After a car wreck, you know you need to find the best car accident lawyer for your needs, but there are so many to choose from. So, how do you find the best one? You need a car accident lawyer with plenty of experience in settlement negotiations and litigation. You also need a firm that has the resources to back you up and will meet your specific needs.
Before you spend much time looking at a firm, ensure it meets your basic needs. Once you find three or four firms that meet your basic needs, you can flesh out the best firm by finding the answers to specific questions.
Part 1: Basic Needs
Locating the best car accident lawyer involves learning about a firm’s legal practice areas, payment, awards, location, bandwidth, and involvement. All of these factors can affect your case. For example, you don’t want a lawyer who only handles medical malpractice if you need a car accident lawyer.
Even though most car accident lawyers offer virtual means of communication, you might have to go to the office to sign documents. Thus, you want a firm that is convenient for you to get to, especially if you have a stack of documents to drop off or you need to visit the firm for a face-to-face meeting to get ready for an upcoming hearing. Additionally, you need to ensure the attorney is licensed to practice law in the area you need to file a car accident lawsuit.
Legal Practice Areas
Once you find lawyers in a convenient location, the next step is ensuring they have the experience to settle and litigate car accident cases. While an attorney handling contracts or medical malpractice might take a car accident case occasionally, they don’t focus on car accidents. Firms that focus on car accidents know how to support your case and are familiar with federal, state, and local laws on your case. Most firms have a practice area page that shows the types of personal injury cases they handle.
Nothing in life is free, but some things, such as some car accident attorneys, are free for a little while. One of the first things you should look into is how much the attorney expects in compensation and how the firm receives that compensation. Most accident attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning initial case evaluations are free, and you don’t pay unless you win your case.
When looking for the best car accident lawyer, ask them:
- Is the initial case evaluation free?
- How do you charge for representing clients in car accident cases?
- If the case doesn’t settle, how much more do I have to pay to go to court?
- What does the firm include in the fee package?
During the free case evaluation, you can ask questions specific to your case and learn more about your basic rights in a car accident case. You should always choose a firm that represents you on a contingency basis—you pay at the end of your case from the compensation you might receive from the insurance company or a trial verdict. Always make sure the firm is transparent in its pricing.
Awards and Committees
Check to see if the firm received awards and commendations or if the lawyers involved themselves in legal committees. Respected firms and attorneys often receive recommendations from their clients, other attorneys, and businesses. The awards and commendations the firm receives also tell you more about the lawyer’s and firm’s abilities to represent you.
The two big resources you should have concerns about are time and money. Does the firm have the resources to spend on your case? If a firm has too many cases, it may be unable to give your case the time and finances it needs to succeed.
Some of the best firms involve themselves in the community by supporting local non-profits or working with law students. When a firm goes over and above to support the community, it usually means that those same qualities spill over into the firm’s representation of its clients. Community involvement shows that the firm commits to helping those in need.
Part 2: Questions for a Car Accident Attorney
Once you find three or four firms that meet your basic needs, you can start narrowing down the list by asking specific questions. Many car accident cases are similar, but you might have unique requirements. You need an attorney that can meet those requirements and someone you feel comfortable with. Personality conflicts can significantly affect how well a job the attorney does in your case.
Many attorneys post their past auto accident case results on their websites. If an attorney doesn’t post them, this should be one of your first questions. The results show how well attorneys represent clients and how others trust the firm. At least a few million-dollar case results show that others in the community trust the firm with more complex cases, even if those results are not car accident cases. Review the attorney’s case results as a whole to determine whether the attorney puts the time and effort into cases.
Review car accident results to see cases similar to yours, but remember that even if all of the injuries are the same, they will not necessarily affect you the same. For example, someone may have received $700,000 for a case involving traumatic brain injuries, but you could receive more or less, depending on the severity of the brain injury and how you recover from the injury.
As you browse the attorney’s previous cases, see if some are similar to yours. For example, if your doctors believe your injuries will cause long-term or permanent disabilities, you need to ensure the attorney has the experience in handling the complexities of recovering compensation for long-term medical expenses and loss of earning capacity, among other damages.
If you lost a loved one in a car accident, make sure the attorney has experience handling wrongful death claims and negligence claims, as wrongful death claims have unique issues.
Personality and Support
A free initial case evaluation is not only for an attorney to evaluate your case—it gives you an opportunity to evaluate the firm and the lawyer. You need to ensure that you won’t have a personality clash with the lawyer working on your case and that the lawyer and firm can provide the support you need throughout your case. Browsing through the firm’s online reviews can also help you determine whether you will receive the support you need.
Make Sure You Meet the Lawyer Who Will Handle Your Case
Some firms have you meet an attorney who might not be the same attorney handling your case. Ask who will handle your case and, if it’s not the attorney who you are meeting, ask to meet the person handling your case so you can prevent personality conflicts.
You will need to know what to expect and how your case progresses, so you want a firm with excellent communication, whether it’s a short text with an update, a phone call, or a letter. Some firms have better communication than others.
Don’t hesitate to let the attorney know your communication preferences. Also, find out how often the firm will communicate with you about your case and how quickly they respond to questions.
One of the first things most people involved in car accidents want to know is how much their case is worth. It’s impossible for an attorney to make such a guess without investigating the case and reviewing your medical records. The attorney can, however, tell you what cases similar to yours won.
The value of your case depends on several factors, including the severity of your injuries and whether the defendant’s behavior was negligent, grossly negligent, or intentional. It also depends on your recovery process. While one person might recover fully from a certain injury, another person with the same injury may never recover fully.
Car Accident Injuries
Accident injuries depend on several factors, including the size of the vehicle, the speed of the vehicles, and how the other vehicle hits yours.
- Cuts, scratches, scrapes, bruises, bumps, and punctures.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Ear injuries, including deafness.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and crush injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Lung injuries from inhaling smoke or chemicals.
- Road rash.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
The damages you recover depend on the extent of your injuries and whether the court deems the defendant’s actions or inactions as negligence or gross negligence. You could recover compensatory damages through economic, non-economic and punitive damages.
Most people recover compensatory damages in the form of economic damages.
Generally, to recover non-economic damages, you must have lost a loved one or have injuries that cause long-term or permanent disabilities. While each insurance company might have its own definition of long-term or permanent disabilities, the Social Security Administration defines them as ending your life or lasting longer than 12 months.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and include:
- Medical expenses such as doctor’s appointments, surgeries, follow-up appointments, ambulatory aids, prescription medications, and prescribed over-the-counter medications and equipment.
- Cognitive therapy appointments.
- Occupational therapy appointments.
- Psychological therapy appointments.
- Physical therapy appointments.
- Home health care, nursing home care, and/or rehabilitative home care.
- Accessibility updates for your home, including but not limited to widened doorways, wheelchair ramps, handrails, and grab bars.
- Accessibility updates to your vehicle, including but not limited to wheelchair ramps and lifts, and hand controls.
- Replacement or repair of personal property destroyed in the accident.
- Loss of income and loss of future earning capacity.
- Death-related expenses, including funeral expenses, burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court fees, and probate attorney’s fees and costs.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have an objective monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make lifelong changes such as taking prescriptions and using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or attend family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium of you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight or hearing.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as an arm or foot.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, including but not limited to lawn maintenance, grocery shopping, home repair and maintenance, and house cleaning.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
While it takes longer to obtain punitive damages because of the bifurcated (two-part) trial, it is often worth it, especially if your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities. You must recover compensatory damages to recover punitive damages. You must also prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional since the court orders punitive damages as a punishment for the defendant.
Contact a personal injury lawyer for a free case evaluation if you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car crash.