Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
A Guide to When you can Handle your Own Personal Injury Car Accident Claim
Car accidents are never convenient and always result in stress and time away from your work and family. After the shock of the accident wears off, you have many issues to face from dealing with your damaged vehicle to getting appropriate medical care. If there is no dispute about whose fault the accident is, you may not need to hire an attorney and may be able to handle your own claim. This is an informational guide only and every case is different and must be evaluated on its own merits.
PROPERTY DAMAGE CLAIM
After an accident, you are immediately confronted with issues of transportation. Is your car drivable? Is it repairable or is it a total loss? Will the insurance company provide me with a rental vehicle while my car is being repaired?
Normally, property damage claims are handled easily and quickly, although sometimes there may be a delay if the insurance company needs to take statements from the parties involved or the witnesses. If the insurance company asks to take your statement, then you need to consult with an attorney first to be sure you know your rights before giving a recorded statement.
As a general rule, a vehicle is a total loss and will not be repaired if the cost of the repair exceeds 75% of the fair market value of the car. If you owe more than the vehicle is worth, then you will be responsible to pay off your vehicle loan unless you have gap coverage to pay off the loan amount owned after payment of the total loss. To receive a fair total loss settlement, you will need to research how much vehicles comparable to yours are being sold for in the 100-mile radius of your home. The insurance company normally hires an independent company to prepare a total loss valuation upon which they base their offer, and the total loss offer will need to include sales tax and license tag fees. You can certainly negotiate with the adjuster, but unless the valuation report fails to account properly for the condition of your vehicle or its upgrades, for example, custom wheel rims, then the insurance company will likely stick to its valuation offered. Please see our earlier blog on Property damage.
Loss of use claims can also be handled without hiring an attorney. The insurance company is responsible for providing you with a rental vehicle or paying you the average cost of a rental vehicle for the time your car is being repaired or for a reasonable time after the total loss is offered. Likewise, if you have receipts for transportation, save these and submit them to the insurance adjuster. If your car was towed and stored, then be sure the insurance company pays for these expenses.
CAUTION: When you resolve your property damage and loss of use claims, the insurance company should not ask you to sign a general release of claims. Be sure you do not sign any release of claims if you have any open claims for unreimbursed property damage or personal injury claims. If you have any concerns about what the insurance company is asking you to sign, then consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Generally, minor soft tissue injuries, such as strains or contusions, with only one or two visits to a doctor or hospital, can be settled by dealing directly with the liability insurance company. You would need to obtain a copy of your medical records and bills and provide them to the insurance adjuster. The insurance adjuster may ask you to sign a medical authorization release for obtaining your records directly from your medical providers but be careful because often these authorizations are overbroad and not limited in time or scope. An overbroad authorization may give the insurance company access to your past medical records, which may contain irrelevant and personal information you would rather not share with the adjuster.
One source of recovery for reimbursement of your medical bills is the medical payment (“Med Pay”) coverage under your automobile insurance policy. Med Pay coverage is listed under your Declarations of Coverage page of your automobile insurance policy. You will need to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident to report the accident and set up a claim for your med pay coverage, and potentially uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage depending upon the circumstances of the accident and your injuries.
Lost wages for time out of work caused by your injury are recoverable at your gross wage amount before taxes are deducted. You will need to provide proof of your employment with either paycheck stubs or tax returns. If you are out of work for more than two weeks, then we recommend hiring a personal injury attorney to help with your claim.
Serious injuries requiring hospitalization, extensive treatment, and/or surgery, are claims normally best handled by a personal injury attorney. This is because you will have claims for pain and suffering, and potential claims for permanent impairment and future medical bills. There is no formula in North Carolina for determining how much your case is worth, and it will depend on several factors. Also, if the other driver’s conduct was grossly reckless, willful, or wanton, such as driving drunk, extreme speeding, or racing, then you may be able to make a claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages meant to punish the defendant for grossly negligent, reckless, willful, and wanton misconduct that endangered your life. An experienced personal injury attorney will have knowledge and experience in handling serious and severe injury cases and can better advocate for a fair settlement on your behalf.
If you settle your claim without the assistance of an attorney, then you will want to be sure that the insurance company pays all liens, such as unpaid medical bills and all health insurance liens. Failure to properly resolve your liens could result in claims being made against you after your case is settled for unpaid bills or unsatisfied health insurance liens. Please see our earlier blog on medical liens. Because medical lines can be complicated, it is normally best to hire a lawyer to handle your claim if you have an expensive hospital bill or ambulance bill. An experienced personal injury attorney can help negotiate your liens after the case resolves.
By now after reading this guide, you can tell there are many stressful issues you will face if you decide to handle your own claim. Hiring an attorney will remove this stress from you, and attorneys can normally help guide you through your recovery and give helpful advice on how to handle bill collectors until your claim settles. Additionally, your attorney may be able to recommend a physician or chiropractor who can treat you on a lien basis if you cannot afford your co-pays or have no health insurance. Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney will result in less stress for you and allow you to focus on your recovery and getting better. Most personal injury attorneys work on a percentage contingency fee, meaning that they do not recover a fee until and unless your case settles or resolves by jury trial. The contingency fee is a percentage of the gross recovery.
Experience matters, and at Grimes Yeoman, PLLC, we offer free case evaluations to help guide you through the process of deciding whether hiring an attorney would be in your best interest as opposed to trying to handle your own claim.
*Disclaimer: This guide is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.