You Need An Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
If you don’t hire an experienced car accident lawyer right away you can seriously damage your case. There are many important steps to take to make sure you are properly compensated if someone injures you in a car accident. The most important step is to consult with an experienced attorney, not a settlement mill law firm whose primary interest is to move cases quickly and efficiently and for low settlement amounts.
The best car accident lawyer for you is the one who will look out for your needs and will take the time to properly evaluate and present your case and the way it has affected you. A settlement mill law firm won’t do that.
What’s a settlement mill law firm? Read on to find out and to learn the things you need to know and do to protect your interests after your car accident.
Insurance Adjusters Work Against You
Over the years, car accidents in Rhode Island have become more and more difficult to settle without an experienced car accident lawyer. When I first started practicing 35 years ago, it was much simpler. But over the course of time insurance adjusters became more sophisticated and auto insurance companies developed more sophisticated tools to help them, with the biggest change coming when they developed the ominously named Colossus.
Colossus is a software program created by the automobile insurance industry to minimize the amount the industry pays to people injured in car accidents. Its use became very prominent in the 1990’s and has been used in one form another since then though other similar software has been developed and used by car insurance companies. Colossus was developed because the insurance companies realized that their adjusters were outmatched by attorneys and they needed something to level the playing field.
A Car Accident Lawyer Takes the Advantage Back
To counter the uneven playing field between lawyers and adjusters the car insurance companies used their greatest asset, their wealth, to develop software to minimize the value of claims and box-in their own adjusters by taking away their discretion to assess the subjective value of pain and suffering. They instructed the adjusters not to budge and to let the car accident lawyers either give in or file a lawsuit.
This strategy was based on their conclusion that busy car accident lawyer could not bring to trial the majority or even a significant percentage of their cases. Initially, their refusal to deal in good faith caused a great deal of litigation and a corresponding increase in costs to the car insurance industry. Eventually though their strategy worked with a little help from an emerging legal trend.
The Wrong Attorney Can Play Right Into Their Hands
A segment of the legal industry contributed to the reduction in the value of car accident injuries with the emergence of personal injury mills. Personal injury mills are high volume law firms which usually engage in mass marketing to lure potential car accident clients in and process them as if they are on an assembly line. As Nora Freeman Engstrom stated in her Stanford Lawyer, Spring 2010 Issue 82, article, “Run-of-the-Mill Justice” An Examination of High-Volume Personal Injury Law Practices,
In other words, when you use a settlement mill law firm, instead of matching an experienced lawyer against an insurance adjuster, you have a paralegal or an inexperienced lawyer working on your case instead. A paralegal (or inexperienced lawyer) with instructions to move your case quickly and efficiently in service of the law firms interests, not yours. Insurance companies are businesses. They utilize a business model to minimize your settlement to maximize their profits. Settlement mills are a lot like them, more business than law firm. Instead of trying to maximize your recovery, they are minimizing their costs by pushing claims towards a fast and low settlement which helps their bottom line, but hurts yours.
What does this mean for you? It means that a settlement mill will do the minimum for you because according to them and to Colossus, your case can be reduced to certain objective factors such as the damage to the vehicle, the location and type of your injury, etc. But the law doesn’t accept that. It explicitly rejects it.
Don't Be a Widget
What’s a widget? Before “widget” became widely used in software terminology it referred to a a generic, mass produced item. That’s how both settlement mills and insurance adjusters treat you. They check a few boxes, do some simple calculations and that’s how much your case is worth to them. It is not a proper evaluation of your case and often they are not even checking off the correct boxes or doing the calculations correctly.
If you have a particularly serious reaction to a collision and your injury is worse than might be ordinarily expected, the law states that an accident victim must be taken as they are, not as they are expected to be. If it would take 10 weeks of treatment for the average person and it takes 40 weeks for you, that’s not your problem. The accident wasn’t your fault and the guilty party isn’t supposed to get the benefit of only having to pay compensation for the injures that the average victim would receive. They must compensate you for the injuries YOU received.
Hire an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
If you use a settlement mill law firm, you risk being unceremoniously dumped. Why? Because these mills will quickly come to a conclusion about the value of your case. If your treatment starts to seem excessive to them at a certain point they will conclude that your case doesn’t fit their high volume, low settlement business model. And even if your treatment fits into what they and Colossus thinks you should be getting, if you think the settlement offer they want you to accept is too low, they drop you and just move onto the next case. Time is money and you’re slowing them down.
Settlement mills play right into the hands of the insurance companies and Colossus. They embrace the cookie cutter approach, but you are not a cookie. I can’t promise you will never speak to a paralegal from my office. Paralegals provide very important support. But they won’t be valuing your case. I will. And if your case needs to go to trial, we are prepared to do that. Don’t let your case be treated like a cheap product on an assembly line. Let us help you get the results you are entitled to, not the results that makes someone else’s job easier. There are many reasons to hire an experienced car accident lawyer.
Car Accident Do's and Don'ts
Preparing in advance for the possibility of a car accident is smart, but there are things you should and shouldn’t do after you’ve been in a car accident, too. Here are the Do’s and Don’ts.
1. Do not Say Anything that can be Used Against You
Do not say that the accident was your fault. Even if you feel that it was, you may be wrong and should leave that determination to your attorney. A good car accident lawyer may find that the accident wasn’t your fault even if you thought it was. So, remember that anything you say may be used against you. There will be a proper time to admit liability if you were at fault.
Except for in some very narrow circumstances, you aren’t in the best position to decide who is or isn’t responsible, particularly right after an accident when you may be frightened, angry, worried or even in shock. Sometimes people think they are at fault because they didn’t see the other vehicle before the collision, and they presume it’s because they weren’t being attentive enough. But what really happened is that the other car wasn’t observed because it came from somewhere it shouldn’t have been because it was speeding, in the wrong lane, etc.
If you admit responsibility before we get a chance to investigate, you may damage your own case and make it possible for the other party to collect against YOU. Even if you were partially at fault, Rhode Island is a pure comparative negligence state. That means a plaintiff is still able to recover damages even if he or she was at fault in contributing to the accident. For instance, if the plaintiff was 40 percent at fault, he or she would still be entitled to 60 percent of his or her damages. So let your lawyer figure out who is at fault and if you really had anything to do with causing the accident before you assume you did.
2. Do not Move the Vehicles
Do not move the vehicles until the police view the scene, unless it is unsafe to leave them where they are. Take pictures of the scene as soon as possible, even if the vehicles have been moved. Pay particular attention to skid marks and other evidence of the accident and take several pictures of damage to the vehicles involved or other property that was damaged.
How do you know if your accident is a situation where the cars should be moved? It’s about safety. If there are minor injuries but the location of the cars are not endangering anyone, you can leave them where they are. If the injuries are minor and your obstructing traffic, move them. If people have been seriously injured, including yourself, you need to leave the vehicles where they are so that first responders can treat the injured and the police can do an investigation.
3. Take Pictures
If you have to move the vehicles, and even if you don’t have to move the vehicles, take pictures if it is safe to do so and you are able to do so. If you need to ask a passenger or bystander to take them you should. Get as many pictures as possible.
I took a case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court several years ago in a case where the client was making a left into a parking lot and he got hit by a car that was speeding. The client couldn’t testify that the other car was speeding because he had been knocked out and couldn’t remember what happened. All he had was pictures the police took of the damage to the cars.
Another car accident lawyer had represented this client at trial and the judge threw the case out. The judge determined that it wasn’t legally possible for the pictures of the damages to establish the speed of the defendant without an expert to back that up.
I argued on appeal that the damage was so extensive that a jury would be qualified to find that a defendant was speeding based only on the pictures of the vehicles without the need for expert testimony and the Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed.
So, remember to take pictures if you ever are in an accident. They may be needed to prove damages and even liability especially if you have to move the cars before the police get there.
4. Talk to Your Car Accident Lawyer First
Do not talk to anyone about your accident, even your own insurance company or anyone else investigating the accident without first consulting your lawyer. Anything you say to anyone else may be used against you. Any innocent comment or conjecture on your part could undermine your case. Please limit your comments about the accident and your injuries to the bare minimum. Insurance companies do hire private investigators to follow claimants and question the people around them. Sometimes it’s done under the pretense of being for your own insurance company.
5. Your Health Comes First
Visit your Doctors whenever necessary and tell them about all your complaints. Always tell your attorney when you plan to see a new doctor and give him the doctor’s name and address. Don’t delay in getting treatment. If you delay you can compromise your health as well as your claim.
It’s fine if it turns out that you don’t need much treatment and that you don’t even want to proceed with a claim. But if you delay your treatment and it turns out you do need help and you do want to bring a claim, the delay may make it difficult to prove the connection between the accident and your injuries, among other things. The delay could also complicate your treatment and recovery.
Certainly, the adjuster will argue that you could not have been very hurt if you didn’t get treatment for two weeks and that something else must have injured you and made you see a doctor. Your car accident lawyer will fight back, but do not be the one that gives the insurance company the ammunition they need to lower or even deny your claim.
6. Maintain Good Records for Your Car Accident Lawyer
Please keep accurate and detailed records of the following and provide them to your lawyer:
- Lost time and wages;
- Hospital, doctor, drug and other medical bills;
- Other losses directly resulting from your injury;
- Your complaints and progress in diary form, if possible;
- Keep Receipts.
All this information is essential to proving your case and maximizing your recovery.
7. Offenses, Fines or Disciplinary Action
Do not appear or give statements before any court or administrative agency without first notifying your attorney so that you may be properly represented. This also falls under the “Anything you say can be used against you” rule. The last thing you want is for a traffic court to find you responsible for any part of the accident if your lawyer can help you avoid that. It can undermine your personal injury case.
Provide your attorney with the correct names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any and all witnesses of which you may learn. If you know that someone may be leaving the area soon please inform your attorney. Witness statements can be compelling evidence and can make the difference between a winning and losing case. Adjusters will try to claim that there is a factual dispute as to who is at fault in an accident to reduce your settlement whenever they think they can get away with it. They will claim that it’s a “he said, she said.” A statement from a witness who can be proven to have seen the accident can resolve that dispute right away and prevent months of negotiation and even the possibility of a trial.
Give your attorney any negatives, (hey, some people still use film…) prints or digital copies of any photographs pertaining to the case which you may have. If you are hospitalized inform your attorney. If your injury requires a cast, brace, etc, please save it. Tell your car accident lawyer about any physical evidence that you know of that is not in your possession, such as a ladder that fell of a truck which started the chain of events that led to the collision that injured you.
Do not have anything repaired that has been damaged because of the accident until it has been examined or at least photographed. Part of your claim will be for compensation for damage to your car and possibly even the contents of your car. Make sure your car accident lawyer knows about the damage and approves any repairs before they are done.
10. Hospital and Doctor Bills
Have your medical insurance pay as many of your bills as possible. They usually only pay a portion of the total bill but you are still entitled to claim the full amount of the bill as part of your settlement. In other words, if your bills total $20,000 your health insurance pays about $6500 and the rest is written off by the health care facilities and doctors. But that’s because of the premiums you pay and the person that hit you doesn’t get to benefit from that.
So when we make your demand we are allowed to claim the entire $20,000 in bills, pay back your health insurance only the $6500 that they paid and you get to keep the remaining $13,500 as part of a net settlement after costs and expenses. Also, inform your attorney of any type of insurance that you, your spouse, or a family member you are living with may have so he or she can inform you of your options.
Make sure your lawyer is aware of every health care facility and professional you treated with so that he or she may obtain all of your medical records and bills. They are an essential part of valuing and proving your claim.
Do Hire an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
I’ve been representing people injured in car accidents for over 35 years. A car accident can be a minor incident in someone’s life but it can also be a major disaster or substantial setback. The personal injury laws are there to protect you and to make you whole when you’ve been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. You only get one chance to successfully resolve your case. Don’t leave your chances to a settlement factory. If you’ve been injured in a car accident let me use my skills and experience to get you the compensation you need and deserve and to help you put your life back together.