Why and When to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer

When to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer – Allen Accident Law Fort Collins COIf you have been involved in a car accident hiring a personal injury lawyer can make a big difference in how much settlement money you eventually recover.

Why should you hire a car accident lawyer?

When you are involved in an auto collision, you have two choices on how to proceed:

  1. Try to handle your case on your own and deal directly with the at-fault driver’s car insurance company; or
  2. Hire an experienced personal injury attorney.

There are no disadvantages to hiring an experienced car accident lawyer. However, there are great disadvantages in hiring a lawyer who has a general practice and does not specialize in auto collision and motor vehicle cases.

I have seen non-specialist attorneys in personal injury law make big mistakes and would highly discourage you from hiring your family lawyer or a general lawyer.

Here are the main advantages of hiring a car accident lawyer

1. Personal Injury lawyers understand the correct statute of limitations for different types of personal injury cases 

If you have been injured in a car crash, under Colorado law, you have a three (3) year statute of limitations. This means that you have three years from the date of your car accident to settle your case or to file a lawsuit.

If you do not settle or file your case within three years, then your case is lost forever and you cannot go back in time to try to resolve your case.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

Statute of Limitations is a fancy legal term that means the amount of time that you have to either settle your case or bring a lawsuit. I will use an example for clarification. Let’s say you are injured in a car accident on January 5, 2020. By Colorado law, automobile accidents have a 3-year statute of limitations. In other words, your attorney must settle your case with the at-fault driver’s insurance company by January 5, 2023. If your attorney is not able to settle your case by January 5, 2023, then he must file a lawsuit on your behalf in order to toll the statute of limitations. If a lawyer does not settle or file a lawsuit within those 3 years, then he could be sued for legal malpractice (for the value of your injury case). The statute of limitations can vary state by state. For example, in Florida, the statute of limitations for car accidents is longer than what we have in Colorado. In Florida, one has 4 years to settle or bring a lawsuit in a car accident case. So, Florida gives you one more year than Colorado.

Under Colorado law, you have three years from the date of your car accident to settle your case.

Colorado has time limits or statute of limitations for filing various types of cases and civil court actions. Mostly, the time limits for civil court actions are generally from one to three years. Colorado, with regard to personal injury and property damage claims, allows an extra year, so three total years if a car or motor vehicle case is the subject of the claim.

Here is a simple chart stating the time limit to file your case or settle your case in Colorado:

Injury to PersonYou have 2 years in a general personal injury case (like a slip and fall) and 3 years in a car, motorcycle, truck or other motor vehicle type accident.
Libel/SlanderIf you believe someone has committed libel or slander, then you have 1 year to settle your case or to file a lawsuit.
FraudFor a fraud case, you basically have 1 year.
Injury to Personal PropertyIf this is from the use or operation of a motor vehicle, then you have 3 years.
Professional MalpracticeYou have 2 years from the day you discovered medical malpractice or fault of a doctor, hospital, clinic, etc.
Trespass2 years.
Collection of Rents6 years.
ContractsDepending on the type of breach, you have 2-3 years to bring an action.
Collection of Debt on Account6 years.
Judgments
Judgments

Thus, according to the above chart, you can find out what particular case you have and what time limits you must abide by. As I said previously, these are strict time limits and are almost always followed by the courts (although there are some exceptions in tolling the statute or extending the time limits). I will not get into the exceptions at this point and will save that for another legal article.

2. A skilled car accident attorney can help you find and deal with insurance issues

An insurance company will be involved in almost all car accidents. Why is this? Because most drivers comply with mandatory state laws that require everyone to purchase certain minimum levels of car insurance. Sometimes a driver is involved in an accident and either doesn’t have insurance or let his auto insurance lapse. That poses great difficulties for an injured claimant as there is no bodily injury coverage to assert your claim. In this situation, you can always assert an uninsured motorist claim against your very own car insurance and it will be absolutely necessary if you are injured.

When it comes to finding the applicable auto insurance, usually from the at-fault driver, an experienced accident lawyer is well trained in finding the right insurance to cover your injuries.

  • A good accident lawyer will begin with the auto insurance information listed on the official accident report. Normally, the accident report will list the insurance carried by all drivers involved in the accident. But some drivers might show the police insurance that has not been paid for or has expired. So, the motor vehicle accident report is only a starting point.
  • The next step is for the attorney to call all the motor vehicle insurance companies listed on the motor vehicle accident report. The attorney will find out from each insurance company whether the insurance is still valid and in effect.
  • A good accident lawyer will contact the at-fault driver and ask him or her to provide all auto insurance that they own and whether or not he or she has an Umbrella policy. An umbrella policy acts like an umbrella on a rainy day. It will cover you for more liability coverage than is stated on your car insurance policy. So, if you have $100,000 in bodily injury coverage and then purchase an Umbrella policy for say $500,000, then an injured party can seek a total of $600,000 (but of course the injuries need to be very severe to have a case for $600,000).

Definition of Umbrella Insurance:

Here’s a definition from Investopedia: “An umbrella insurance policy is liability coverage that goes beyond the limits of the insured’s home or auto policy. It provides an additional layer of security to those who are at risk of being sued for damages to other people’s property or injuries caused to others in an accident. It also protects against libel, vandalism, slander, and invasion of privacy. An umbrella insurance policy is very helpful when the insurance owner is sued and the dollar limit of the original policy has been exhausted. The added coverage provided by liability insurance is most useful to individuals who own a lot of assets or very expensive assets and are at significant risk of being sued”.

Source: Investopedia “Umbrella Insurance Policy”
https://www.investopedia.com/terms/u/umbrella-insurance-policy.asp

A well-experienced personal injury attorney will look and explore all insurance policies that could provide coverage for your particular car accident. It is extremely important to find all insurance policies that may provide insurance coverage for the relevant type of car accident and the particular facts of each case.

  • Some auto accident lawyers will hire private investigators or use sophisticated software programs to locate all applicable insurance policies.
  • Your auto accident lawyer will need to look for insurance coverage from your insurance policy, too. For example, we would look for any Medical Payments (Med Pay) coverage on your policy as well as whether or not you purchased Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage. This is very important coverage if the at-fault driver has no auto insurance or has a very small bodily injury liability coverage. Insurance coverage can be very tricky, s it is extremely important that you hire an experienced car accident lawyer.
  • Your auto accident attorney will initiate your claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. He does this by calling the at-fault driver’s insurance company and reporting the facts of the claim to the claim’s department that handles the jurisdiction of Colorado. Sometimes, the at-fault driver has already reported the claim to his or her auto insurance company.
  • The claim’s department will then assign an individual claim’s adjuster to handle the property damage/car damage claim and usually someone else to handle the injury aspects of your accident. Oftentimes, these will be two different adjusters or sometimes the same adjuster will handle both the property damage claim and the personal injury claim.
  • After an insurance company’s claim’s adjuster is assigned, he or she will begin investigating whether or not their insured driver was the cause of the collision. If the insurance company adjuster determines that their insured driver was at fault, then they will admit liability (fault) to your lawyer. If the insurance company adjuster determines that their insured driver was not at fault, then they will completely deny your claim and close your file.
  • A skilled car attorney will monitor the claims adjuster’s moves on your case and will discuss liability, medical records, medical bills, causation of injuries and treating doctors. This is usually done by phone, email or fax. It is important that your lawyer consistently report the facts and any changes in your injuries, immediately to the applicable claims adjuster.
  • A good car accident lawyer will try to find out the dollar amount of the at-fault driver’s bodily injury coverage. A lot of insurance companies will tell your attorney the limits of the Bodily Injury Insurance, so your attorney knows the limits of a settlement, but sometimes they will not tell your attorney the limits of their insured’s bodily injury insurance.
  • I can usually get the claim’s adjuster to admit whether it is a state minimum policy ($25,000 is the Colorado state minimum). Every driver in Colorado is required to carry at least $25,000 in Bodily Injury coverage, which coverage is designed to provide settlement monies in your case. Of course, the amount of settlement depends on the severity of your injuries, time lost from work and the opinions of your treating doctors.
  • Finally, an experienced lawyer will gather all your medical records, medical bills, liability evidence of the accident, all proof of damages and then will make a final pre-suit settlement demand to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. I usually give 20-30 days for the insurance company to provide an acceptable pre-suit settlement offer.
  • If you do not like the final pre-suit settlement offer from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, then your only option to get more money is to file a lawsuit in the applicable county of Colorado. Lawsuits are risky, so it is best to have a strategy session with your lawyer to determine the benefits and risks of proceeding with a lawsuit. In minor injury cases, it may not be worth it to file a lawsuit because lawsuits can be quite costly and time-consuming. This is a decision you will make jointly with your car accident attorney.
  • Some attorneys may advise you to take the insurance companies’ final pre-suit settlement offer as it may not be worthwhile financially to proceed with a lawsuit (due to costs, increased attorney’s fees and time-consuming and expensive litigation). Other attorneys may say, “let’s file a lawsuit in an attempt to get the insurance company to increase their settlement offer”. This tactic works sometimes and other times the insurance company will merely hire an insurance defense attorney to defend your case which will prolong any possible settlement.

3. A good personal injury attorney will prove your auto collision case

  1. An experienced car accident attorney will be able to prove Liability (which is a legal term for “fault”). Attorneys know how to prove fault and know how to gather the evidence to prove that the other driver was at fault. Fault is something very difficult for you to attempt on your own, so better to leave this in the hands of an experienced attorney.
  2. Next, your attorney will prove that your injuries were caused by the subject car accident. Again, it is better to leave these legal elements in the hands of your attorney as your attorney will know the correct case law and medical evidence to prove that your injuries were caused by the force and impact of the crash. Photos and damage estimates of both vehicles involved in the car crash can help demonstrate the forces on your body and resulting injuries.
  3. Finally, an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to prove your damages. Damages are the monetary value or settlement value of your case. Lawyers will prove your damages through medical evidence (medical records, medical bills) and testimony from your treating physicians. Damages are the final key to proving how much money you should get according to the arguments and evidence that your attorney puts forth.

4. A good car accident attorney will know when to settle your case

A skilled personal injury attorney will advise you on every settlement offer made by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. For example, if the insurance company offers $10,000 and that just barely covers your medical bills, then your attorney will advise you not to settle at that amount and will make continuing arguments as to why your case is worth more than that amount.

Your attorney will advise you to decline the offer and will advise you on the next settlement offer that you should make. Negotiating settlements is a little like buying a car. Your attorney will make an offer that will be accepted or declined. If it is declined, your attorney will continue pushing and making further settlement offers until a compromise is reached.

A compromise usually involves accepting a little less than you want and the insurance company paying a little more than they want. This is negotiation!

If a settlement is reached, then the insurance company and your attorney will jointly draft a Release of all claims and spell out the terms of the settlement. Then, a settlement check will be sent to your attorney.

In Colorado, your attorney is required to put all settlement funds temporarily in an attorney trust account mandated by the Colorado Bar. From that trust account, you will be paid your share of the settlement monies after accounting for attorney’s fees and any outstanding medical bills and/or liens on your case.

An experienced car accident attorney will deal with all liens on your case at the time of settlement. For example, if your health insurance company paid any of your medical bills, then they will have a negotiable lien on your settlement money for the amount of your medical bills that they paid out.

If you have Med Pay coverage which pays some of your medical bills, under Colorado law, your insurance company does not get paid back what they have paid for your medical bills. Med Pay coverage is all to your benefit and there are no liens. Clients who have Medicaid and Medicare which may have paid some of your medical bills will also place a lien on the settlement money. This is mandated by Federal Law and helps to keep these federal programs running. If you ignore these liens, then you can be sued and even face the potential of criminal and civil charges. Therefore, one should never ignore valid liens.

Attorney’s Fees: make sure you find an experienced car accident attorney that will work for you on “contingency”. 

Personal injury lawyer fees are almost always based on “contingency”. The contingency is your lawyer recovering money for you. If your attorney does not recover a settlement or money for you, then you owe him nothing for attorney’s fees. You may still be responsible for any costs or expenses that your lawyer has advanced on your behalf, like the cost of obtaining your medical records/bills and/or cost of copies, postage, faxes, etc.

If your attorney does recover money for you, then the “contingency” kicks in and your lawyer will be paid a certain percentage of the total settlement obtained.

Most Colorado lawyers charge anywhere from 33% to 40%. Allen Accident Law only charges one of the lowest contingency fees in Colorado. I am very proud of that and am very happy that I can put more money in my clients’ pockets than most other attorneys.

Attorney contingency fees are thus very simple and designed to help clients that can’t afford to pay hourly fees to an attorney. It is simple because when I settle your case, I merely receive a percentage of the gross settlement. If for some disastrous reason I cannot settle your case, then you owe me absolutely nothing.

Allen Accident Law only charges one of the lowest contingency fees in Colorado.

5. You only have one chance to prove your case and damages

If you try to represent yourself in court or in settlement negotiations with the insurance company, then you are opening yourself up to many issues and probable, permanent mistakes. This is why it is always in your best interests to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer who will not make mistakes and will fight for your rights.

Many have heard the expression that only a fool represents himself. I’m an experienced car accident attorney with more than 22 years of experience. But if I was injured in an accident, I would hire another experienced auto accident lawyer.

You never want to try to handle your case alone as there are so many procedural rules, case law, court regulations, etc., and one mistake on any of this could cost you your entire case.

An experienced personal injury attorney can get a much higher settlement than you could on your own. Insurance companies do not have any fear of dealing with injured people, but they do fear dealing with experienced attorneys. Why? They know that a personal injury attorney has the power to file a lawsuit against them or their insured and that fact keeps them on high alert. Insurance companies would rather pay out on legitimate claims than face the uncertainties of a jury verdict.

Some statistics point to the fact that attorneys get much higher settlements than normal people. Attorneys can usually get 3-10 times more settlement money than a normal, injured non-attorney. This is a very significant difference when it comes to the final settlement amount. Even though you can represent yourself, it is not recommended as the insurance company will take advantage of the fact that you are not represented.

Attorneys can usually get 3-10 times more settlement money than a normal, injured non-attorney.

When should you hire a car accident attorney?

This is a simple one. You should hire an experienced car accident attorney at the beginning of your case.

Why?

An attorney will advise you on the best legal strategies from the very beginning of your case and all the way until the end of your case.

Attorneys can make sure that you do not get contacted by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Insurance companies will try to get your recorded statement before you hire an attorney. Adjusters are trained to mislead and gather information from you that will hurt your case and benefit the insurance company’s bottom line (money.)

If you hire an attorney at the beginning of your case, he can make sure you get the proper and appropriate medical care, depending on your injuries. Experienced attorneys know which medical specialists you should see based on your different injuries. Some doctors will not treat those injured in a car accident because they do not want to get involved in litigation. Therefore, at times, it can be difficult to find a good treating physician.

If you hire an attorney from the beginning of your case, he can advise you on where the money should come from to pay your medical bills. Should it come from your own med pay coverage, health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare?

An experienced car accident attorney will advise you on case strategy and how to properly achieve the best results for your individual situation.

Conclusion

Try to hire an attorney from the time of your accident, so that you do not damage your case. If you get an attorney involved from the very beginning, your attorney can guide you through all the pitfalls and minefields. When you are injured in a motor vehicle crash, go to the ER and then call an experienced auto accident attorney.

It’s a bad idea to represent yourself in any type of legal case. Call an experienced auto accident attorney as soon as you possibly can. If you can call an attorney from the scene of the crash, that is even better. I would personally come to see you at the scene of the crash in order to guide you through the whole process. Most attorneys do not do any investigation, but I do.

I can come see you at the accident scene, at the ER or clinic or meet you at your house afterward. The sooner I see you, the better! I can prevent you from making serious mistakes in this insurance dominated scenario. I am also available 24 hours a day so I accept calls all through the night and on weekends.

Get in touch!

If you’re involved in a car crash in Fort Collins or Northern Colorado, I will fight for you and make sure you receive the compensation you are due.

Get in touch or call me today at (970) 364-6830 to schedule your free consultation.