Vehicular accidents kill and injure many motorists and pedestrians in the U.S. every day, and those who are fortunate enough to survive dangerous auto accidents may suffer personal injuries that leave them with extensive medical expenses, long-term pain and suffering, lost wages and lost future earnings, and sometimes a very changed way of life. Even those who don’t seem badly hurt just after a car crash may discover much later that the wreck has caused serious injuries.
Most motor vehicle accidents aren’t really accidents; it is usually possible to identify one or more people at fault for causing the accident. Vehicular accident attorneys are personal injury lawyers who focus on or specialize in automobile accident claims, and they can assist those injured in car crashes, ensuring that an injured person receives all of the compensation to which he/she is entitled.
“Contingency” Case = FREE Attorney Representation to victims until any money is recovered
Most serious injury attorneys, including most car crash law firms, take these cases on a contingency fee contract basis, meaning that their attorneys fee is a percentage (usually 40%) of any amounts that they recover, so they only get paid if they are successful in obtaining compensation for their clients.
Automobile Insurance Claims: Lawyer Representation at the 1st Step
One of the attorney’s first steps will be to inform the automobile insurance companies and file an injury insurance claim with each insurance company that might cover the accident, including even the injured person’s own insurer. Then, experienced automobile lawyers begin to build a case file to support the theory of liability and the amount of damages claimed, such as:
- Accident reports from police agencies;
- Medical treatment records and medical bills;
- Photographs of the vehicles and the accident scene;
- Witness statements; and
- Legal research necessary to support the claims.
The attorney may request the injured client to consult with medical specialists, who will give written opinions and may later testify as expert witnesses, if necessary, in depositions and court proceedings. In addition, the attorney may employ an accident reconstructionist, a specialist who may review accident reports, visit the accident site, take measurements, or conduct crash tests. He will also issue a written opinion and may testify as an expert witness later.
The attorney will provide all of this information to the insurers. The stronger the case file becomes, the higher the value of the injury insurance claim, and the more likely it is that each insurance company will be convinced to make the highest offer for an injury insurance settlement.
Traditional Liability vs. No-Fault Insurance
Most U.S. states still follow traditional theories of tort liability in auto accident cases. A tort is a non-contractual, civil injury or wrong inflicted on another. Torts can be intentional or negligent, and the person who commits a tort is called a tortfeasor. The theory of recovery in automobile accident cases is negligence, and the insurance claim will be made against both the tortfeasor and his/her liability insurance company.
Negligence means that the tortfeasor has breached a duty of reasonable care owed for the safety of other persons, and the disregard of this duty became a proximate cause of injury to someone.
The breach of duty could be by wrong action, such as running a red light intentionally, or by wrong inaction, such as failing to observe that the light had turned red.
A few states have no-fault motor vehicle insurance laws. Under this scheme, an injured person’s own insurance company will pay a certain amount of the damages, without proof of anyone’s fault. A person with serious injury, as defined by statute, may also make a traditional tort claim against the tortfeasor and his/her liability insurance company to recover excess damages not paid by the no-fault company.
Though states require mandatory liability insurance policy coverage, the policy limits on minimum bodily injury coverage are often not sufficient to cover common medical costs or damages. In addition, some negligent drivers are completely uninsured. A claim must then be made against the injured person’s own carrier, if it has supplied uninsured motorists coverage or underinsured motorists coverage, but unlike no-fault, a case must be made for tort liability.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
In cases where liability is less clear, insurance companies are less inclined to settle automobile accident claims. They may point to the injured person’s contributory negligence, assumption of the risk, or comparative fault, legal defenses that could prevent or reduce recovery of damages.
At that point, the attorney may file a personal injury lawsuit in an appropriate state court or federal court in the venue, or location, where the accident occurred or where one of the responsible parties lives. Even where negotiations are ongoing, he/she absolutely must file such a case before expiration of the statute of limitations, a period set by law within which a lawsuit must be filed or be considered abandoned. It begins to run from the date of the accident, with some exceptions for injured parties who are minors, incapacitated, or institutionalized.
Negligence actions usually carry a one-year statute of limitations. However, many automobile insurance statutes may extend the limitations period for automobile accident claims to two or even three years, to give additional time to gather evidence, to allow medical damages to develop, and to encourage settlement.
The lawsuit will name both the tortfeasors and their insurance companies as Defendants, if the insurance companies have refused in good faith to settle voluntarily, through mediation, or through arbitration. Settlement can still occur during the litigation or even during an appeal, a review of the trial and its results by a higher court with the power to overturn the verdict.
It is highly advisable that anyone injured by a motor vehicle consult a qualified vehicular accident attorney as soon as possible. While a layperson may well decipher the intricate process of filing injury insurance claims and gathering certain evidence for insurance companies, a personal injury trial in an automobile accident case is lengthy and involves presentation of a variety of witnesses, along with evidence in a variety of forms, and cannot be easily conducted by the layperson.
Vehicular Accident Attorneys, Automobile Lawyers, Car Crash Law Firms, Automobile Accident Claims, Injury Insurance Claim