After you are hurt or lose a loved one in a car crash, the first thing you think of is not usually hiring a lawyer – that’s appropriate. After the initial chaos passes, the question might arise, “Should I get a lawyer and, if so, when?”
The best time to think about hiring an attorney is a few days after the crash. Witness memories of the details of the crash and injuries will be much better right after the crash. For those who suffer head injuries, a family member should contact a competent and respected injury lawyer to start the process. Some people put off getting a lawyer because they don’t want to think about the crash, much less talk about it. However, delaying finding legal help can be a major mistake. Reach out to a car accident lawyer.
The Sooner, the Better
It takes time to find the best attorney for your case. You’ll need to do some research and reach out for referrals. You should look for lawyers who are leaders in their field, who have been in leadership in local, state or national trial lawyers organizations, who actually try cases and who have established a strong reputation especially in their local area (particularly in more populated areas).
If you choose an attorney that clashes with your personality or who runs a “mill” (takes lots of cases and just processes them without proper attention – usually billboard or tv lawyers), it may make the case more challenging and less rewarding for you to pursue. You will not want to, or perhaps even be able to, deal with your own attorney.
The Legal Disadvantages of Waiting to Hire a Lawyer
More important than the personal reasons for retaining a car crash lawyer shortly after the crash are the harmful legal ramifications of waiting too long. The biggest problem is that the insurance company’s adjusters and lawyers may argue that your injuries are not as bad as you say because you waited to take legal action.
Time’s dimming of memories may also lead to you and other witnesses forgetting details about the crash and the immediate aftermath. The best thing to do is to keep a journal starting with the day of the crash before it even happened to the time you hire a lawyer. Include the date and time of the crash, how it occurred, where it occurred, who was at the scene, who you spoke with and all details about the crash and its aftermath that day.
Since you should keep a journal throughout the legal process to document medical appointments, therapy appointments, how you feel each day, your pain levels, physical limitations, emotional state, etc. When you attend an initial case evaluation with a car crash lawyer, you can give him or her your notes.
You may also write in your journal questions about your case so you won’t forget them during the initial case evaluation.
How to Find the Best Attorney for You
Most people start researching attorneys online. This is an excellent place to start. Unless you already have a solid personal referral, once you have a list of five to seven attorneys you think might be a good fit for you, you can do more in-depth research online to narrow the field down to two to three firms.
First, what should you avoid? General practitioners (who do many areas likes divorce, wills/trusts, landlord/tenant, business law and personal injury) are generally not your best bet. You want a specialist to get the best result and who the other side knows is a qualified specialist injury and death cases. Avoid, also, the TV and billboard advertisers. Almost without exception, those firms are “mills” which spend tons of money on advertising to catch a broad section of cases…good and bad…and process them quickly to turn a quick buck. Typically, those firms have most of the work done by non-lawyers and the clients get very little attention from their sorely overworked lawyers. Also, be careful of firms that are based in other states or in Southern California…their lawyers typically do not play best in northern California courts.
A common early question is, “How much is my case worth?” Why an overly-hungry lawyer just trying to get your case may give you a ready (and often inflated) number, an experienced and honest lawyer will usually advise you that it is too early to give you an accurate estimate without having seen all, or most of, the evidence of the crash, medical records, bills and other losses. Again…be wary of the lawyer with the ready number.
What SHOULD you look for? Local lawyers (if you are in a very populated area) or local-ish lawyers (if you are in a more rural area in central or northern California). Find a lawyer who has been a leader amongst trial lawyers – one who has served or does serve on local, state and/or national trial lawyer boards. Look for a lawyer who has been repeatedly nominated or won local or state trial lawyer honors…those are the ones who are actually killing it. Look for a lawyer who takes cases to trial – the opposing lawyers and insurers know who the real “threats” are. Of course, get a lawyer who specializes in serious injury and death cases and has an established record of achieving strong results in those cases.
Experienced, competent and serious lawyers will come meet you if you cannot easily come into their office for the initial in-person consultation. A good lawyer will also be open these days to meeting initially via Zoom, Teams or other online platforms if that is what the potential client needs.
You can expect nearly all injury/death lawyers to work on a contingent fee (only pay if you win) and to “front” the case costs for you. This is the standard arrangement. For adults, nearly all firms charge ⅓ of the recovery with a premium of 40% if the case requires more risk and more work. Typically, that “bumper” occurs at mediation, arbitration or trial – all events which usually occur months or years after the lawsuit has been filed. Beware of firms (again, often TV and billboard advertisers) which charge 40% at the filing of the lawsuit. The best lawyers do not do that for typical cases as filing suit doesn’t require the level or work or risk that traditionally support a 40% fee.
How Long It Takes To Resolve a Car Crash Case?
The length of time varies widely depending on the nature of the case, the nature of the injuries and losses, the venue, the amount of insurance and the insurer for the opposing party. Sometimes even just getting the medical records and police report can take a long time.
If you need expert witnesses, even to draft reports for a settlement, your case may take longer.
Finally, opposing party’s attorneys sometimes prolong the case by filing multiple motions with the court. When a party files a motion, such as a motion to compel discovery, the court must hear that often before the case can move forward.
Car Crash Injuries
Obviously, not everyone suffers the same injuries in car crashes. A vehicle could be crushed almost beyond recognition, yet the occupant sustain relatively minor injuries. On the other hand, many times, occupants in much lower energy collisions may sustain more serious life-long injuries such as traumatic brain injuries or necks or backs with persistent pain.
The size and speed of the vehicles are usually significant factors in injury severity. The movement of the vehicles after impact can also be critical. Your health and physical condition may also play a role in the severity of your injuries.
Typical car crash injuries include:
- Strains and sprains of tendons and ligaments in the neck, back and joints.
- Broken bones
- Ruptured organs.
- Traumatic brain injuries / concussions.
- Injuries to the head, face, eyes and ears.
- Ear injuries, including deafness, especially if the accident includes an explosion.
- Spinal cord injuries.
Some sustain “secondary” injuries such as infections or blood clots. Your car crash injuries may also exacerbate pre-existing illnesses or injuries. The at-fault driver may be held responsible for aggravating these pre-existing injuries.
Recovering Damages After a Car Crash
The damages you may recover after a car crash depend, in part, on the severity of your injuries. As people are humans who are living and have consciousness and can experience the world around them, the law allows them to recover for more than just the “repair bills” (i.e. medical bills). While repair bills alone might be sufficient to cover economic losses or damage to a car, humans are also entitled to recover non-economic losses. Some think of economic losses as losses to the pocketbooks and non-economic losses as losses to the person.
Traditionally referred to as “special damages”, economic losses have a demonstrable exact monetary value such as something you can prove with a receipt or medical bill.
Examples of economic losses:
Most people have some medical expenses after being injured in a car crash. Medical typically expenses include:
- Doctors’ appointments.
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.
- Occupational therapy appointments.
- Cognitive therapy appointments.
- Ambulatory aids.
- Physical therapy appointments.
- Psychological therapy appointments.
- Home health care expenses.
- Nursing home or rehabilitative home costs.
- Hand controls for vehicles.
- Wheelchair ramps or lifts for vehicles.
- Accessibility updates to your home, including but not limited to widened doorways, wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, handrails, special beds and grab bars.
Personal Property Reimbursement
You may recover compensation for repairing or replacing personal property damaged or destroyed in a car crash including your vehicle and anything of value in the vehicle such as computers and cell phones.
Lost Wages and Earning Capacity
Not only could you recover wages and income you lost from the crash and resulting injuries or disability, but you may also recover the loss of future earning capacity. Generally, if your injuries result in long-term or permanent disabilities or you lost a loved one in a car crash, you may recover income that would have otherwise been earned but for the crash and resulting losses.
If your injuries permit you to work part-time or at a job that doesn’t pay as much as your previous occupation, you may recover the loss of partial earning capacity. In some cases, you may recover the difference in your earnings from the time of the crash until you would usually retire.
If a loved one was killed in a car crash, depending on your relationship to the person, you may recover compensation to reimburse you for funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, and specific probate court fees.
Some people who recover non-economic losses have injuries that have resulted in or will result in long-term or permanent disabilities or who lost a loved one in a car crash. Traditionally referred to as “general damages,” non-economic losses cannot be invoiced and a judge, jury or the parties (by way of settlement) will set a reasonable value for such human losses.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of enoyement of life.
- Loss of companionship, love, support, physical relations, advice (for an injured spouse or legal partner).
If you suffered injuries or a loved one was killed in a car crash, contact a competent and experienced car crash lawyer for a free case evaluation as soon as possible. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer.