What Questions Should I Ask My Car Accident Attorney?

By June 13, 2023July 24th, 2023Car Accidents

After a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, when seeking initial treatment for those injuries, most individuals should contact a car accident lawyer to learn more about their claim. Car accident attorneys generally provide potential claimants with a free case evaluation, when the attorney spends either in-person or on the phone with the injured party to learn the details of the accident and to discuss the injured party’s legal options as well as the services that the attorney and their legal team can provide.

The free case evaluation is also a time for the attorney to answer the potential claimant’s questions about their case. When deciding to hire an attorney to assist you as you navigate the car accident claim process, you will want to ask several important questions.

Do I Have a Case?

Personal injury claim form

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), around 5.4 million people seek medical treatment for injuries sustained in car accidents every year. However, not all these injuries will result in a personal injury claim.

To seek compensation for the injury, you must meet minimum criteria:

  • Only adults can file claims. Minors may not file a claim on their own. However, a claim can be filed on behalf of an injured minor by a parent or legal guardian.
  • The accident was someone else’s fault. Personal injury claims are generally filed against the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy. However, it is not uncommon to also seek compensation through your own policies, such as uninsured/underinsured or MedPay coverage on your auto insurance policy.
  • The accident resulted in expenses. If your injury did not cause you to experience a financial loss, such as medical expenses or missed work, it is difficult to obtain compensation.
  • Law enforcement investigated the accident. A police report is an essential piece of evidence needed to prove the claim, and all states have reporting requirements for accidents in which someone is injured.

When you contact a personal injury law firm, a member of the intake team will obtain much of this information from you, as well as the insurance you and the at-fault party have that can compensate your claim. However, your attorney will likely also ask you for additional information about how the accident occurred, whether any witnesses saw it, and the name of the officer who investigated the accident.

What Is Your Experience With Cases Involving Accidents/ Injuries Like Mine?

IBISWorld reports that more than 179,000 licensed personal injury lawyers practice law in the U.S. However, personal injury law is a broad umbrella of different types of cases, and not all personal injury lawyers specialize in car accident claims. Further, not all personal injury lawyers who handle car accident cases have experience handling cases involving certain injuries.

Work with an attorney who has experience handling the kind of accident and injuries that you’re dealing with, as their prior experience will help them better understand the financial and psychological impacts you’re dealing with, how insurance companies handle this type of claim, and the guidance you need as your case goes through the claims process.

How Do You Bill Your Clients for Your Services?

Most personal injury lawyers use a contingency fee billing method. Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains that a contingency fee is an alternative to the fixed-hourly billing method used by other types of attorneys.

With a contingency fee, payment for the lawyer’s services is contingent on a positive outcome to the claim. If the attorney fails to secure compensation for the client through a settlement agreement or court award, the client is not responsible for paying for the attorney’s services and their legal team. However, if compensation is received, the attorney will be paid a percentage of the award amount.

While most personal injury lawyers use a contingency fee billing method, it is important to ask during the free case evaluation if that is how the attorney will bill you. This question also allows your attorney to discuss precisely how the contingency fee works, which is essential information before entering a legally binding contingency fee agreement with them.

What Other Fees Will I Pay?

The contingency fee agreement does not cover all expenses incurred during the claims process. If your lawyer files a legal complaint (lawsuit) on your behalf, the court imposes a filing fee. Additionally, costs are associated with making copies of documents, securing a venue for depositions, and fees for obtaining medical information or the police report.

While an attorney and their legal team may perform these tasks for you, you may need to cover these costs. You need to know upfront what costs the attorney anticipates incurring during the claims process, which ones you must pay, and how the lawyer will bill for those costs.

What Can I Do if I Don’t Have Health Insurance?

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that around 27.5 million non-elderly adults in the U.S. are not covered by a health insurance policy. Without health insurance, an accident can financially devastate someone. In addition, personal injury claims cannot settle until the claimant reaches or doctors feel comfortable predicting maximum medical improvement. This means the treatment you receive for your injury must end before you should seek compensation for that treatment through a claim.

Your car accident attorney can look at your own insurance coverages—including self or employer-sponsored health insurance policies and MedPay or other types of coverage included in your auto insurance policy—to assist you in determining how to afford your medical treatment. Additionally, they can speak with you about having your medical treatment financed through a lien, allowing you to obtain the treatment you need now while waiting to pay for it until you receive compensation on your claim.

Who Will Be Working on My Case? Who Is My Point of Contact?

No one wants to be left in the dark regarding the progress of their claim. Your attorney does not want you left in the dark, either. If you and the car accident lawyer who provides your free case evaluation decide to work together on your claim, you will likely be given names and contact information for the members of your legal team. However, if this information is not readily provided, it is important to ask who your point of contact is so you know who to call if you have questions, need to provide information, or need an update.

What Steps Should I Take to Protect the Value of My Claim?

There are many activities that claimants can engage in that harm their claim’s value, such as:

  • Speaking with insurance providers without their attorney present. Your car accident attorney will likely ask you not to talk with insurance claims adjusters who call you. You should avoid speaking with adjusters on your own because their mission in resolving the claim is opposed to yours. A claims adjuster is tasked with protecting the insurance company’s financial interests by keeping payouts as low as possible. To do this, they often engage in tactics that can doom your claim, such as getting you to agree to provide a recorded statement, accept a lowball settlement, or release your entire medical history to them so they can evaluate the claim. Your attorney will manage communication with the claims adjuster to protect the claim’s value and work on negotiating a fair settlement.
  • Posting about the accident on social media. Many people do not realize this, but if a lawsuit is filed in your case, there is a discovery process. During discovery, the attorneys on both sides have the opportunity to request to see evidence held by the other party. Insurers and their attorneys commonly ask to see any social media posts made by the claimant that are relevant to the case. This includes posts and comments you made about the accident on social media, as well as any photos or posts that show you participating in physical activities that are contrary to the severity of the injuries you suffered. If a request for your social media posts is made through the court, your attorney is obligated to share that information, even if your social media page is set to private. If you delete the messages, you will be asked to explain why.
  • Failing to comply with your doctor’s treatment plan. If you are injured in an accident, taking all medications and attending all scheduled appointments for treating the injury is vital. Not only is this important to your health, but it is also necessary to your claim’s health. If you fail to follow medical advice, an insurance company can argue that you failed to take your own injury seriously and use it as a reason to reduce the amount of the settlement offer they make.
  • Failing to keep receipts and other documents that pertain to the claim. Your attorney will use the information submitted to you or provided by your doctors, employer, and others to determine the value of your claim. Insurance companies will demand to see proof of the costs you incurred as a result of the liability of their insured.

What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of My Case?

While your car accident attorney can’t give you a full assessment of your case during your free case evaluation, they can certainly offer insights into the details that make your case strong and advise on how to handle the weaknesses of the case. Asking for this insight can give you a better understanding of the overall process and the actions you can take to obtain the compensation you need.

How Much Do You Think My Claim is Worth?

Again, your attorney will likely be unable to answer this question entirely during the free case evaluation. As mentioned, car accident lawyers generally will not establish a value to the claim until the claimant has reached maximum medical improvement, which is the point at which it is determined by a doctor that the claimant has likely achieved all meaningful progress in their recovery, even if they were to continue receiving treatment. However, as with asking about the strengths and weaknesses of the case, asking about your claim’s potential value helps you gauge the attorney’s enthusiasm about your prospects. This enables you to develop realistic expectations about the process and its likely outcome.

Another question to ask along this same vein is how long it will take for the claim to settle. Many people are surprised to discover that their claim will not likely be resolved for several months or even a year or more. If the claim doesn’t settle and a lawsuit is filed, a resolution can take even longer. Further, once compensation is awarded through a settlement or a court decision, it usually takes several more weeks for your attorney to receive the compensation on your behalf, settle any liens placed on the award by your medical providers or funders, and finalize the case with you.

You likely will have more questions as you navigate the personal injury claims process. Communicating these questions to your personal injury attorney is essential to obtain the guidance you need.