You may not need an attorney if your accident sounds like this
Based on the ads from law firms that you see on television, it's easy to think everyone who has ever been in an accident is going to be mistreated by the insurance company and should look for help from a lawyer to make it right.
In a lot of instances, insurance companies do in fact do their jobs as expected.
There are definitely situations where you'd want an attorney to be involved, but there are also times when obtaining counsel is simply overkill.
Let's take a look at some of the cases where you may NOT need to hire an attorney after an accident.
No injuries happened
There are scenarios where the only damage done has been entirely done to property. Imagine the case where there were no people present in either vehicle at the time the accident occurred.
Your car may be one excitable dog and a loose gear shifter away from being part of a two-vehicle incident involving no humans. (You can ask any insurance adjuster, and they'll tell you that strange things do indeed happen!)
Generally, if no people were hurt, or there was no damage (no broken bones or potentially lingering injuries that cause you to miss more than a couple days of work), then it may not be worthwhile pursuing a personal injury claim.
Just be careful making this judgment of "no injuries" yourself. What may seem relatively harmless at one point may turn out to be an issue later.
If you were in a vehicle at the time of an accident, you certainly want to seek medical attention. You'll want to hear a doctor clear you of any risk too.
Once that has happened, it may become questionable to ask an attorney to help you pursue a claim.
When the math of hiring an attorney doesn't make sense
There are some cases where the potential recovery for a claim is so small that you simply cannot justify hiring an attorney.
For example, if all the damage was to a vehicle and the vehicle was a high-mileage used car with a low book value, there's not much meat on the bone for an attorney.
Don't doubt there are attorneys who'll take on smaller claims in exchange for a higher percentage of the recovery.
If any of these apply, you may need an attorney
- Broken bones, hospital stay, long-term health affected
- Someone died in the accident
- Medical treatment costing more than a couple thousand $$
- Missing more than a couple days work, school, or normal activities
- Non-economic losses like emotional trauma, pain and suffering, loss of companionship
- There is dispute over whose fault the accident was
- Multiple people were harmed in the accident
- The accident took place in a construction zone or other questionable area
- The paperwork does not look accurate (police report, insurance communications)
- Details are complicated (technical, legal, medical)
- Insurance is not playing nice
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You do, however, have to ask if paying an attorney to recovery $10,000 in damages is worth the bother if you end up handing over $5,000 to the law firm.
If the case might foreseeably proceed to small claims court
There are also easily imaginable scenarios where the expected recovery would be so small that the case would end up in small claims court if it were pursued to the point of litigation.
You're certainly entitled to have counsel present to protect your rights in small claims court. The law firm, however, is likely going to expect a fee for their services rather than working on contingency, since the expected recovery would be very small. It depends on the situation.
Most accident attorneys are going to work on contingency, and the average contingency fee is around 33.3%. That means they would take one third of whatever settlement would be coming your way in compensation for their work.
When the insurance company is offering you the amount you feel is fair
If you're in a situation where it's clear the insurance company wants to settle, there is some tricky math to figure out.
Do you really want to end up in a situation where you have to negotiate for a longer time and then hand over one-third of your compensation, if the insurance company already wants to settle? Do you think what they are offering you is fair?
If the insurance company is not playing nice or refusing to acknowledge the full extent of your claim, you would definitely want to talk to an attorney.
If a lawyer takes one-third of your recovery, then they'll need to improve your expectedresults by more than 50% to justify hiring them.
For example, if you're expecting a $100,000 settlement without the benefit of counsel, a lawyer would need to get you more than $150,000 to make it worth the bother.
Believe it or not, most attorneys give honest opinions on whether or not it would be worth your while to hire an attorney or take any easy settlement. This particular issue can be discussed during consultation with an attorney.
Remember, many law firms offer free consultations. Seeking a second opinion is also recommended.
It may be the smarter move to settle with the insurance company and get on with your life if...
In some instances, there just isn't enough upside to working with an attorney during the claims process.
It is important, however, to have a high level of confidence that something unexpected isn't going to happen. Once you sign off on an agreement, you'll likely never have the chance to seek more money ever again.
It's very rare but settlements could be reversed by a judicial order if it's deemed the insurance company or defendant's representative unjustly took advantage of a vulnerability of the plaintiff. This is a very strict standard and hard to prove.
Most injury and accident law firms offer free initial consultations, so feel free to ask around and get some advice before going forward with your claim.
If it seems clear to you that your case doesn't have sufficient long-term risks or expected compensation, it may be a smarter move to settle with the insurance company and get on with your life.