Car Accident Lawyers
Car accident lawyers represent the rights of injured automobile drivers. We fight insurance agents, litigate with insurance companies, and make sure that injured drivers receive maximum monetary recovery. The most robust recovery always comes for clients who take action early and involve an attorney at the start of their case.
When should you contact a car accident lawyer?
If you, your family, or a friend has been involved in an automobile accident, speak with an auto accident attorney immediately. The reason promptness is so critical is that the insurance companies are experts at quickly (1) inducing the injured person to sign full release, (2) undermining the injured’s legal case, and (3) undervaluing the worth of the injuries. If the injured wants to maximize his or her chances of a large recovery, it is imperative the case is handled correctly from the start. An early misstep may completely ruin the chance of meaningful recovery.
Why do you need car accident lawyer?
Insurance companies are in the business of reducing their liability and exposure. They try to avoid responsibility for paying medical bills, property damage, and other compensation. Insurance companies have departments dedicated to minimizing the amount of money they pay to victims of accidents caused by people who buy their insurance policies. Here are the top 3 reasons to retain a car accident lawyer:
- Unscrupulous Insurance Agents – Have you received a call from the others person’s insurance company after your accident to see if you were “alright?” Did the agent offer you money to “take care of the property damage” and promise not to waive claims about your medical injury? Does that check now include the language waiver, net release, or satisfaction? If any of this sounds remotely familiar, you need the immediate help of an accident lawyer.
- Evidence – Think about the accident that occurred. What if the other person suddenly and inexplicably changed his or her entire story? Imagine he or she felt pressured by the insurance company, a family member, a lawyer, or because he or she couldn’t afford to be at fault. This is how our car accident lawyers think about every single case. We operate on the idea that nothing can be taken for granted.
- Money Settlements – Valuation of an injury case is a complicated process based on many variables unique to the accident and the injured person, actuarial tables of prior awards, assessed strength of the case, and the extent of the injuries and damages. Categories of recoverable damages include:
- Medical Costs: Costs include treatment by physicians, medical centers, clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, ambulances, paramedics, chiropractors, and physical therapists, other licensed professionals and the cost of medical devices. Future medical costs may be recovered as well.
- Pain and Suffering, Disability, and Mental and Emotional Distress: Damages include physical pain, disfigurement, discomfort, loss of ability to work, inability to partake in recreational activities, and mental distress and emotional trauma including fear, anxiety, grief, shock, PTSD, loss of dignity, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Loss of Earnings and Earning Capacity: Damages include the loss of wages, including other employment benefits, and expected future earning capacity if the ability to earn money has been impaired.
- Loss of Consortium: If you are married or in a domestic partnership you may recover for the loss of the benefits of married or domestic partnered life.
- Property Damage: You can recover the value of your property that was damaged in the accident.
- Other Economic and Out of Pocket Costs: In addition to the economic costs associated with the items described above, you may recover damages for other economic harm and out of pocket expenses.
When should you hire a car accident lawyer?
The injured should almost certainly hire a car accident lawyer if:
- There are serious injuries.
- The injury has or has the potential for long-term long-term repercussions.
- The other driver or drivers are uninsured or underinsured.
- There is a potential for a dispute over who was at fault.
- A claims adjuster is quickly offering to write a check.
- A claims adjuster is requesting the injured to sign legal documents.
- You are feeling pressured by the claims adjuster to agree to a quick settlement.
- The statutes of limitation laws may come into effect before you can challenge the settlement claim on your own.
- You don’t feel you’re being fully compensated for your current and future medical costs resulting from your car accident injury.
When you should NOT hire a personal injury lawyer:
- The injury is minor.
- You went to the emergency room after the accident and never received any further medical treatment.
- There is no medical record.
- There is only property damage and no medical injury.
- You received very mild injuries and the other driver’s insurance company is willing to pay a fair amount for your property damage, medical bills and injuries.
You won’t need an auto accident attorney for every auto accident claim you file, but if you’ve been injured in an auto accident for which you were not at fault, hiring a personal injury attorney can help you receive a fair settlement from your insurance company.
What type of car accident lawyer do you need? If unsure, call us at (412) 626-5626 (Pittsburgh) or (215) 618-9185 (Philadelphia)
What type of legal help do you need? If you are not sure, call us at 412-626-5626
Frequently Asked Questions
While every auto accident is different, most personal injury claims will follow the same basic steps. Below are a list of those steps, along with some of the most commonly raised questions people have about car accident injury claims.
Injured in an Accident – First Steps
Q: What should I do in the days after the accident occurs?
A: The actions you take the first few days after you are injured in an auto accident are critical to making sure your personal injury case moves forward smoothly. Obviously, your first priority should be to ensure that any injuries you sustained as a result of the collision are treated by a doctor. After your injuries have been addressed, write down everything you witnessed and can remember about the scene of the accident, and keep adding to these notes as you remember new details or come across new problems. Included in these recorded recollections should be:
- Your recollection of the accident, as well as any details about the weather, road conditions, witnesses to the accident, etc.
- A description of any injuries you sustained as well as how they have impacted your day-to-day life
- Any medical advice given to you by a doctor who saw you after the accident
- Any economic losses you have sustained as a result of the accident
- Conversations you had with the other driver, medical personnel, claims adjusters, or anyone else with whom you discussed your auto accident
- Any photographs you were able to take of the scene of the accident
In addition to your notes, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident occurs. Many policies require you to inform your insurance provider of an accident within a reasonable time period as a condition to coverage.
Q: Do I need to hire a car wreck lawyer?
A: Whether or not to hire a car wreck lawyer depends on a number of factors, including the extent of your injuries and any property damage, the complexity of the accident, and the ease with which you understand your insurance policy and can communicate with your provider. If you are questioning whether or not retain an attorney, it is best to set up an initial client meeting just to be safe. This will help you get a better sense of the best course of action to take moving forward.
Starting the Legal Process
Q: What can I expect from my first meeting with a personal injury attorney?
A: Your initial meeting with an attorney will allow you to share everything you can recall about the accident to get him or her up to speed on what occurred. Bring any notes you took or documents you have that you think might be relevant to your case to this meeting, as they can help the attorney form a clearer picture of your case. Your lawyer may agree to represent you right away, in which case you will have to discuss a fee schedule and will be asked to read and sign a retainer agreement. In other cases, your lawyer may wish to conduct some additional research before taking you on as a client. In these situations, the lawyer will contact you within a few days to let you know what he or she learned and discuss whether or not he or she is willing to take on your case.
Q: What sort of information will I need to gather?
A: The purpose of investigating your case at this stage is to gather enough information to send out a demand letter, which is discussed below. You want to gather anything that proves the defendant should be held liable to you, anything that proves the extent of your injuries, or evidence of any damages you have sustained. Such evidence may include police reports of your accident, photographs, witness statements, medical records, or your written recollections. Additionally, your lawyer will research Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code for the specific provisions you may need to show that you are entitled to compensation.
Q: How do I prove the accident was the other driver’s fault?
A: Determining who was at fault for an accident requires you to determine who acted carelessly. To prove that a person acted carelessly, you can look to a number of sources, including police reports for your accident, proof that the other driver was using a cell phone or was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident, etc. The ultimate goal is to show that the driver who caused your injuries violated some provision or provisions of Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code.
Getting Your Claim Started
Q: How will a lawyer go about bringing a claim against other parties?
A: The first step after you have gathered enough information about the collision is to inform any parties who might be at fault that you were injured as a result of the accident and you intend to file a claim. You do not need to know exactly who was at fault at this stage of the process; it is best to notify anyone who you believe might be at fault, regardless of whether or not you actually end up bringing a claim against them later on.
Q: Who should I notify?
A: Each case will be different, but you should notify the drivers of all vehicles involved. Additionally, you should consider notifying the owners of any vehicles involved in the accident (if the owners are different from the drivers), employers of the drivers involved in the accident (if the driver was conducting company business at the time you were injured), the parents of any minors involved in the accident, or anyone who was not driving at the time of the accident but who may have contributed to it, such as pedestrians who were jaywalking. You should also notify your insurance company of your intention to file a claim in case you need to make a claim under your own policy.
Q: What do I need to say when I notify those involved of my intentions to file a claim?
A: At this point in the process, you do not need to provide these parties with much information about the accident or your injuries. You are merely giving any interested parties notice that you are considering legal action and inviting them to consider the option of settling with you. Simply state your name, the date and location of the accident, and your intention to take legal action to remedy your injuries.
Q: How soon should I notify those involved of my intentions to file a claim?
A: The sooner you notify any interested parties, the sooner you will be able start settlement negotiations. It is best to start this process within a couple weeks after the accident occurs. After you have notified any interested parties of your intentions, you can begin to move the process along at your own pace.
Q: What is a demand letter?
A: Once you have gathered enough information, you will create a demand letter explaining your situation and advising the at-fault parties (or their insurance carriers) to settle with you before you pursue formal legal action against them. Demand letters normally include:
- Why you believe the other person should be held responsible
- What injuries you have sustained and continue to suffer from
- How much your medical treatment has cost you
- What monetary damages you have suffered, such as lost income or property damage
Once you have set forth your case, you will write in your letter what compensation you believe you should receive and give the recipient of the letter a date by which to contact you.
Q: What sort of things should I ask for in a demand letter?
A: Most of the time, a demand package will request that the at-fault driver’s insurance policy pay for any damages you have incurred as a result of the collision. While each policy will differ, most policies will cover the following costs:
- Medical costs for the diagnosis and treatment of any injuries that resulted from the accident
- Property damage, including the loss of use of the damaged property
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering (also known as “general damages”)
When you send out your demand letter, you will also want to include any supporting documents that lend credibility to what you say. These documents will vary depending on the facts of your case, but may include police reports, bills from the hospital, or statements from your employer regarding any work you have missed.
Q: What if I was partially at fault for the accident?
A: If you were partially at fault for the accident that caused your injury, you may still be able to recover damages from other at-fault parties. This will depend on how much your carelessness was responsible for causing the accident. If you were at least 50% responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, then you will not be able to recover compensation from other drivers, regardless of whether or not they were partially at fault. If you were less than 50% responsible for the accident, however, you can sue other at-fault parties for compensation for your injuries. The amount these parties will be required to pay you will simply be decreased by the percentage the court determines you should be held liable for your own carelessness. There is no precise formula for determining how much you contributed to the accident; oftentimes, you will have to negotiate this determination with an insurance adjuster. This is where an experienced car accident attorney can be extremely beneficial in making sure you receive all the compensation to which you are entitled.
Q: How complex is the settlement process?
A: Usually, if you present a strong case in your demand letter and supporting documents, settling will be as simple as having a few conversations with a claims adjuster from the at-fault party’s insurance company. However, sometimes coming to an agreement as to how much money you are entitled to necessitates a bit more time. Insurance adjusters may point out the legal weaknesses in your case, or they will deny that the at-fault person or the particular type of accident in which you were involved was covered under their policy. These sorts of statements are often upsetting for victims of an auto accident to hear, but it is important to remain calm and confident that you are legally entitled to compensation.
Q: What is my main goal when negotiating with insurance carriers?
A: Many times, the cause of your accident will be obvious, and your main goal will simply be to convince the insurance company to give you as much money as possible. However, in some cases, insurance adjusters may debate whether or not the accident was their client’s fault, or they may argue that the at-fault party’s policy does not cover the type of accident in which you were involved. In these situations, in addition to proving that you are entitled to all the compensation you are asking for, you will also want to prove to the insurance adjuster that a judge or jury would likely find that their client caused your injuries, and that the client’s policy requires that you be paid.
Q: What should I do if the other driver’s insurance company contacts me by phone or in person?
A: Oftentimes, the other driver’s insurance company will contact you immediately after the accident occurs to try to get you to give a statement about the accident and your injuries, or to offer you a small amount of monetary compensation right away before you have a good idea of what your medical or other expenses will be. It is important not to provide this insurance adjuster with any detailed information before you speak with a personal injury attorney and before you know the full extent of your injuries. This information will be used against you during settlement negotiations or at trial. If you are put in this position, simply ask for the insurance adjuster’s name and contact information, give him or her some limited personal information, such as name, address, and phone number, and tell him or her that you do not wish to make any statements at this time.
Q: What happens if I file a claim under my own insurance policy?
A: If you file a claim under your own policy, as opposed to negotiating with the insurance provider for the at-fault driver, the process will be slightly different. Your insurance company has certain rights once you file a claim, including the right to access your medical and work records, the right to your cooperation, the right to payment from you if you receive money from any settlement agreements or judgments against at-fault parties, and the right to inspect your vehicle for any damage. If you refuse to provide this information, you will not be allowed to receive compensation under your policy.
Q: How do I know how much money to ask for?
A: Generally speaking, the person (or people) liable for the accident are responsible for paying you for the cost of medical expenses, lost income, physical suffering, permanent physical disability, loss of family, social, or educational experiences, and emotional damage. While some of these figures may be easy to calculate, others, such as emotional damage, require insurance adjusters to apply a formula specifically designed for determining at what monetary value to begin personal injury settlement negotiations.
While the process may vary between insurance companies, generally speaking, the formula will involve adding up all medical expenses you have incurred and multiplying that figure by a number between 1.5 and 5 (this number will be determined based on the severity of the accident and the extent of your injuries). After this is done, the insurance adjuster will add to that figure any income you have lost as a result of the accident. This gives the insurance adjuster a starting point when going in to a settlement negotiation.
Q: How far should I deviate from the insurance adjuster’s initial settlement offer?
A: The initial figure the insurance adjuster offers you is merely a starting point; it is up to you to present your case in a way that convinces the insurance adjuster to increase that sum. To do this, you will want to point out additional factors about your pain, suffering, and emotional distress that the insurance adjuster may not be aware of. These factors will differ depending on the facts of each case, but may include such considerations as any medications you are on (including the dosage and any side effects), the length of your recovery, loss of sleep, trouble eating, or any plans you were forced to miss as a result of your injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney will be in the best position to help you figure out what exactly you should tell the insurance adjuster and how to prove any contentions you make.
Q: What is a “No-Fault” Insurance Policy?
A: The laws governing car accidents differ depending on the state in which the accident happened. Some states follow a “fault” system, under which the injured party can sue the driver at fault for any and all damages they have sustained. Other states follow a “no fault” system, which means an injured party does not need to prove that the accident was someone else’s fault in order to receive compensation. The downside of this system is that victims of a car accident are not allowed to sue the driver at fault for pain and suffering or emotional distress unless certain conditions are met.
Q: How do I know if I have a “No-Fault” Insurance Policy?
Pennsylvania is a “choice” state, which means your rights depend on the insurance policy you have. When you created your policy, you chose whether you wanted no-fault or fault-based insurance. If you do not remember which option you chose, check the language of your policy or contact your insurance provider to assist you.
Q: If I have a “No-Fault” Insurance Policy, is there any way I can still sue the driver who caused the accident?
A: In certain circumstances, drivers with no-fault insurance policies can still sue the at-fault driver. You can always sue the at-fault driver for any property damage they may have caused, such as damage to your car. Additionally, you may still be able to sue the at-fault driver if your injuries are severe enough. In Pennsylvania, an injured party can sue the at-fault driver if his or her injuries meet a certain threshold, which oftentimes can be shown by a significant loss of use of a body part, disfigurement, permanent disability, bone fractures, or a long-term disability that will last for over 180 days. An experienced car accident attorney will be able to help you figure out whether or not your injuries are severe enough to meet this threshold.
Q: What if the other driver does not carry enough insurance to cover all my injuries?
A: If the other driver involved in your accident is either uninsured or does not have sufficient coverage to pay for your expenses, or you were involved in a hit-and-run accident, you may be able to file a claim under your own policy’s uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UI/UIM coverage). While UI/UIM insurance is not mandatory, you should have been offered the option to purchase UI/UIM coverage when you first purchased your policy. Unless you opted out of the option by signing the applicable waiver forms, this type of coverage is included in your policy.
Q: What if my accident is covered under multiple insurance policies?
A: If you are in an accident involving more than two people, payment for your injuries may be covered under more than one insurance policy. When this is the case, one of the policies will provide primary coverage, meaning it will cover all of your damages up to the insurance limit. Any remaining policies that may cover your damages will provide secondary coverage, meaning they will only kick in once the limit on the primary policy has been reached. If your damages exceed the amount on the primary policy, the secondary policies will cover the excess.
You do not need to figure out on your own which policy should be the primary policy and which policies should be secondary. You simply need to file a notice of claim with the insurance companies for any driver who was at-fault in your accident. These insurance companies will then notify you which policy has been named primary and which have been named secondary. The insurance company that is providing primary coverage will be the company with which you negotiate initially.
Q: What happens once we agree on a settlement?
A: The initial agreement you reach with the insurance adjuster will most likely be a verbal agreement. Within a few weeks after this agreement has been reached, you will receive a document in the mail from the insurance adjuster titled something along the lines of “Settlement and Release of All Claims.” This document puts your final settlement agreement into writing. It also contains a clause saying that once you sign the document, you will no longer be able to seek compensation from the person who caused your injuries. Once you sign this document and send it back to the insurance company, they will send you your money. Be sure to make a copy of the signed agreement for your records before you send it back to the insurance company, just in case the original somehow gets lost.
Q: Do I need to do anything else after I agree on a verbal settlement offer?
A: If you are able to come to an agreement on how much you should receive from the insurance company, you will want to follow up this conversation by requesting that the insurance adjuster send you a letter as possible detailing the specifics of the agreement. You will also want to send the insurance adjuster a letter confirming your agreement. The purpose of these additional steps is to get your agreement into writing so that you can make sure there is no miscommunication and create physical proof of the verbal settlement offer.
Q: How long will it take after agreeing on a settlement for me to receive my money?
A: Each insurance company will need a different amount of time to fully process your claim, so this will depend on which company you are dealing with. Generally speaking, the final settlement agreement should be mailed to you within a few weeks after you come to a verbal agreement with the insurance adjuster. If you do not receive a copy within two weeks of coming to an agreement, call the insurance company to make sure your claim is being processed. Once you receive, sign, and mail back the agreement, it will likely take about two-to-four weeks for the insurance company to process everything and send you your check. Again, make sure you have a copy of the signed agreement for your records just in case there is any delay.
Q: What if it takes longer than usual to receive my check?
A: Chances are, there is nothing to worry about. Insurance companies often get bogged down in paperwork, which can impact how long it takes them to send out your check. However, if you want to speed up the process, you can call the insurance company and ask to speak with the head of the claims department. Be prepared to provide this person with your claim number, the name of the adjuster you worked with, the amount of your settlement agreement, and the date you mailed the signed agreement back to the insurance company.
Q: What happens if we can’t agree on a settlement?
A: Though most personal injury cases end with a settlement agreement, sometimes coming to a mutually acceptable sum is not possible. In these cases, you will have to take your case to trial. This requires filing the appropriate documentation with the court, beginning the pre-trial “discovery” process, and preparing yourself for any testimony you may have to give. Going to trial after failed settlement negotiations is not a bar to future settlement agreements; you can still agree to settle with the other party after you begin formal legal proceedings.
Q: How does a personal injury trial get started?
A: If you are unable to agree on a settlement offer, you may choose to take your case to trial. In order to get a trial started, your personal injury attorney will need to file a document called a complaint with the court. Your complaint will set out exactly who and why you are suing and what you want to receive as compensation for your injuries. Once the complaint is filed with the court, it will need to be delivered to any and all people you have named in the complaint that you believe are legally responsible for your injuries. Accompanying this complaint will be an official summons, which tells the people you are suing that they need to appear in court on the date specified in the complaint. This time around, the complaint and summons will be served on the people who you believe were responsible for your accident, not their insurance companies.
Q: What happens at a personal injury trial?
A: The trial will be held in civil court, where a judge or jury will listen as each side presents evidence to defend its case and diminish the persuasive value of the other party’s evidence. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury will be asked if they find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant should be held liable (“by a preponderance of the evidence” simply means that the plaintiff’s case is more likely true than it is not true). If the judge or jury rules in your favor, you will be entitled to all the compensation you asked for at the outset of your case. If the judge or jury rules for the defendant, you will not receive any compensation.
Q: How long do I have after an accident to file a lawsuit?
A: For accidents that occurred in Pennsylvania, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against any at-fault drivers. If you do not file your lawsuit within this time period, you will lose your chance to take your case to court. However, if the accident occurred outside of Pennsylvania, this time limitation may or may not be different. The laws governing the state in which the accident occurred will tell you how long you have to file your lawsuit.
Q: What exactly will I need to prove at trial?
A: In order to receive compensation from the person or people who injured you, you will need to prove four things:
- The defendant in your case had a legal responsibility to avoid harming you
- The defendant in your case failed to abide by this legal responsibility
- Your injuries were the direct result of this breach of the defendant’s legal responsibility
- You sustained injuries or damage as a result of the accident that warrant compensation
Q: What sort of evidence will I need to present at trial?
A: When you and your personal injury attorney are preparing for trial, you will compile a wide variety of evidence to prove that the person who injured you should be held liable. In addition to your testimony and the testimony of those you are suing, you will want to present the judge or jury with a copy of any demand letters you sent out, a police report from the accident (if applicable), witness statements (if applicable), photographs of the accident scene, medical records and bills, correspondences with your employer regarding your injury, and the language of any laws you believe the at-fault party violated. This list is not exhaustive. Your car accident attorney will be in the best position to help you compile and organize the best evidence for you to present at trial.
Kraemer, Manes & Associates LLC “KM&A” is a law firm serving all of Pennsylvania with our principal offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Call KM&A in western Pennsylvania at 412-626-5626 or in eastern Pennsylvania at 215-618-9185. KM&A can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.