Do I Need a Lawyer for my Car Accident Case?

Plenty of car accidents happen everyday.  And if you listen to the shouting lawyers on TV, your first call should be to the number in their jingle.  But before you think about calling that TV lawyer (and please, please don’t), it’s worth asking – do I need a lawyer for my car accident case?

There are essentially two types of claims that come from car accidents – property damage and bodily injury.  With a property damage claim, you can expect to be compensated for the damage to your car and other personal property that was damaged in the accident (such as car seats, speakers, and so forth) and loss of use.  In short, the insurance company for the at-fault driver needs to compensate you for the property you lost and provide you with a rental for a reasonable period of time while your car is repaired or you shop for a new one.

The bodily injury claim encompasses most everything else, but particularly medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.  The last term is hard to quantify, but is basically what it sounds like.

The property damage claims are fairly straightforward.  Insurance companies have computer formulas they use to determine what they believe you are owed.  You can sometimes drive the number up by having your car independently evaluated or showing comparable cars for sale, but there is usually very little negotiating room.  In short, a lawyer isn’t much help to you here unless you end up filing a lawsuit.

The bodily injury claim is where a lawyer is much more important, but a lawyer is still not necessary in all cases.  If your injuries are very minimal, it is sometimes not necessary to get a lawyer.  Yes, an attorney likely still adds value to your case, but if the settlement value is low, then it may be that the increase in value does not justify the fee.  For example, let’s say that you were in an accident but were largely uninjured.  To be prudent, you went to the hospital to get checked out, but there were no scans done and your total hospital bill comes to just a few hundred dollars.  Let’s assume for the sake of a number that the insurance company is willing to negotiate with you and pay you $1,200 for your bodily injury claim.

A lawyer will likely be able to increase the settlement, but by how much?  Most personal injury attorneys are paid on a contingency fee of about 1/3.  So, if you hire a lawyer and he or she is able to settle the case for $1,500 rather than $1,200, then you haven’t gained anything.  Rather than walking away with $1,200 you are instead walking away with $1,000 (after the attorney’s $500 fee).

It is worth noting that a lawyer can be of some help in negotiating medical liens in this situation.  However, in general, this case does not seem to justify hiring counsel.  And a good, honest lawyer will tell you that before signing you up.

With that said, I do believe that cases that are above such a low value do warrant representation.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, most insurers seem unwilling to pay out large sums without a lawyer being involved or a lawsuit.  Second, many legal issues come into play that affect the value of the case, such as how to calculate the applicable medical bills.  Third, the amount of the available insurance is very important in assessing the value and you will want a lawyer who knows how to read the policy and obtain the necessary information.  Finally, an experienced lawyer should know what a fair value of the case might be as well as ways to maximize that.

Still not sure whether hiring a lawyer is the right route?  Just ask a good one.