Why You Need an Experienced Lawyer to Negotiate Your Car Accident Claim

Auto Accident

By David Carnes, Staff Writer

Car accidents are among the most common reasons for personal injury claims. Although you might just want to work directly with the insurance adjuster or represent yourself in small claims court over a fender bender that involves minor property damage, a skilled car accident lawyer is a near-necessity if you or someone else is seriously injured. Representing yourself, even at the settlement table, is generally not a good idea because car accident cases can be deceptively complex. Following are some examples of that complexity.

Determining Who Was at Fault

The contents of a police report are not the final word on which driver caused a car accident. Even if the police report favors you, the defendant might still be able to successfully dispute it with eyewitness testimony or accident reconstruction by an expert. The defendant might also be able to successfully claim that you were partially at fault for the accident, in which case your damages could be reduced (or even eliminated in some states).

Determining Long-Term Damages

Negotiating a car accident settlement will only help you so much if your settlement turns out to be inadequate to cover your losses. If your injuries are long-term, you will need to calculate your long-term damages with care:

  • Medical expenses: A serious car accident could leave you with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, broken bones, missing limbs or other serious injuries. Since the full extent of these injuries might not fully manifest themselves before the statute of limitations for your claim expires let alone while you are negotiating a settlement, you will need help to accurately estimate your long-term medical expenses so that you don’t run out of money years or even decades after your accident.
  • Lost work time or loss of career: If your injuries have affected your occupation, you will need to accurately estimate your long-term lost income. This can be surprisingly tricky -- even something as simple as an arthritic thumb (which might not manifest itself until years after your accident) could ruin your career if, for example, you are a dentist or if your job otherwise requires fine motor skills.
  • Psychological damages: You are entitled to compensation for your physical suffering and for any mental anguish that might accompany your injury such as the loss of ability to exercise or have sex. Although these kinds of damages are inherently difficult to quantify, they are important because they frequently amount to several times the amount a victim recovers for medical expenses and lost work time combined.

If You Have to File a Lawsuit

In some cases it is necessary to file a lawsuit to pressure the defendant to settle with you or to keep your claim alive when the statute of limitations deadline is approaching. Lawsuits (outside of small claims court) are subject to strict procedural requirements. Although the procedural requirements for personal injury lawsuits differ from state to state and between federal and state courts, the major features are similar in every jurisdiction:

The Rules of Civil Procedure: The rules of civil procedure cover in detail everything from how to file your initial complaint to how you take testimony from a witness. Unlike small claims court, you will not be able to benefit from simplified rues designed to accommodate non-lawyers who are representing themselves.   

The Rules of Evidence: The rules of evidence vary slightly from state to state and can be quite arcane in any state. If, for example, you were injured on a one-car accident caused by uneven payment in a road maintained by a shopping mall, you generally cannot use the shopping mall’s repair of the condition as evidence that there was something wrong with it in the first place (because the law does not wish to discourage defendants from repairing dangerous conditions).

If you have been injured in a car accident, take advantage of our lawyer search function to locate an experienced auto accident lawyer in your area. 

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