How an Attorney Can Help With Your Car Accident Claim

The right lawyer can be key in getting the best outcome for your car accident claim.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been injured in a car accident, you might be wondering exactly how an attorney can help you. In this article we'll cover what a car accident lawyer brings to the table, including:

  • organization and analysis of key evidence and records
  • a network of investigators and experts who can help strengthen your case, and
  • negotiation skills that will get the best outcome for your car accident claim.

What Will My Car Accident Lawyer Do?

While much depends on the specifics and the complexity of your car accident case, in general a lawyer can:

  • communicate with the other driver's insurer
  • obtain the necessary evidence with respect to fault for the accident
  • organize your medical records and bills
  • communicate with your health care providers to obtain missing records
  • work with your doctors to make sure they provide the medical information you need so that you can prove damages in your claim
  • organize and present the evidence in order to prove liability and damages
  • negotiate with lien holders on your claim (such as health, disability, or workers' compensation insurers) to potentially reduce the amount of those liens, and
  • negotiate a satisfactory settlement with the insurance adjuster or defense attorney.

Let's look at a couple of these things in-depth.

Your Lawyer Will Communicate With the Other Driver's Insurer

In any personal injury case, your lawyer will open up a line of communication with the insurance adjuster for the other driver (or other parties) involved. The adjuster has the pocketbook, and so it's critical for a plaintiff's lawyer to have good communications and a good relationship with the adjuster.

Your Attorney Will Gather the Right Evidence of Car Accident Fault

A good lawyer can help obtain all the evidence you'll need to prove liability in a car accident claim. Although you may have already taken photographs of the accident scene, your lawyer will probably go back to the scene him/herself to see what it looks like. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, actually seeing the scene can be worth a thousand pictures.

The lawyer will make sure to get all of the accident or police reports in the case and will often speak with the investigating police officers and witnesses. A good lawyer will leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting their hands on evidence of car accident liability. Learn more about proving fault for a car accident.

Establishing Your Car Accident Losses ("Damages")

This is where a good lawyer can be essential to your case, especially when you've suffered significant car accident injuries, and you need to document the nature and extent of your compensable losses ("damages" in the language of the law).

Obtaining Car Accident Medical Records

It's critical to obtain all documentation related to your injuries, but it isn't always easy to get your hands on those records and bills from health care providers. Although the records are technically yours, and you have an absolute right to them, sending medical records to patients and lawyers just isn't a health care provider's first priority.

Small doctors' offices may not have the staffing or the time to respond to medical record requests on a timely basis. Large hospitals may have specific procedures that must be followed in order to respond to medical record requests. If you don't follow their procedures (which they often don't publicize very well), they simply won't respond to your request.

Then, when the health care provider does respond to the request, the records may be incomplete. Any lawyer's secretary or paralegal will tell you that they often have to request the same records more than once, and they may have to follow up numerous times with the provider's office.

Making Sure Your Car Accident Medical Record Picture Is Complete

It may turn out that the doctor did not use the "magic words" as to critical issues like causation, prognosis, and disability in their notes. In order to successfully prosecute most types of personal injury claims, you must be able to prove, through medical evidence:

  • exactly what your injury, disability, or physical limitation is, and
  • that it was caused by the defendant's negligence.

Doctors often don't mention causation and the extent of a patient's injury or disability in their medical records. If this happens in your case, your lawyer will write the doctor and ask for a special letter in which the doctor gives their opinion that:

  • the accident caused your injury or disability and
  • as a result of the accident, you'll be limited or disabled for a specific period of time.

Negotiating With Lien Holders

If you received benefits from a health, disability, or workers' compensation insurer, that insurer will have a lien on your claim. A lien means that the lien holder gets paid before you do, out of any settlement or judgment you receive.

A good lawyer will work to get the lien holder to reduce its lien. This is important work. Every dollar less that the lien holder takes is one more dollar that goes into your pocket. Learn more about health care provider liens on personal injury settlements.

Negotiating With Insurers/Defendants

Car accident settlement negotiation is a very specific skill. Some might even call it an art. A personal injury lawyer is always going to be far better at settling a car accident case than a layperson would be. A good lawyer knows how much the case is worth and knows how to work the case and conduct the negotiations in order to arrive at the best outcome for the client.

How to Find the Best Car Accident Attorney

When you're looking for a car accident lawyer's help, it's often best to start by asking friends, family, and colleagues whether they can recommend a particular legal professional. Conducting an online search is also a good way to start. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • the attorney's experience (with personal injury cases in general, and with car accident injury cases in particular)
  • the attorney's ratings from reliable online resources
  • other information about the attorney you can find online (including membership in organizations, awards/honors, and publications), and
  • the proximity of the lawyer's office to you, plus any other practical considerations.

Deciding to Hire a Car Accident Attorney

Whether the attorney represents you is your decision as much as it is the attorney's. You need to find an attorney you feel comfortable with, and who you can trust. You also want to ensure your attorney will effectively and capably represent your legal interests.

A few questions to consider:

  • Does this attorney have experience handling car accident cases like yours?
  • How much trial experience does this attorney have? Most car accident cases settle. But in order to obtain the best outcome possible, your attorney must have the ability to take your case to trial and win.
  • Who will actually handle the case? Some attorneys may give the impression that they'll handle every aspect of your case, but many have associates handle most of the day-to-day tasks, with your attorney stepping in only when there's a trial or during settlement negotiations.
  • What is the attorney's legal fee and who pays for litigation costs? As mentioned above, most car accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, but you'll want details on how and when case costs deducted.

If you decide to hire an attorney, you'll need to sign a fee agreement, representation agreement, or some other document formally establishing the attorney as your legal representative. You'll likely also need to sign other documents, such as medical releases, which will allow your attorney to access your treatment records on your behalf.

When Can I Handle a Car Accident Claim Myself?

If you weren't hurt all that badly, if you're comfortable gathering necessary evidence and documents, and (most importantly) you're ready and willing to engage in the settlement negotiation process, you can certainly handle your car accident claim yourself. But there's really no substitute for a skilled legal professional's help.

If you do decide to handle your car accident claim yourself, it's normal to run into a few bumps along the way. But it might make sense to discuss your situation with a lawyer if you find yourself at a dead end; for example, if the insurance company:

  • is refusing to accept that its insured driver was at fault for the crash
  • is denying that there is any coverage for your claim
  • won't offer you anything close to what you think your claim is worth, or
  • simply doesn't seem to be taking your claim seriously.

Your Next Steps After a Car Accident

When you've been involved in a car accident, it can be tough to understand your options, and what to expect. A number of initial questions are crucial, including:

Getting a fair settlement starts with understanding the insurance claim process. Learn more about:

If you're ready to begin your search for a legal professional who can help you get the best result for your car accident case, get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.

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