How do I know if I have a car accident case?
There is a common misconception about car accident cases that lead some people to believe that an attorney will take any injury case. The truth is, both you and your attorney stand to lose a substantial amount of money and time if the person who hit you is totally responsible for the accident (you can have no fault; see below), and you sustained tangible injuries and losses. These are the first two hurdles that must be met before an attorney will accept your case. Obviously, in some cases who is responsible will be disputed. In those cases, you and our office will investigate on a case-by-case basis. Is the risk versus the reward?
In addition to the above, in order to pursue a successful car accident case, certain criteria must apply before we and most accident lawyers will take on the case. Keep in mind, every lawyer has different opinions and views, and we are only speaking to our experience and review process. Below we discuss five (5) critical components that make for a strong case.
1. “There must be bad damage to my car.”
(Yes, juries have a bias in most cases.)
Sadly, the way the insurance companies and most juries judge the severity of many auto accidents and in turn how badly the victim was injured goes directly to how bad the damage to your car is. If the accident is a fender-bender, the natural way of thinking is, “Mr. Smith could not have been hurt that bad, there is no real damage.” Little damage translates to little injury.” However, the opposite does not always hold true, “the property damage to Mr. Smith’s car is horrific, so he had to be hurt badly.” Based upon our experience, we know how to maneuver around many of these obstacles and biases, but they are a factor we must consider, when deciding the strength of your case and whether we can help you.
2.”I must have significant injuries.”
The answer is: (It depends.)
The more severe your injuries are, the more likely you will have a greater recovery in a personal injury case. The Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC typically handles cases involving medium to severe injuries that result in costly medical bills and other financial losses, such as lost income, and in many cases result in permanent problems or lifetime needs. This could stem from:
- Seemingly mild injuries that nevertheless require months of rest and treatment, such as back and neck problems, which are chronic and just will not go away.
- Serious injuries that require surgery or emergency medical care, such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, bone fractures, disfigurement, severe burns, crushed limbs and internal injuries.
- Injuries that have long-term medical consequences, such as a knee injury that may lead to a knee replacement in 10-20 years down the line.
- Injuries that cause permanent damage or disability, such as chronic pain, loss of use of a limb or paralysis.
The cost of recovery from a significant injury adds up. We generally do not retain cases where there is only property damage, or a medical condition that resolves very quickly (e.g. just a trip to the emergency room, but does not require follow-up treatment or therapy).
Remember, a lawyer’s fee is at least one-third of what you recover, and in some cases, frankly, your net recovery may be less or the same, even if you hire an attorney. That does not mean, do not consult with an attorney first as to what is appropriate for your accident and the value. We will give you the pros and cons.
It’s in our interest to be straight with you and do what’s best for you, the client, not ourselves.
3. “Your injuries must be caused by somebody else’s negligence or fault.”
The answer is: (Yes!)
Just because a person sustains an injury in an accident, does not mean that some other person or entity is responsible. Negligence on the part of someone else is required. By law, it is the failure of the person who caused your injury to act responsibly which causes injury that gives rise to claim for negligence. For example, a responsible person would keep his or her cellphone out of reach and pay attention while driving his/her. A person who is texting and causes a car accident is likely to be found negligent.
No fault on your part: Keep in mind, if your actions played any role at all in your accident or injury, you have no claim. That is the rule of contributory negligence and it serves as complete defense your claim. So, in the example above, even if the other driver is texting, if at the same time, you turn into their path on a red light, you will lose.
4. “Failing to obtain medical treatment within a reasonable amount of time after the accident (days) can harm your injury claim.”
Suppose you sustain whiplash or any injury, after being hit in a rear-end collision. You may notice unusual pain and discomfort days later that did not exist prior to the crash. In principle, this can easily be linked to your rear-end collision. However, it is critical that you see a doctor as soon as possible and get a proper diagnosis close in time to the accident. If you wait too long, the at-fault driver’s insurance company (and their lawyers and doctors) will argue that your pain and discomfort could have nothing to do with the crash, or you are exaggerating your injury because somehow you were not feeling injured at all or enough to go a doctor after the accident, or you did not accept the ambulance EMT’s offer to take you to the hospital at the scene. Even if you cannot get to the doctor immediately, make the appointment right away, so it is on the record!
5. “There must be insurance (or, in some cases, assets) applicable to the injury.”
As the saying goes, “you cannot get blood from a stone.” If there is no money to be recovered from the negligent party in the form of insurance coverage or some other source, then no matter how strong your case is in a legal sense, there is no way to recover compensation. If there is no insurance, then the responsible party better be a person of means or money. This is the reason that in the cases of auto accidents, it is always wise to buy uninsured motorist coverage as a part of your policy. We have seen too many cases where deserving victims are sadly out of luck when it comes to getting fairly compensated, because there is no money available.
What to do to strengthen my case?
Your actions in the immediate aftermath of an accident can significantly affect your legal case. Here is what you should do if you are injured:
- Document the basic details. This should include the date, time, and location of your car accident. It also helps to take pictures of the scene where your incident occurred and car damage using your cellphone if it is safe to do so.
- Speak to witnesses or at least obtain their contact information. Statements made by witnesses can strongly corroborate your claim. It’s no longer your word against the at-fault driver or insurance company’s word. Be sure to ask witnesses what they saw and exchange contact information with them. Many times, this can be found in a police or incident report.
- Promptly report an accident. If you were involved in a car accident, report your crash to the police and your own insurance company.
- Get prompt medical attention. Always see a doctor promptly so your injury can be identified and treated before it gets worse. Even if you feel perfectly fine, pain and discomfort may set in several days after your accident. Getting medical attention not only protects your health but also creates a record of your injury that can later be used to strengthen your claim.
- Speak only to your attorney and medical providers. When pursuing a car accident case, it is critical that you only give statements to your attorney, and of course your doctor as to medical or injury issues. Do not give statements to the other party’s insurance company before consulting an attorney. You should also avoid discussing or posting commentary about your accident or case on social media i.e. Facebook or anywhere the at-fault party’s insurance company will be looking to dig up dirt.
Contact a lawyer for help with your case
If you were hurt in a crash, speak to an experienced lawyer at The Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC in Rockville, Maryland. Our law firm has served injured motorists in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. for nearly two decades. We have helped crash victims and their families recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Contact us online or call us to set up your free and confidential legal consultation.