You may end up in an accident at some point in your life. It could be a car or bicycle accident, an incident as a pedestrian, or maybe a slip-and-fall. Hopefully, your accident(s) will be minor and not disrupt your life or cripple your finances. But if it turns out to be serious and someone else’s negligence caused an injury or other damage, you’ll likely want to hire an accident attorney. You shouldn’t have to suffer while the person or entity that brought about your injury continues without consequences.
What is an Accident Attorney?
Accident attorneys, also known as personal injury attorneys/lawyers, seek justice through the form of financial compensation (damages) for any client who has a physical or psychological injury due to the negligent acts of another person, entity, or organization. A personal injury lawsuit is considered civil and/or tort law in the U.S. Tort law means that the negligent act caused harm but not necessarily in an illegal form, as criminal law might. It covers not just accidents but civil or private wrongs or injuries, such as libel, defamation and breach of contract. It is designed to heal the injured party and to caution others from committing similar wrongdoings.
Licensed attorneys who wish to practice as personal injury lawyers must earn a specialty certification from the American Bar Association (ABA). They must be truly invested in the code of ethics, able to exercise compassion and a desire for justice on behalf of their clients, and driven and assertive enough to gather sufficient evidence and advocate for their clients if the case goes to court. The vast majority of personal injury/accident cases are settled before going to trial. Still, a good accident attorney can successfully argue for the highest possible settlement, whether it does or not.
What Does an Accident Attorney Do?
Accident attorneys attempt to secure compensation for their clients’ injury or loss, including but not limited to medical expenses, mental and emotional distress, loss of earning capacity while unable to work, pain and suffering and legal costs. They also develop an intimate knowledge of the tactics used by insurance companies to take advantage of their vulnerable customers and find stipulations in your contract that you will probably miss as you are focusing on recovery.
Accident attorneys, also called plaintiff, trial or litigation lawyers, oversee a case from start to finish, including an appeal to the verdict if necessary. Many will choose a further specialization within the personal injury field, such as hit-and-run accidents.
An accident attorney will thoroughly vet the client and case before accepting it. The lawyer or the lawyer’s firm is generally responsible for financing the case upfront and should only take on cases they believe have a strong chance of winning. Accident attorneys will file lawsuits, gather evidence and obtain documents and information (discovery), formulate theories and a game plan, draft pleadings and motions, research previous similar cases for precedent, and depose/interview witnesses.
Most importantly, the accident lawyer will keep the client informed every step of the way, never go against the client’s wishes, and advise the client on legal and personal matters related to the case. The goal is to settle the matter out of court to relieve the client of that burden, and usually, that goal is achievable. But if the case does go to trial, the accident attorney will fight aggressively and competently in front of a judge on behalf of the client.
Types of Accident Attorney Cases
Because there are so many ways to suffer an accident or personal injury, experienced accident attorneys can take on a large variety of cases but not so many that they get overwhelmed and let the details (or deadlines) fall through the cracks.
As mentioned before, many accident attorneys will choose to specialize even further in an area of particular interest, such as premises liability or motor vehicle accidents. Some of the most common types of cases handled by accident attorneys include:
- Animal bites
- Construction accidents
- Slip and fall
- Wrongful death
- Motor vehicle accidents (including large trucks, motorcycles, airplanes and boats)
- Pedestrian and bicycle injuries
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal injury
- Fire injury
Of course, those are just a few types of accidents handled by personal injury law. Anything that harms a person mentally, physically or emotionally can be considered personal injury.
Do I Need To Hire an Accident Attorney?
The idea of hiring a lawyer after an accident or injury may seem like more work, especially if you’ve never done it before. Finding a good attorney and weighing the potential financial burden can be incredibly stressful.
If your injury or accident is serious enough and/or you suspect your insurance company is lowballing you on the settlement, it’s a good idea to have a knowledgeable accident attorney on your side. An accident attorney has expertise in negotiating with insurance companies. Your insurer may offer you a low settlement and hope you will be too stressed or naive to weigh whether the amount is appropriate. Your attorney will know these bad faith practices very well and can assist you in getting the highest settlement possible.
A personal injury firm can also recommend certain healthcare providers, insurance adjusters and other professionals you may need throughout your accident recovery. Simply selecting one from a list provided by your insurer can result in a doctor or adjuster who will purposely diminish the damage to yourself and your property. It’s unfortunate, but you shouldn’t trust anyone who hasn’t been thoroughly vetted by someone who knows all the tricks – and a good accident lawyer does.
Things To Look For When Hiring an Accident Attorney
When looking for an accident lawyer, your safest bet is to ask your friends and family for recommendations. If they had a positive experience with the firm, likely, you will too. Don’t spend hours calling or meeting with a half dozen attorneys; you’ll get the idea by talking to two or three, and you won’t be wasting valuable time. Once you narrow down a list of candidates, research them online and take advantage of free consultations. You can even call your local Bar Association.
When you sit down with a potential accident attorney, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you want. Any attorney who gets annoyed with you for asking questions – or one who guarantees a settlement and/or says they will not represent you in court – is not the person you want fighting for you. Personal injury lawyers will often accept a case they are not actually prepared to bring to trial and may give it to another firm to receive a referral fee.
Here are some key traits of a good accident attorney:
- Competent and well organized – What is the lawyer’s experience with your specific injury? Has the attorney won a lot of cases? How much time will the attorney have to dedicate to your case? If the attorney seems rushed, the answer is probably not enough.
- Asks thorough questions about every part of the case with genuine concern and answers all of your questions.
- Seems to have high ethical standards and cares about not just the money side but your overall well-being and unique factors (family or work situation, mental and emotional health, etc.).
- Has a good reputation among colleagues and is quick to offer references if you request them.
Perhaps the most important part of finding the right accident attorney for you is listening to your gut. Don’t underestimate the power of your instincts! Keep looking until you find someone you are confident will do their very best to advise you and fight for you until you receive the compensation you deserve.