It happened: You’ve been in a car accident, and now, after the initial shock has worn off, you realize that you’re in deep. Maybe you’re facing a huge mechanic’s bill for your car, or a hospital bill for yourself. Or maybe you are only beginning to suspect that, yes, the accident has injured you in some subtle way, and it’s beginning to affect other areas of your life.
The question is: Should you seek the services of a lawyer after a car accident? And if so, what should you do before you contact an attorney for car accidents? Read on…
Balancing Compensation with Common Sense
Let’s start with the basic facts: Car accidents can cause injuries. Sometimes those injuries are immediate and obvious, and other times it takes days, even weeks, for symptoms to manifest.
If you’ve sustained injuries from a car accident, and that accident can be traced to the negligence of another driver, you have certain rights. You can reasonably seek financial compensation for your injuries.
Granted, money won’t make those injuries heal any faster. But they will help cover medical expenses—for example, your hospital stay, ongoing physical therapy, medical devices, and so on.
All that said, most personal injury attorneys have a vested interested in people “lawyering up” as soon as possible. They paint a picture of insurance companies as bad guys just waiting to defraud the public. And they make victims of car accidents feel like just that—victims.
We understand where you are coming from in asking if you should hire a lawyer after a car accident. Maybe it was not clear who was at fault in the accident. Or maybe your injuries showed up later. Or maybe it was just a small accident, and you are afraid that hiring a lawyer is somehow “overkill.”
Let’s look at some of these issues as objectively as we can.
What Are Signs That You’ve Been Injured in a Car Accident?
In the shock and confusion immediately after a car accident, you may not realize that you’ve been injured. It is not uncommon for car accident injury symptoms to appear minutes, hours, days, or even weeks after the accident occurs.
There are certain symptoms that typically signal an injury following a car accident. If you have any of these following your accident, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible to confirm your suspicions and begin documenting the extent of your injuries.
These symptoms include:
- Trouble focusing, concentrating, or recalling things. These can be signs of a concussion.
- Blurred vision or double vision.
- Pain in shoulder, neck, or head.
- Tingling or numbness. This is common in the limbs but can occur anywhere.
- Restricted range of motion. (Especially if accompanied with pain.)
- Ringing in the ears. This is also known as “tinnitus.”
- Flashbacks, nightmares, or heightened anxiety. These are fairly common with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after an accident.
Again, it might not be clear if your injury was due to the accident or not. Only a licensed medical professional can tell you for certain the extent of your injuries and their likely cause.
What if the Accident Was Minor? Should I Hire a Lawyer Anyway?
Strictly speaking, there are no legal definitions for a minor auto accident (or a serious one, for that matter). Most people consider a car accident to be “serious” and not minor if there is a death or an injury.
Indeed, many accidents that people consider “small” or “minor”—fender benders, if you will—still cause some injury. Likewise, some accidents that look serious because, say, a car was totalled end up resulting in few or no injuries.
These cases happen because the extent of injuries depends on many factors besides just the sheer force or destructive power of the accident itself. Injury can happen, or be prevented, depending on:
- What safety devices a car has (and whether they are used)
- The position of the driver(s) when the accident happens
- The general health and fitness of the driver(s)
- Conditions of the road
- Sheer random luck
In other words, don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer just because an accident seemed minor. A seemingly minor accident can still cause injuries for which you could be compensated.
When an Attorney is Not Needed in an Accident
Contacting an attorney to handle a car accident claim does start a legal process in motion. In many cases, it is well worth your time to go through that process to get compensation. But in a few kinds of cases, it is not necessary. For example:
No injuries occurred. If you are sure there are no injuries as a result of the accident, there is no claim to make. (Damages to your vehicle are typically handled by the insurance companies.)
The case is more appropriate for small claims court. If the amount to be claimed is relatively small, the case might be more appropriately settled in small claims court. The exact maximum amount of a claim that can be sought in small claims court varies from state to state but is typically less than $10,000.
The insurance company is already compensating you fairly. It happens: Either you or the other driver has great insurance coverage that covers medical expenses after accidents, and they determine an amount of compensation for you that you feel is fair. Usually, we suggest that a person still contact an attorney just to verify that the amount being paid is fair. But it is understandable that you might not want to take the case further than that initial consultation.
In Short, Here is When You Need a Car Accident Attorney’s Help
If there has been an injury or the possibility of an injury AND any of the following:
- There’s a dispute about who’s at fault.
- There’s a dispute about how much you should be compensated by the insurance company.
- There is a lingering injury that requires ongoing treatment or physical therapy.
- You’re being taken to court by the other driver and/or insurance company.
If the insurance companies aren’t willing to help when they should, you’ll need to take your claim to court. Working with a car accident attorney can help guarantee that your claim is taken seriously, and it ups your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.
What Do You Do Now?
If you have been in a car accident, we recommend reading our list of What to Do After a Car Accident.
If you are in an accident in Southern Illinois, you might want to read up on going to court for a car accident in Illinois.
If your accident is in Southern Illinois or in the greater St. Louis area, and you’re ready to speak with an attorney, fill out this form for a free case review. We promise a speedy reply with an honest, objective assessment.