You have insurance companies – your own and the other driver’s – to talk to about the accident and about getting your car repaired or replaced and your medical bills paid. And you just want it all to go away and normalcy to return as soon as possible.
With all of this on your mind on top of everything else you have to deal with in your busy life, the thought may cross your mind, “Should I talk to a lawyer about this?” After all, you’ve seen plenty of advertisements in Atlanta telling you to call this lawyer or that lawyer if you’ve been hurt in a car wreck.
And those lawyers make it sound like they can get you a lot of money if you call them. But that’s just TV and billboards, right? That’s surely too good to be true, isn’t it? You probably have never hired an Atlanta car accident lawyer before, and perhaps given things you hear about them or see on TV you’re not sure that you’d ever want to.
Won’t that just cost you money? Won’t that just drag out the process that you so desperately want to be over as soon as possible? And you’re probably not the type of person that would ever want to sue anybody, especially when it was just an accident. Do you really even need a car accident attorney?
If this sounds like you, then we want to help you by giving you our firm’s answer to the question, “Do I need an attorney to help me with my car accident?” Of course, we’re lawyers so you may be expecting the next few lines to be a carefully crafted sales pitch to convince you why you not only need a lawyer but why our firm is the only firm equipped to handle your case.
But that is not the answer we give to accident victims who call our office and ask us that very question. The honest truth is you may or may not need a lawyer to help you resolve your car accident claim. It depends on a lot of factors that are unique to you and the facts of your specific accident and circumstances.
So, when we meet with a potential new client, what are some of the factors we look for to evaluate whether to recommend that this person hire a lawyer or not?
1. What are your injuries?
The settlement or jury verdict value of a personal injury case is determined by how seriously injured you are because of the accident. The whole point of a personal injury case is to use the money to try to put the injured person back in the position they were in right before the accident, as much as possible.
This is done by reimbursing you for medical bills and for lost wages for missed work hours and converting the time you spent in pain and having to deal with the unexpected hassle that comes with being injured into a dollar figure (commonly known as “pain and suffering”). Obviously, the more serious the injuries were, the more medical bills you will have, and the more significant your pain and suffering will be.
And the more money that is at stake in your case, the more the insurance company has an incentive to try to avoid paying you anything close to full value for your case. Those are the cases where experienced injury lawyers fighting for you clearly add enough value to justify their fee. In cases where the injuries are minor, and the medical bills and lost wages are minimal though, it is a much tougher call on whether having a lawyer gets you enough additional money in your settlement to justify the expense of having the lawyer.
Often, you will not know the severity of your injuries in the days or even weeks right after the accident. It is common to experience stiffness, soreness, and pain after a car accident, and it may or may not indicate you suffered a serious injury. Our injury attorneys know from experience what symptoms are often indicative of a more serious injury and ones where the insurance company may fight you harder on paying you full value in a settlement.
In those instances, it may be worthwhile to have a lawyer involved early on in case your symptoms do turn out to be a more serious injury. But the severity of your injuries are only one factor in determining whether you should hire a lawyer.
2. Are there any evidentiary issues that require the immediate involvement of a lawyer?
Ok, we know what you’re asking. What is an “evidentiary issue” and how are you supposed to know if you have one or not? The short answer is that “evidentiary” just means having to do with evidence, which is what lawyers use to prove injury cases to insurance companies or to courts.
In some cases, important evidence can be lost if an experienced injury lawyer does not take steps very soon after the accident to make sure it is preserved. This is particularly true if there is any dispute about who is at fault in the accident or if the vehicle that injured you was a tractor-trailer or commercial vehicle.
But in most straightforward accidents like a rear-end collision where it is obvious what happened and who is at fault, the police report and accident photos are the primary evidence in the case. There is rarely any pressing need to try to preserve evidence in those cases. During a free consultation with our personal injury law firm, we can advise you on how to obtain copies of the accident report and photos of the damage if the car has not already been repaired.
3. How comfortable are you handling the insurance claim on your own?
Our goal as a firm is to take on cases where we are confident we add enough value to justify our fees and expenses to the client. If your injuries are minor and required perhaps only a trip or two to urgent care and/or your family practice physician to treat with rest and medication then it is very difficult for any lawyer to add enough value to justify the fee they would charge for representing you in that claim.
Virtually all personal injury law firms charge contingency fees for handling your case, which means the firm is paid a set percentage (often around 1/3) of whatever amount you receive in an insurance settlement or jury verdict.
If you don’t have a lot of medical bills or lost wages then your insurance settlement is not likely to be all that much, and it can really eat up a lot of money that would otherwise go into your pocket if you have to pay an attorney one-third of your settlement. And the reality is that, while there is always a benefit to having an expert injury attorney handle your claim for you and research has proven that you get more money in an insurance settlement if you have an attorney than if you don’t have one, in smaller cases, the value the attorney adds to the settlement is often not enough to justify the percentage of your settlement they would be paid.
In those cases, your comfort level with handling the insurance claims process yourself can determine whether you should hire a car accident lawyer or not. If you’re the type of person who has no time or no tolerance for negotiating an insurance settlement with a claims adjuster and what amount you receive from a settlement matters far less to you than just knowing the process was handled for you, then you should hire a lawyer.
For you, the value of having someone else handle it means more than knowing you personally netted the maximum amount from your settlement. These are the clients I mentioned earlier who have hired us even after we told them we were not confident we would add enough value to justify our fee. For them, the value was just in having us handle it and not in the amount of money they netted from their settlement.
But if you’re the type of person who does not mind negotiating with an insurance claims adjuster especially after being armed with some negotiating tips during a free consultation with an Atlanta injury lawyer, then you may not need to hire a lawyer right away. It may make more sense for you to handle the negotiations yourself and not have to pay a lawyer who is telling you they would not add enough value to justify their fee. You don’t have to pass the bar exam, but just be smart.
Also, if you have unpaid bills and expenses that will have to be paid out of your settlement but you need as much of that cash in your pocket as possible then you too may not benefit enough from having a lawyer to justify the cost.
The only absolute we tell everyone is that you should absolutely speak to a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident to figure out whether you need to hire a lawyer and to get some tips on what to do next if you don’t necessarily need to hire a lawyer yet.
Our firm, like most personal injury firms in Atlanta, offers free initial consultations to everyone who calls us to ask about their car accident case. We’ll discuss your case with you for free in person or by phone to find out the facts of your accident, your injuries, and your life circumstances and tell you whether we think you need a lawyer or not.
We recognize that is not the approach every injury law firm in Georgia takes, and there are firms that will tell you that you need a lawyer no matter how big or small your car accident was. That is because personal injury law in Atlanta is a highly competitive business and many personal injury law firms approach your case from a purely business perspective and may not necessarily be looking out for your best interests. Those firms deal in volume and their business model is to acquire as many cases as possible regardless whether the value they bring to the client justifies their fee and costs or not.
We take a different approach. We only take cases when we believe our involvement in the case adds enough value to the case to justify the fee we would charge the client.
There are cases — usually minor accidents with minimal injuries — where although we could easily handle the case for the client, we know our involvement would ultimately cost the client more money than the value we could add to the case. And we don’t believe it’s fair to hide that fact from our potential clients. If we aren’t confident you would net more money by having a lawyer involved in your insurance claim, then we will tell you that.
And there are plenty of times that clients still choose to hire us anyway for reasons we’ll discuss in more detail a little later. The point is it costs you nothing to have that conversation with a lawyer at our firm or many other injury firms, and you should always do so just to get a professional opinion about your case so you can make a more informed decision about whether to hire a lawyer or not.
This is how our firm helps potential clients answer the question of whether they need a car accident lawyer or not. The bottom line is you should always schedule a free consultation with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident so that you can discuss these factors with them and see if your case is one where it makes sense for you to hire an attorney right away or not.
And you do not have to hire the first attorney you meet with. In the Atlanta area, there are plenty of highly qualified car accident attorneys who do great work for their clients, but every firm has things that are unique to them.
When you hire a car accident attorney, you are hiring not just an attorney but a counselor, an advocate, and a teammate who is going to walk with you and guide you through a difficult situation that you never asked to be in. Your car accident case can often last many months or even several years depending on how complicated it is so the attorney and firm you hire should be someone you feel comfortable with not only for the present but for the long-term future.