The moment of impact, that split second, is when your life can change. The best-case scenario is when the damage is only to the vehicles. No loss of life and no injuries. However, we aren’t often so blessed. In those times, the accident can affect you hard, hurting you or your loved ones.
It’s times like these, times when the damage to property or life is severe, that you should at least consult with a car accident lawyer to review your options. It might be hard to think about lawyers and money right now, but life will slowly go on, and you need help picking up the pieces. You don’t have to go it alone.
Now you might not be aware, but almost every car accident lawyer offers free consultations and works on a contingency fee basis. What this means is that you can meet with the lawyer free of charge to discuss your case. In many of these situations, they can even come out to your house and talk with you if you don’t want to meet them in the office. Also, if they work on a contingency fee basis, then they usually won’t charge you a fee unless they win your case.
In this article, we’re going to cover some general information about car accident law, including fault and negligence. Your car accident lawyer can discuss these in more detail with you if you have questions, and he or she can also apply the law to your specific situation. After covering this general information, we’re going to explain the different ways a car accident lawyer can help your case. Finally, at the end of this article is a link to our guide on how to get a lawyer. It’s highly recommended to read it before you contact an attorney. The guide covers things like where to look for an attorney, what questions to ask, etc.
Before we go further, you need to know that the information in this section is only general information about car accident law. It is not legal advice, and it is not even specific advice. Instead, use this general information to prepare for your meeting with a car accident lawyer. At the meeting, the lawyer can accurately advise you on how car accident law applies to the facts of your specific situation.
Pre-Conditions to a Car Accident Lawsuit
The first step to recovering money from a car accident, which is also called getting damages awarded by a court, is determining where the accident happened.
Why does it matter where the accident happened? Well, in the United state there are about 12 states that have something called no-fault car accident rules, and the remaining 38 states have what is called fault car accident rules.
States with No-Fault Car Accident Laws
In a state with no-fault rules, a car accident lawyer should explain that it doesn’t matter who is responsible for the accident because each driver’s insurance pays for their own driver’s damages and injuries.
Hold up, you mean that if someone crashes into my car in a no-fault state, I can’t sue them and recover? The answer to that question is no, you can’t sue them unless certain exceptions are met which we’ll discuss below. But don’t worry because your insurance should cover the damages to your car and also your injuries.
Who thought up this wonky rule and why does it exist? Well, the reason behind the law is to cut down on lawsuits and free up the courts. In many car accidents, the first inclination of the injured party is to sue the person at fault. With hundreds of accidents each day in each state, these lawsuits can easily clog up the courts. Therefore, the states’ legislatures passed laws in these states which basically say no one is at fault and each driver is responsible for having their own insurance foot the bill for their driver’s damages and injuries. The result of this was a dramatic decrease in lawsuits.
Exceptions to No-Fault
In these 12 states with no-fault rules, there are some exceptions which allow a driver to sue the driver at fault. You can ask a lawyer with experience in car accident law what the limitations are in your state, but here are two of the most common exceptions:
Seriousness of the Resulting Physical Injury
Some no-fault states have laws that let someone sue a driver at fault if the accident resulted in death or severe disfigurement. In these states, it is not always clear what constitutes a severe disfigurement. Is it a loss of a finger or must it be something more substantial like a hand? A car accident lawyer should have experience in this area and will know what the law requires.
Dollar Value of the Injury and Damage
Some no-fault states also have laws which specify a limit for the injuries and property damage. In these states, if the dollar value for the injury or for the property damage exceeds the pre-defined threshold, then the driver at fault can be sued.
Just like the exception for the seriousness of the resulting injury, you should ask your lawyer if the car accident met the threshold limit in the state and whether you can sue the other driver.
States with Fault Car Accident Laws
In a state with fault car accident laws, someone injured or whose property was damaged by the accident can sue the driver at fault. That’s relatively simple, right? Make sure to keep reading though, as there is more to a car accident lawsuit than just being able to sue the other driver.
As we’ve explained above, someone might meet the pre-conditions to sue if the accident occurred in a fault state, or if it happened in a no-fault state where the resulting injury or damage meets the threshold to sue according to state law. But just because someone meets the pre-conditions to sue, doesn’t mean that they’ll win in court.
In general, a court can award damages for a car accident if the plaintiff proves that the other driver was acting with negligence with the accident occurred.
What is negligence? Well, according to the law, a driver must use reasonable care under the circumstances. When a driver doesn’t use reasonable care under the circumstances, they have breached their duty of car and are negligent. As a result, the negligent driver might be liable for any injuries or damages caused by their negligence.
At trial, the goal for a car accident lawyer is to prove that the other driver was being negligent and that negligence caused the accident and your injuries and damages. Your lawyer can explain more about the legal concept of negligence when you discuss it during the free consultation for your car accident.
Types of Negligence
Before we move on to how a car accident lawyer can help, we need to discuss two last concepts which can affect the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in a car accident lawsuit.
In the United States, there are different types of negligence depending on the state where the accident happened. Currently, about four states use something called contributory negligence while the remaining states use comparative negligence.
In a contributory negligence state, a plaintiff cannot recover from the other driver for their injuries if they even the slightest bit at fault. So at trial, if the judge or jury determines that the plaintiff contributed to the accident 1%, then that prevents the plaintiff from recovering anything from the other driver.
It is fortunate for everyone that only four states use contributory negligence as the standard. The other 46 states follow a comparative negligence standard. In comparative negligence, a plaintiff can recover from the driver according to the percentage the other driver contributed to the damages.
Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say everyone’s damage and medical bills totaled $100,000. In this example, the plaintiff was found 45% at fault, and the other driver was found 55% at fault. In this situation, the plaintiff can recover 55% of the total damages from the other driver, which equals $55,000.
How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Help
At this stage, you should understand that hiring an experienced car accident lawyer to represent your interests is very beneficial. But we wanted to lay out some more areas where a lawyer can help your claim:
Investigate How the Accident Occurred
Let’s face it, a police report leaves a lot to be desired. The police are hardworking people, but they are usually overworked and can leave essential things out of the accident report. Also, the police try to take a neutral stance, but your car accident lawyer is only representing your interests, and no one else.
When you get a car accident lawyer, they will spend time pouring over the police report and evidence collected from the scene. If there are any witnesses, your lawyer will also reach out to them to get further statements on the record. Many car accident lawyers also work with trained investigators with years of experience who know what to look for in these types of accidents.
The most significant area that a lawyer can help with the investigation is saving you time. Investigative work can take hundreds of hours depending on the type and nature of the car accident. Are you able to spend the time and energy dealing with this yourself? Do you have the skills to know what the judge is looking for? It’s nothing to be ashamed about, not many of us have these necessary skills. So do yourself a favor and put the burden on a car accident attorney and let them handle the investigation.
Investigate Contributing Factors
In many car accidents, there are factors which may have contributed to the crash. Some of these factors might be whether the other driver was using drugs or intoxicated at the time of the accident. In some jurisdictions, age, competence, and a prior record might also be relevant in establishing factors which contributed to the crash.
If the car accident lawyer has been practicing car accident law for many years, they should have a good deal of knowledge about what contributing factors might persuade the judge or jury in your state. So hire a lawyer with experience, and that experience will pay off in the end.
Determine Who’s at Fault
At a car accident trial, the defendant will try and reduce their liability by arguing that the plaintiff was negligent also. In a comparative negligence state, the more negligent the plaintiff, the fewer damages the court will award the plaintiff for their injuries.
A car accident attorney knows all these tricks and how to counter-argue against the defendant’s remarks. The goal of an attorney with trial experience is to shoot down these arguments before they gain traction with the judge or jury.
In a trial, or even while negotiating with the insurance company, a car accident lawyer is invaluable at maximizing the amount a judge or jury can award.
Medical Bills, Property Damage, and Lost Wages
In regards to medical bills, property damage to vehicles or other property, and lost wages, these values are relatively easy for a judge or jury to calculate. Your lawyer will gather up all the bills and present them as evidence of your financial harm.
Pain and Suffering
Now, damages for pain and suffering is where we start getting into a more difficult area and where a lawyer can really shine. In many jurisdictions, lawyers rely upon formulas to calculate the pain and suffering value, and if the value is in line with what is typical in the industry, there is a higher likelihood the amount will be granted.
In some states, a car accident lawyer might gather your medical bills together and add them up, taking into account any reasonable future medical expenses. The total number is then multiplied by a factor, typically around 3, to get the total damages for pain and suffering.
Your lawyer, assuming they have experience with car accidents, should know how the state calculates pain and suffering and can apply the appropriate formula.
The final type of damages that a court may award, in addition to all the other awards, is called punitive damages. Not every state allows for punitive damages so you will have to rely on your lawyer’s guidance to explain the law in your state.
Here is how punitive damages work. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered during the car accident. Instead, they are intended to punish the defendant for their actions and also send a message to future drivers that this behavior will not be tolerated.
In most states, to get punitive damages, the defendant’s actions must have been more than mere negligence. The defendant must have acted with gross negligence, recklessly, or with wanton disregard for the safety of others. You might immediately think that the defendant meets one or more of these tests, but these are legal tests and require proof. A car accident lawyer with lots of trial experience should know how to prove whether the defendant’s actions meet any of these tests and will also know how to present such evidence at trial.
Negotiate with the Insurance Company
Even though the lawyer is trying to maximize your award, a trial isn’t always the only answer. In many cases, car accident claims are settled through negotiations with the insurance company. Which insurance company? It does depend on the fault of the state, whether the state is a no-fault state or a fault state. In either case, an insurance company is going to pay, and a lawyer can help during the negotiations.
Free Advocate (*)
In many other types of law, you will have to pay your lawyer up-front. In these situations, it can be tricky to decide whether to hire a lawyer. If you lose, you’ve still got to pay your lawyer. However, with a car accident claim, there is almost no risk with hiring a lawyer. Nearly every car accident lawyer works on a contingency fee basis. We’ve already explained this before, but a contingency fee means that you usually don’t pay a fee unless they win. Therefore, technically, you can get your questions answered and get a feeling for what you might get at trial, without having to put up any money upfront. This is a good deal!
Identify Relevant Car Accident Laws
A car accident lawyer should understand the laws of the state that controls the accident claim. If the accident took place in Michigan and the lawyer is only licensed by the State Bar in California, then keep looking. But when you find a lawyer licensed by the State Bar in Michigan, that lawyer should know all the relevant laws for car accidents in the state. It’s essential to hire a lawyer from the state where the accident occurred because car accident laws are different in every state.
How To Get An Car Accident Lawyer
If you’ve come this far, then you should have enough general information about car accident law to assist a lawyer in advising you about your specific situation. Also, you should have a general idea about how a car accident lawyer can help your situation.
But before you start searching for a local car accident lawyer, there is one more step you should take. We highly recommend reading our guide about how to get a lawyer. In the guide, you will learn many things about how to get a lawyer. Here is an example of what you will learn:
- How to find a lawyer experienced with car accident law.
- How to research the lawyer’s background.
- Questions to ask before an initial consultation.
- Questions to ask during an initial consultation.
- Observations to record about the lawyer
- How to decide whether to hire a car accident lawyer.
Once you read this guide, you should be prepared to hire a lawyer to help with your car accident needs.