You and your family may have avoided serious car accidents for years. Then one day, you or a loved one were seriously hurt or a relative was killed in a wreck. You are not alone in facing such a difficult situation. In 2016, 37,461 individuals were killed in 34,439 traffic accidents in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This was an increase from the year before and averaged out to 102 fatal accidents per day. Thousands of others were injured in these and other accidents.


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After a car accident, you may wonder whether you need an attorney. Consider these factors when deciding whether to hire a local car accident lawyer:

Fault

Were you at fault or was another driver? If you were responsible for the accident and have auto insurance, your insurer may provide you with a lawyer. It is common for insurers to defend against car accident claims. If you didn’t have insurance at the time or your insurer won’t defend you, contact a lawyer who handles personal injury defense.

If you are charged with a crime in relation to the accident, hire a criminal defense lawyer right away. This is common if you had alcohol or drugs in your system at the time of the crash, in which case, you may be charged with a DUI/DWI offense.

If the other driver was at fault, whether or not they were charged with a crime, you’ll need to consider additional factors before determining if you need a lawyer.

Property Damage or Injuries

If your car accident only resulted in minor property damage, a lawyer may not be necessary. Work with your insurance company and that of the other driver to get your vehicles fixed as soon as possible.

However, if you or a passenger were hurt in the accident, you may benefit from a personal injury lawyer to ensure you receive all the compensation you deserve. If you were injured in a crash due to another driver’s negligence, you may seek compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, physical pain and suffering, emotional anguish, disability, disfigurement, reduced earning capacity, and loss of normal life.

Bob Schuster of Robert P. Schuster, PC says there are many factors that go into the amount of compensation you may receive after an accident, including the liability and the extent of the negligence on the part of the other driver. “Other elements include what kind of medical expenses there were, what kind of medical injuries there were, how lasting they are, how old the person is, how debilitating those injuries are, and what kind of person they are, or what kind of a witness they will make.”

Fatalities

If you lost a loved one in a car accident that was another driver’s fault, call a local wrongful death lawyer as soon as you can. An attorney can advise you on your state’s wrongful death law, your options for recovering compensation, and the potential value of your claim.

Every state has its own wrongful death law, which dictates who may file a wrongful death suit and the type of damages they may pursue. In many states, certain close family members, including spouses, parents, and children, may file this type of lawsuit. Other states allow or require the personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file. For instance, California’s wrongful death law allows certain family members or the personal representative to file a claim.

States also differ on the type of compensation a family or personal representative can pursue. For example, Alabama’s wrongful death law is different from every other state in that it allows for punitive damages. The amount of money the personal representative can seek is intended to punish the defendant. It is not based on the family’s emotional and financial losses.

“Typically, in a wrongful death case, the compensation is going to the family members that have survived,” Schuster says. “It isn’t for their pain and suffering, but it’s usually cast in terms of their loss of care, comfort, advice, and society. Punitive damages in a lot of states can be awarded if the conduct of the defendant is bad enough.”

Insurance Options

If the at-fault driver has a good insurance policy, you may be able to obtain the compensation you need without much fighting. However, this depends on how strong your evidence suggests that the other driver was at fault, the other driver’s policy limit, and the amount of compensation you need to cover your expense.

If you or a loved one were seriously injured in a crash, it is best to hire an attorney. You may need compensation up to or above the policy limit. However, it can be difficult to find out a policy limit. A lawyer will be better experienced in dealing with an insurer and determining if you need more compensation than the policy will give you. If the at-fault driver’s policy is not enough, your attorney will search for ways to make the insurer pay over the policy limit and for other policies that may cover the accident, including your own. As Shultz & Myers discussed, it can be difficult to force an insurer to pay over the limit, however your lawyer will look into this option. Your lawyer also will advise you on bringing a personal injury lawsuit.

If the at-fault driver does not have auto insurance, you should speak with a lawyer. An attorney will search out other possible insurance policies that may cover all or some of your expenses. They will also advise you on whether filing a lawsuit against the driver is helpful. If the other driver has little income and few assets, filing a lawsuit may not be in your best interest.

Commercial or Rental Vehicles

If the other driver was at fault and they were in a commercial or business vehicle at the time or in a rental car, then call a lawyer. Your claim process may not be as straightforward when you have to deal with a rental company or the other driver’s employer. If a commercial vehicle caused the accident and your injuries, working with a lawyer can help you obtain a larger recovery than you would expect from a typical personal vehicle accident.

“Typically, if it’s a commercial company it’s a bigger vehicle, and so the injuries can be more devastating,” Schuster says. “Sometimes, the trucking companies have very negligent practices in the way in which they train their employees, and their failure to monitor their employees. Oftentimes, you can have truck accidents where the truck driver was reckless and very negligent. But you can have that same thing too in a regular passenger vehicle.”

Call a car accident lawyer for advice

If you were injured in an accident or lost a loved one, it never hurts to speak with an attorney. Many personal injury and wrongful death law firms offer free consultations. There is no risk in meeting with one or more attorneys to explain your situation and learn about your rights and legal options. If your situation does not require a lawyer, they will be the first to say so. However, if you need an attorney, they will explain how they can help you pursue the compensation you deserve under the law.