Accident Law

Accident law includes personal injury and insurance law issues related to car accidents, medical accidents, or other unintentional harms. Accident law makes up a large portion of legal practice and is one of the most common ways that average people interact with the legal system. After a car accident, many people get frustrated quickly. Choosing an auto accident attorney lawyer to help manage your claim can make things proceed more smoothly.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 19, 2021

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Overview

  • Accident law is a term that covers the different types of legal practice that are involved with auto and othe raccidents
  • Insurance law and personal injury law make up the majority of auto accident lawsuits
  • Though many general practice attorneys may offer accident law services, auto accident law firms that specialize are often better equipped to deal with contentious car accident cases
  • Personal injury law deals with accidental injuries from car accidents, slip-and-falls, or other unintentional harms caused by negligence

Accident law is a general term that encompasses car insurance law and accident-related personal injury law. Auto accident law firms specialize in those areas of the law connected to car accidents.

Dealing with the legal system in the aftermath of an auto accident can leave you incredibly frustrated. An auto accident attorney is familiar with the ins and outs of accident lawsuits and can help you get the most out of your car accident settlement. If your accidental injury wasn’t caused by a car accident, a personal injury attorney can still help.

Though the majority of personal injury cases arise from auto accidents, the basic legal approach is the same regardless of whether you were hurt crossing the street or slipping on a spill at a store or a dog bite. 

If you’ve been in a car accident, finding an auto accident lawyer to take on your case rather than a general practice attorney is in your best interest. A car accident attorney can help you understand your right to compensation as well as how to best seek the compensation you deserve after a serious accident.

How can I find an accident lawyer near me? Enter your ZIP code in our free legal tool above to search for accident attorneys and personal injury lawyers in your area.

When do you need to call an attorney after a car accident?

You suffered relatively minor injuries in a fender bender. Do you need to call a car accident attorney? What if you suffered more serious injuries? After a relatively minor fender bender, you can probably handle the aftermath of the accident through your insurance company.

On the other hand, if you faced these more serious challenges, you may want to learn when to hire a car accident attorney:

You suffered serious injuries in the accident.

If you suffer only damage to your vehicle, most of the time you can work with the insurance company to get the coverage you need, but you should always get in touch with an experienced personal injury attorney any time you or someone else in your vehicle sustains serious injuries in a car accident.

When you suffer serious injuries, on the other hand, you may find yourself struggling to get the compensation you deserve. Payouts for bodily injury often end up much more limited, since they can involve less concrete elements, like compensation for your lost wages and your pain and suffering after the accident. An attorney can help ensure that you understand your rights. 

The other driver’s insurance company is fighting to dispute liability.

Many states have comparative negligence laws: that is, if the insurance company can prove that you caused any part of the accident, it can reduce your compensation accordingly.

Suppose, for example, that the insurance company argues you must have chosen to drive while distracted, which caused you not to see the other car coming over on top of you as it changed lanes. The insurance company may try to argue that you inadvertently contributed to the accident, which could reduce the compensation you deserve. A car accident attorney can help investigate the accident and present evidence against the liable driver. 

More than one party may share liability for the accident.

It’s not just the drivers who share responsibility after an accident, and determining who is at fault for the car accident can affect your settlement.

In some states, a bar or restaurant that over-serves an intoxicated driver when the server knows that driver plans to get behind the wheel soon after can share liability for an accident. In other cases, a mechanic that fails to properly repair a vehicle, but who certifies it as road-worthy, may bear liability for an accident.

If your accident involves complex elements that could change the balance of liability, an attorney can help identify and prepare evidence against all parties that share liability for the accident. 

Your accident involves a commercial vehicle.

If your accident involves a big truck or another commercial vehicle, you may need an attorney to help wade through all the evidence, investigate the company, and identify the full compensation you deserve.

Big corporations often have their own team of lawyers who will fight to reduce the compensation they have to pay out for your injuries and damage to your vehicle as much as possible. You, therefore, need an attorney on your side who will represent you and ensure that you do not miss out on the compensation you deserve.

The insurance company causes unnecessary delays or refuses to pay out the compensation you deserve.

Whether you suffered injuries in the accident or simply suffered damage to your vehicle, the insurance company has a limited amount of time to pay out for the coverage you deserve.

If the insurance company throws unnecessary delays your way or you find yourself fighting to get the compensation you deserve, an attorney can cut through the red tape, move the process along, and help you understand your rights.

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How much compensation do you deserve from an auto accident?

If you have questions about the compensation you deserve after a serious auto accident, always ask an auto accident lawyer. An auto accident lawyer can provide you with a solid understanding of the compensation you really deserve after an accident–which may differ substantially from the compensation received by others, even those involved in other, similar accidents.

You may need to consider these key elements when determining how much compensation you deserve for your injuries:

1. Who caused your accident?

Most drivers will not take direct responsibility for paying for the injuries you suffered or the damage your vehicle sustained in an auto accident. Instead, they will turn that responsibility over to their insurance companies. 

While insurance does provide vital financial protection after an accident, it may not offer as much coverage as you think. In some states, minimum liability insurance may include only $10,000 in coverage for damage to your vehicle and $10,000 in coverage for bodily injury.

On the other hand, some drivers, especially commercial drivers, may carry considerably more insurance coverage. An attorney can look over the insurance policy that covers the driver that caused your accident and give you a better idea of how much compensation that policy offers for your specific case.

2. Did you get hurt in the accident?

If you didn’t get hurt in the accident, compensation will usually be limited to your direct financial losses. Insurance may pay to repair the damage to your vehicle, cover the cost (or part of the cost) of a rental car, or offer you compensation for items damaged in the accident.

On the other hand, if you got hurt in the accident, you may deserve compensation for your medical bills and wages lost as a result of your injuries and inability to work. In some cases, you can also claim compensation for pain and suffering from your injuries.

3. How did the accident impact other areas of your life?

In addition to the extent of your medical bills, your right to compensation will depend on the impact the injuries had on you. You can usually calculate the wages you lost due to your injuries directly, though you may want to talk to a lawyer about how to handle elements like vacation or sick time used to cover your time off work impact your claim.

In addition, an attorney can take a look at how your injuries impacted many areas of your life, including your ability to take care of yourself or to enjoy the activities you once engaged in regularly, and how that can impact your claim.

Why are auto accidents involving commercial trucks more complicated?

Often, in an accident with a commercial vehicle, the company that employs the driver will share liability for the accident. Many trucking companies have unsafe policies that push their drivers to ignore the law or to cut corners on the road, often in an effort to make deliveries faster or to push drivers to take on more deliveries than they can realistically handle.

Trucking labor shortages across the nation have led to an increase in these challenges, especially for many smaller trucking companies, which may struggle to keep an adequate number of truckers employed. 

Determining liability after an accident with a commercial driver may involve a great deal more complexity. In order to determine whether the trucking company may share liability, an attorney will need to evaluate several factors related to the accident.

Having an auto accident attorney may prove crucial to that process. The attorney may need to look over:

  • The driver’s records: Did the driver choose to drive for more than the federally mandated 11 hours out of a 14-hour shift? The driver’s records can also show evidence of speeding or that the driver chooses to cut corners in other elements of the drive, including stopping at weigh stations or taking breaks on time.
  • The loading records: Shifting load accidents can cause serious problems for truck drivers. While truck drivers should check their loads carefully, if an outside company loads the truck and secures the cargo, the truck driver may have no idea that unstable packages fill the back of the trailer. An attorney may need to look at loading records and uncover who loaded the truck, how they loaded it, and whether negligent loading may have contributed to the accident.
  • The company’s records: Does the trucking company have a long history of accidents on the road? A trucking company that has more frequent accidents than others may have negligent or downright dangerous requirements, which can impact not only their drivers but everyone who shares the road with them. An attorney can evaluate the trucking company’s history on the road and its accident history.
  • The maintenance records on the truck: Federal mandates require big trucks to undergo regular maintenance, including comprehensive evaluations each time the truck leaves the garage. Unfortunately, many trucking companies cut corners on basic maintenance to save time and money. Even if a driver reports a potential problem with the truck, the trucking company may not approve maintenance on the truck before sending it back out again. Other times, the trucking company may ignore basic vehicular maintenance requirements, including oil changes and brake replacement.

Hiring a car accident attorney means putting someone in your corner. They will know what they are looking for when they study these records and will investigate the trucking companies with your best interests in mind.

What should you look for in an auto accident lawyer?

Selecting the right auto accident lawyer is a critical part of your quest for compensation after an auto accident. Your lawyer is the one who will represent you to the insurance company and who will represent you in court if you have to go before a judge in order to claim the compensation you deserve after your accident.

You should also keep in mind that you may be working on your car accident lawsuit for months as you work to resolve your claim–so choosing the right attorney is essential.

Make sure you look for these vital elements in your car accident lawyer:

  1. What is the lawyer’s specialty? You don’t just want a general lawyer to handle your car accident claim. You want someone with experience with the complexities of auto accident claims. Choose an attorney who specializes in accident law.
  2. Who will actually be handling your case? Before you choose an auto accident firm, make sure you know who will actually be handling your case. You want to know the attorney that you will be dealing with and their history. 
  3. What does the firm focus on? You may have a specific idea of how you want your claim to play out, so take a look at the attorney’s results page and testimonials. Note the elements the attorney chose to call out. Often, you’ll find that the comments they focus on most often display the characteristics they choose to focus on in their claims.
  4. How much experience does the attorney have? You don’t want an inexperienced attorney on his first case to be the one handling your personal injury claim. You want an attorney who knows personal injury law, your local court system, and how to get you what you need to receive compensation for your injuries.
  5. How (and how often) does the lawyer prefer to communicate? Communication is critical during your personal injury claim. Talk to your lawyer ahead of time to learn how often he will check in with you. Ask how the lawyer will check-in, too. When you choose a law firm, make sure its communication style fits yours to make you happier with your overall service.
  6. Is the lawyer’s personality a good fit for yours? Your auto accident claim can drag on for months. Sometimes, your attorney may advise not even filing your claim until you have a chance to heal from some of your injuries and get a better idea of what your long-term limitations will look like. That means a lot of time spent dealing with the lawyer who will handle your claim. Find an attorney who is a good personality fit for your needs and who you comfortable with managing your claim.
  7. What does the lawyer think you deserve in compensation for your accident and injuries? Pay attention to the estimates of more than one attorney. You want an attorney to maximize the compensation you will receive for your accident. If you contact an attorney who fails to take you seriously and offers a much lower estimate of the compensation, that attorney may not be the right one for you. However, attorneys will sometimes artificially inflate the compensation they think they can get, which may cause you to place more trust in them than you should.
  8. How busy is the law firm? Pay attention to how busy the firm is. Make sure it has the staff necessary to handle your claim effectively.

You will want more than a general practice attorney handling your case, and the questions listed above will help you find the right auto accident lawyer for your case.

What about other types of accidents?

Getting compensated for an injury caused by an accident is similar no matter what the cause. Auto accident attorneys specialize in dealing with driving laws and auto insurance, but they are setting out to prove the same thing that any other accident attorney does.

A civil action for recovery of damages from an accident must show the same things no matter what caused the accident. If you were recently in an accident, consider the following questions:

Was there a duty owed?

In an auto accident, other drivers have a duty to operate their vehicle legally and owe a duty of care to other drivers and pedestrians on the road. In a slip-and-fall at the grocery store, the store and its employees owe a duty to customers to have a safe store with sufficient warnings of any potential dangers – a “wet floor” sign when there’s been a spill or the floor was recently mopped, for example.

  • A manufacturer of a product has a duty to ensure that product is safe and not defective.
  • A doctor has a duty to meet the minimum standard of care for their profession. 
  • A dog’s owner has a duty to prevent their dog from harming someone else.

There are dozens of examples of duties that people and companies owe to one another.

Was that duty breached?

The breach of the duty owed when driving a car is to do so dangerously, without regard for others, or illegally. In other accidents, the breach is just as obvious:

  • If your lawnmower explodes, either the duty of the manufacturer to make a safe product or the duty of the mechanic to complete proper and safe repairs may have been breached.
  • If you slip in a puddle at a store where an employee has mopped and not put a sign up, the duty to warn has been breached.
  • If a surgeon accidentally leaves surgical devices inside someone after surgery, the duty to meet the standard of care has probably been breached.

What caused the breach of duty?

Causation is the third factor that must be established in an accident case. In a car accident, it’s often the driver’s negligence that causes the accident. Maybe they were driving too fast or maybe they weren’t paying attention… but maybe they had a totally unforeseen seizure or the brakes failed.

Establishing who or what caused the breach of duty is essential to make sure that the right person is held responsible.

In the slip-and-fall example, is it really the employee’s fault instead of the store’s? This depends on whether the floor got slippery from an employee doing their job or acting outside the scope of employment.

What if you were injured but you were also running as fast as possible and had rubbed soap on your shoes before you entered the store? Obviously, the accidental fall was caused more by your actions than any breach of duty.

What were the damages?

In a car accident, determining the damages is often difficult. The cost of repairs can vary from different mechanics, and some injuries may linger for years or even be permanent. This is also true in other accident cases.

Because personal injury cases are resolved primarily with money, a financial value must be found for every harm done. In theory, everything has some value, but in actual practice, you have to show more than negligible harm for a lawsuit to be worth it.

In an auto accident, for example, if your deductible is $500 and your car suffers $40 in damages and no one is hurt or harmed in any other way, you probably won’t bother with suing. In the slip-and-fall example, you might just have a wet spot on your pants after you slip. There’s undeniably some cost to having a wet spot on your pants, but at most, it would be the cost of having them washed and dried. 

Going to court and suing for a few dollars is technically allowed, but even if you won it would cost you hundreds of times more money to sue than you’d ever be awarded.

Just because all accident lawsuits share the same four requirements – a showing of (1) a duty that was (2) breached, (3) caused by the defendant that caused (4) actual, cognizable damages – doesn’t mean that any accident lawyer can handle any accident case. An auto accident is very different from a surgical accident or a product defect accident. 

Make sure you discuss any attorney’s experience in the specific type of accident you need help with before committing to working with them.

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How much does it cost to hire an accident lawyer?

You suspect that you need a lawyer to help you deal with the aftermath of your accident, either because you suffered serious injuries or because you have struggled to get the compensation you deserve. Unfortunately, a lawyer sounds prohibitively expensive. 

Here’s the good news: it often costs less to hire a lawyer than you think.

Most personal injury lawyers, including those that specialize in auto accident law, will start with a free consultation, where they will review your claim and go over the compensation you might deserve for your injuries. Then, in many cases, they will go accept your claim on a contingent fee basis.

If the attorney accepts your claim on a contingent fee basis, you won’t have to pay anything upfront. Instead, the attorney will take compensation for those services out of a percentage of the compensation you recover. Many auto accident victims find that dealing with a personal injury lawyer increases the compensation they ultimately receive even after taking those fees into account.

Take a look at the contract your lawyer asks you to sign before accepting that contingent fee offer. Sometimes, the contract will include hidden fees that you may face if the lawyer doesn’t win.

Do you need help finding an affordable accident lawyer to help handle your claim? Our FREE legal search tool below can help you find the right lawyer for you.

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