More than 2.2 million people are injured in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roadways each year, which means around 43 percent of all car accidents result in injuries, and four car accident injuries occur somewhere in this country every minute.
You can find a lot of information about what to do after a car accident, such as moving vehicles from the road, exchanging contact and insurance information with other drivers, and seeking medical treatment for injuries.
Unfortunately, the plethora of information about what should be done after a car accident dwindles after the parties involved have left the scene. If you've been injured in an accident, you will likely have one or more well-meaning people in your life tell you to hire an attorney so you can seek compensation for your injury. However, that advice tends to bring up more questions.
Luckily, car accident attorneys (like all personal injury lawyers) provide free case evaluations. This is a time that you can have to discuss your case with an attorney, obtain answers to your legal questions, and learn more about the critical role an attorney can play in the process of seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury. Beyond that, the case evaluation can serve as a job interview as you look for the right attorney to help you navigate the process.
Here is a look at some questions to ask a car accident attorney you're considering hiring to help you with your case.
What Is Your Legal Specialty?
Brown University lists 21 legal specialty areas. An attorney can specialize in a number of areas. The type of lawyer that can assist you with seeking compensation for injuries incurred in a car accident is a personal injury lawyer. However, it is worth noting that there are several practice areas within the umbrella of personal injury law. Hiring an attorney with experience in personal injury claims and claims involving the expenses and psychological impacts incurred after a car accident is essential.
What Are My Legal Options?
In many cases, there are options for obtaining assistance in covering the expenses of a car accident beyond simply filing a personal injury claim. Unfortunately, in some cases—such as a hit-and-run accident in which the at-fault driver's identity and insurance resources are unknown—another liability source must be determined, or compensation must be sought through a different process. Your attorney can speak with you about other potential avenues available for you, including seeking compensation from your own insurance resources or federal, state, or local programs that can help you cover your expenses.
Are You the Attorney That Will Be Working on My Case?
Because free case evaluations are often used as a form of a job interview where the claimant is determining which attorney they want to assist them, many individuals are dismayed to find that the attorney they met with in the free case evaluation isn't actually the one who will be handling the case. If developing a report with the attorney during the free case evaluation is important in your decision as to whether they're the right legal professional for the job, be sure that the person you're developing a report with will continue working on the case.
How Will You Charge Me For Your Services?
Most personal injury lawyers provide services to their clients via a contingent fee billing method. The contingent fee allows the client to wait to pay for the attorney's services until they recover compensation for their claim, either through outright payment of the claim, a negotiated settlement agreement with the at-fault party's insurance provider, or a court award.
Here is how the contingent fee works:
- When you and an experienced car accident attorney decide to work together on your claim, you will be asked to sign a contingent fee agreement. This legally-binding agreement describes the services the attorney will perform on your behalf and designates a percentage of the compensation received as payment for your attorney's services.
- Once the agreement is in place, your attorney and their legal team will be able to begin working immediately on your claim without requiring an upfront retainer from you. The work can continue without worry about billing you by the hour each time work is done on your case.
- When your claim is resolved, your attorney will receive the compensation owed to you. They will deposit the amount in a trust. From this trust, they will deduct the agreed-upon percentage for their payment. They will also negotiate to settle any medical liens placed on the award by health care providers who treated you or health insurers who covered that treatment.
- The attorney will meet with you to finalize the case. You will be given an accounting of the work performed, the compensation received, and the deductions received. The remainder of the compensation will be turned over to you at this time.
Will You Charge More If the Case Goes to Trial?
Many personal injury attorneys charge a specific percentage for cases settled out of court and a higher percentage if the case goes to trial. This is because the court process involves much more work and preparation than a settlement.
Are There Any Additional Costs I Will Be Responsible For?
While the attorney and their legal team work on a contingent fee basis, there are other expenses involved in the process that you can be responsible for while the case is active, such as:
- Court and filing fees.
- Costs associated with witness depositions, such as hiring a court reporter, providing a venue for the proceeding, and obtaining a transcript of the deposition.
- Costs associated with having expert witnesses such as medical or accident reconstruction professionals testify on your behalfs, such as travel and lodging.
- Obtaining evidence, including copies of medical documentation.
Some attorneys fold these costs into their services; others expect them to be paid as they arise. Understanding how your attorney handles fines and fees associated with your claim is crucial so you can prepare for them.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?
Each state has a personal injury statute of limitations, a deadline by which lawsuits must be filed for the claimant to retain the right to use the court process to seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of an injury they incurred as a result of another's negligence.
For example, in Illinois, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims—including car accident claims—is two years from the injury. However, this time limit can be tolled for various reasons, including injuries involving minors who are barred from filing legal claims until they reach the age of majority. An attorney who has heard and evaluated the facts of your case should be able to quickly answer you about how much time you have to file the claim.
How Many Successful Verdicts Have You Received in Court?
It's important to not only ask the attorney about the experience they have with car accident cases but also to ask them about their litigation track record. Most personal injury claims are resolved through out-of-court settlements, and car accident attorneys are generally quite familiar with the settlement process. Unfortunately, many attorneys will only take cases they think they can settle because they are typically resolved faster and without as much effort.
Having an attorney who is experienced and comfortable with litigation is essential, especially if your claim is one of the rare ones that make it to trial. An attorney who refuses to prosecute a case effectively closes the door on a crucial option for their client to obtain the compensation they need.
What Can I Do to Protect the Value of My Claim?
Car accident insurance claims are assigned to claims adjusters, who are employees of the insurance company tasked with evaluating the claim, interviewing all parties involved, and determining whether the insured was liable and how much compensation is owed to the claimant. They view the claim from the lens of protecting their employer's bottom line, not ensuring that the claimant has the compensation they need.
Because of this, they often engage in some questionable methods for reducing claims, such as:
- Providing a meager settlement offer and telling the claimant that all the money is available and that they won't get another offer if they don't agree to the settlement.
- Convincing the claimant to participate in a recorded interview and then using the claimant's words to indicate that they were liable for the accident or that their injuries weren't as serious as they claimed.
- Convincing the claimant to release their entire medical history, which the adjuster will then pour over in search of pre-existing conditions that will reduce the claim's value.
Attorneys generally prefer to manage communication with the insurance provider to avoid the claim being reduced due to insurance company tactics. They also will generally caution their client to avoid posting about the accident on social media and other actions that can harm the claim's value.
How Many Cases Do You Handle at One Time?
Just as many attorneys only handle cases that they believe will settle, many attorneys also take as many cases as possible to keep a constant income stream. While this can allow the firm to make more money, it often comes to the detriment of a client when there are too many cases for the legal team to focus properly on.
Make sure that the attorney you're considering hiring to assist you with your claim has the time and human resources necessary to fight for your right to the maximum compensation available in your case.
What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of My Case?
While an attorney cannot answer this question in great detail on the initial evaluation, asking them this question can help you gauge their enthusiasm for the task. If there are weaknesses in the case, in many circumstances, there are actions that the claimant and their attorney can take to head off any damage those weaknesses present to the claim's value.
In answering the question, your car accident attorney will likely provide more information about their strategy with such cases, which can help you determine if this is the professional you want to assist you with your claim.
How Will You Update Me About the Progress, and Who Is My Point of Contact?
Communication skills are among the essential qualities of a personal injury lawyer. They're tasked with communicating with their client, helping them understand the process and the decisions they must make about the claim. They're also tasked with communicating with an insurance claims adjuster to explain the injury's severity and aggressively negotiate for a fair settlement offer. If the case goes to court, they are tasked with presenting it to a judge or jury to understand the facts of the case and to justify the value of the claim.
With all this communication, attorneys sometimes fail to update their clients. It is important to know how the attorney handles updates and who your point of contact is with the firm so that you can quickly obtain answers and information about your case.
If a car accident injured you in Chicago, an experienced car accident attorney can help you explore your legal options and answer your questions about your claim. Contact a car accident lawyer near you for your free case evaluation.