Many car accident cases settle between insurance companies without either party setting foot inside a courtroom. Therefore, you won’t always need a lawyer to represent you after an accident. However, getting legal representation can increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome if the stakes are high.
Whether you need to hire an accident attorney depends on the details of your case and your personal circumstances. Here are seven crucial questions to consider when deciding whether to hire a lawyer or represent yourself.
Who Is at Fault for the Accident?
You won’t usually need to hire an attorney if the accident wasn’t your fault and the other person admits liability. Generally, the other party (or their insurance company) pays for any losses or suffering you sustained due to the accident if they don’t contest who was at fault.
However, things can get more complicated if the other driver doesn’t admit responsibility or you are both at fault. For example, you may have turned incorrectly, and the other driver may have been using their phone. In these situations, an experienced lawyer can evaluate the circumstances and defend you against a potential lawsuit.
Did You Sustain a Serious Injury?
Often, you can leave your case to your insurance company or represent yourself at small claims court if your car accident didn’t cause any serious injuries. However, high-stakes cases involving potentially substantial compensation amounts are a different matter.
You could incur high medical costs and even lose your income if you sustained serious or life-changing injuries. A knowledgeable attorney can quantify your losses and increase your chances of achieving a settlement that meets your needs. However, bear in mind that even the best lawyers can’t guarantee a specific outcome.
Is There a Reasonable Offer on the Table?
Most of the time, insurance companies can negotiate a satisfactory outcome — especially if your losses are relatively minor. However, the other party’s insurance company may offer a settlement that doesn’t accurately reflect your losses.
If you’ve received an unfair settlement offer, hiring a lawyer could help with your negotiations. Sometimes, indicating that you’re prepared to take the matter to court is enough to change the company’s position. However, it’s essential to ask your lawyer to estimate the likelihood of success and consider the impact of legal fees on any increased payout.
Is the Case Going to Court?
Representing yourself could put you at a significant disadvantage if the case goes through the civil courts, especially if the other party hires an attorney to represent them. Unless you have detailed legal knowledge, you’ll usually find the process and arguments too complex to handle yourself.
A qualified lawyer has the training and knowledge to present your case in the most favorable light. Although paying for representation doesn’t guarantee a win, it can help level the playing field to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Can You Get a Lawyer to Represent You?
Certain circumstances could make getting a lawyer to represent you challenging or impossible. Most attorneys don’t take on cases below a certain value.
Furthermore, many lawyers charge on a contingency fee basis, usually taking between 33% and 40% of any settlement. If your case fails, they don’t get paid. Therefore, you could find it hard to persuade a lawyer to accept your case if your liability argument is tenuous and they believe you have a low chance of success. If you can’t find a willing lawyer, your options are to drop your claim or represent yourself.
Do You Have Time to Represent Yourself?
Negotiating a car accident insurance settlement or personal injury lawsuit takes time and research. If you choose to represent yourself, you’ll need to spend considerable time researching the relevant laws and gathering evidence to support your claim. It will also likely put you at a disadvantage, legally speaking.
Engaging a lawyer can help you avoid most of the legwork and make the experience less stressful. For example, your attorney will know what evidence you need to prosecute your case successfully, such as medical records, details of lost wages and witness reports. They can also generate and file the necessary paperwork on your behalf and deal with the other side’s legal counsel.
Is It Worth Hiring an Attorney?
You won’t usually need to worry about paying an attorney upfront for working on an accident case because most lawyers take their payment from any settlement. This generally applies whether your attorney charges per hour or calculates their fee as a percentage.
On the other hand, it’s worth considering whether you’re prepared to give up a substantial chunk of any settlement. It’s usually worth it in high-stakes cases involving a serious injury or permanent disability. However, if the payout you’re pursuing is relatively small, you may feel comfortable representing yourself and keeping the entire amount if matters go your way.