you can not file a lawsuit. These states follow a rule called contributory negligence. Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina apply this rule.
Most other states use comparative negligence. Pure comparative negligence means that anyone can file a lawsuit after getting injured in a car accident. This is true even if the wreck was 99% your fault.
Around a third of US states use pure comparative negligence. The largest states using this rule for car accident personal injury cases are California, New York, and Florida.
Last but not least, the majority of states apply modified comparative negligence rules. These states allow victims to file personal injury claims as long as they are less than 50% or 51% at fault for the accident.
States like Colorado, Georgia, and Tennessee use the 50% rule. Meanwhile, the 51% rule is more common. Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Massachusetts are just a few of the states that use this rule.
You Aren’t Eligible for a Significant Settlement
Personal injury lawyers work off of contingency fees. That means plaintiffs do not pay for legal representation up front. Instead, the attorney takes a percentage of the final settlement, which is usually around 30%.
If your claim will not produce a large enough settlement to compensate an attorney for his or her time, it is not worth calling. Whoever you do call will likely reject your claim. Otherwise, you may have to pay by the hour.
The average US lawyer charges around $391 per hour. This means the amount you pay towards your attorney’s hourly rate may end up surpassing your compensation award. For many people, hiring a lawyer just isn’t worth it.
You Live in a No-Fault State
In the US, some states use at-fault rules. Others enforce no-fault guidelines. The majority of states are at-fault states, including Texas and California.
In an at-fault state, the insurer of the party responsible for the accident must pay for the victim’s injuries. If you live in an at-fault state, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver or their insurance provider.
No-fault states are different. In Florida, Kansas, Utah, Minnesota, Michigan, and New York, you have to have PIP coverage. PIP stands for personal injury protection.
If you get into an accident, your own insurance company will cover your damages. They also pay for medical bills, child care, and other services you require after receiving the injury.
People who live in no-fault states do not always need to file for damages. This is especially true if your insurance company offers you a fair amount for your injury.
The only time you should consider filing anyway is if your injuries are serious or permanent. Also, consider calling an attorney if your personal losses exceed the amount your insurance provider pays out.
Do You Have More Legal Questions You Need Answered?
Getting injured in a car accident that happened because of someone else’s carelessness may entitle you to compensation. We hope this article helps you understand when it is time to call an auto accident lawyer for help.
Are you looking for more legal advice? We post new articles like this one every day. Keep checking back for answers to your other most important questions about the law.