Auto accidents are the most common injury claims that are made since there are over 5 million auto-related accidents each year resulting in about 49,000 fatalities and 2.9 million people suffering minor to catastrophic injuries. Many accidents appear clear-cut, with fault by one party clearly evident and a victim’s injuries visible and obvious. But does this mean that in these cases, or in others, a personal injury attorney is not needed?
If your auto accident is only property damage, then an attorney is generally not needed since these cases can be worked out by yourself with your insurer or the other at-fault party. In injury cases, however, the damages are not so obvious or provable and there can be numerous issues involved that can complicate your case and result in your receiving far less compensation than what you either expected or should have received. In some cases, individuals who handle their own claims miss the filing deadlines, or statute of limitations, and are unable to collect anything for their injuries. In Arizona, you have two years from the date of your accident to settle your claim or file a lawsuit.
Studies consistently show that injured claimants obtain substantially more compensation when their claims are handled by an attorney rather than by themselves, or pro se, even accounting for legal fees. Attorney are able to prevent errors made by those handling their own cases, can locate other responsible parties for additional compensation, and provide evidence and proof to support damages as well as to combat allegations of contributory negligence.
Ways an Attorney Supports Your Claim
There are numerous issues in a motor vehicle injury accident claim that a non-attorney can easily miss or mishandle. Here are ways that an experienced personal injury case can maximize your claim.
1. Determining Fault
Fault is not always so apparent, even where it appears to not be an issue. If the other party ran a red light or stop sign or side-swiped you, do not be surprised if that person claims you ran the light, were speeding, turned into his lane of traffic, or that you suddenly went into reverse for no reason. Your attorney can have experts examine the property damage, the position of the vehicles, skid-marks, and find witnesses to interview. In some cases, there may be video footage of an accident from cameras at the intersection or adjoining businesses.
Occasionally, the police report is not accurate or puts you at fault. Your attorney will need to fully investigate the facts and circumstances of the accident, which may require retention of an expert in accident reconstruction. If the other party claims you were comparatively at fault, your attorney can challenge that assertion or lessen its impact on your case.
Not all injured claimants have pure life histories. If you had a felony conviction, drug offenses, or other spots on your public record, your attorney can work to minimize the effect it can have on your case. If you had no attorney and neglected to mention a past conviction if asked directly, you will likely have seriously jeopardized your claim.
If your case needs to be filed and litigated, your attorney can depose the other party and may be able to expose inconsistencies in the defendant’s testimony or other allegations that are unreasonable or not credible.
Read Related Article: Fault and No-Fault Accidents: Understanding State Liability Laws
2. Limiting Statements
In far too many cases, injured claimants give statements to insurance adjusters or their investigators that can jeopardize claims or minimize damages. Following an accident, a defense insurer will often want your statement that can be used later to minimize your claim. For example, if you make a statement that later turns out to be either false, exaggerated or misleading, then your claim risks being rejected by the other party’s insurer or a low-ball, nuisance offer will be made to settle. In some instances, claimants allege injuries that do not appear in subsequent medical reports, or that may have preexisted the accident. Many injuries do not manifest for a few days or even later after an accident and if not revealed when giving your statement could create problems for you. It is highly recommended that you refrain from giving any statements until you talk to your attorney.
3. Proving Causation
The burden of proof in an accident injury claim is on you. This includes proving that your injuries were caused by the accident and that your inability to work or engage in certain activities were caused by your accident injuries. Many times, a prior condition such as a knee injury may have been exacerbated or made worse by the accident. In some cases, victims begin to suffer from emotional trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that was not evident for several weeks or months following the accident.
In soft-tissue or whip-lash type claims, victims often make statements that omitted symptoms of neck or back strain, but which appeared a few days later or in a chiropractor’s report. This can create skepticism from the defendant’s insurer that may limit your claim or result in a low settlement,
In such cases, your attorney can discuss your injuries with your medical provider and request a detailed medical report that links your injuries to the accident. If you had a injury that preexisted the accident and is now worsened, your physician can apportion it to what you had before the accident and what it is currently. In whiplash injuries, there are numerous studies that show that many symptoms do not appear for days after the trauma. Similarly, a psychologist or psychiatrist can support your claim that your PTSD is credible and accident-related.
Many injuries can affect your ability to work, temporarily or permanently. Your attorney can work with your physician, or other medical experts, to show how your injuries have prevented your from working, for how long, and if it has affected your earning capacity. A medical expert can also state how your quality of life has been diminished by the permanency of your injuries.
4. Finding the Responsible Parties
In countless injury accidents, there are other parties whose negligence or unlawful actions contributed to the accident but whose identity and culpability are not readily apparent. For instance, many roadways are not designed according to established standards, are not maintained, or lack adequate signage if at all. A motorist may have been unable to navigate a curve that was poorly designed, went through a median that should have stopped the vehicle, or a particular sign was obscured that if seen and heeded, may have prevented the accident. In these cases, the state, county or city may have been responsible. If so, you have 180-days from the date of the accident to report the injury in writing to the appropriate agency or department that must include a description of the accident, how the injuries occurred, the dollar amount being claimed and facts supporting your claimed damages. The state or municipality has 60-days to accept or deny your claim. If no response is received after 60-days, it is deemed denied and you may file a lawsuit.
In other cases, the defendant’s vehicle may have had faulty steering or braking systems or which was not serviced properly. In your own car, your airbag may not have deployed or a child safety seat failed to protect your child from an injury. In all these cases, it takes an experienced and resourceful personal injury attorney to investigate these cases, to bring claims against additional parties, and to litigate them.
5. Proving Damages and Obtaining Reasonable Compensation
Do you know what your case is worth or how much compensation you should be getting? All cases are different and depend on fault and the nature and extent of your injuries. Can you prove to a defense insurer that your injuries are serious and have significantly limited your ability to work or to enjoy life as you did before the accident? How does your case compare to similar ones that were settled or tried before a jury?
Any injured claimant can settle a case, but you will likely be receiving much less than you should have unless you get the policy limits of the defendant’s policy of that of your own in an uninsured case. But you may be leaving money on the table in most cases, especially if you neglected to include other responsible parties, failed to adequately prove certain damages such as pain and suffering, or you accepted the insurer’s offer that included your own degree of comparative fault, even if you felt you were not at fault in any fashion.
Your attorney will obtain all necessary documentation to prove your damages including medical records, bills, employment and school records, witness statements, reports of vocational and forensic economics experts, accident reconstruction experts and others. With an attorney, you can be ensured that all avenues of compensation are explored and that all time-lines, notice and filing requirements are met.
Retain the services of the personal injury lawyers at West, Longenbaugh & Zickerman of Tucson. Our attorneys have the experience, skills, and resources you will need to get the compensation your case deserves, Call us for a free analysis of your injury claim.