Car accident - lawyer?

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My wife was in a pretty serious car accident a few weeks ago that involved a week long hospital stay (broken ribs, collapsed lung, cracked vertebra, broken foot) and will be out of work for about a month by her doctor's estimate. I (and family) have only been involved in car crashes with no medical payments so my experience is essentially zero. Everyone says that we need to hire a lawyer to work with our insurance company (the other driver was uninsured so it will hit our uninsured coverage). Would you agree?

I've never hired a lawyer before so how should I find one? Go with one of the larger firms (the ones that do commercials - seems odd but I guess they've made money for a reason) or smaller? Anything in particular I should watch out for? I've talked to 3 and all of them do a contingent fee of 1/3 of the gross settlement. I'm slightly concerned about how that works if the medical bills are higher than our remaining 2/3 of the settlement but all 3 of the firms I've talked to have assured me that their fee is part of the negotiation with the insurance companies (health and auto)...

Any thoughts appreciated!

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Better call Saul

Tell the lawyers you'll hire them if they do 25%. Trust me, they'll take it.

I don't think you'll make anything more out of it besides the Lawyer Fees, but at least you'll have the Piece of Mind that your Lawyer is handling everything.

I was also recently in a car accident, but much, much less serious than your wife's. My wishes for her speedy recovery. I've spent a bunch of time trying to better understand when lawyers make sense. My experience is based on WA state. It sounds like you're also in an at fault state so it should be somewhat applicable. This is based on what I've learned so far, but I'm not a lawyer, so hopefully someone will correct me if there's anything too wrong here.

Basically, there are certain things the at-fault insurance is going to have to pay - medical bills and lost time at work being the big ones. Typically when health insurance pays initially, they'll then place a lien on any settlement you make and take the money back. Interestingly, from my understanding, in most states you can claim the full billed amount back from the at-fault insurance but you only need to pay your health insurance for the amount they actually paid (typically less; this is called the collateral source rule). This may not apply since yours is being filed under the uninsured coverage. Then there's pain and suffering. That amount is going to be much harder to determine. My understanding is that if there's no permanent damage, you're looking at a typical total settlement (including the medical expenses) of at most five times medical expenses. If there's permanent damage it could be higher.

What I've realized is that a lawyer is someone who will tell you what to keep track of, who (should) know all the tricks to get more money, will handle all the negotiations for you, and probably get you more money. In a simple case I've read it's rarely much more than 25% over what you can get, so basically you lose out by hiring a lawyer. But yours is much more complicated, so having someone who knows all the details is probably useful. Especially with a longer recovery, you might run into statute of limitations issues or other things you wouldn't have thought of. Basically what it comes down to is do you want your wife to handle the paperwork, the negotiations, etc... while not knowing what she's doing and still recovering, or do you want a professional handling it?

With regards to cost and the contingency fee, one thing the lawyer I talked to said is that leaving no money for the client would be very bad advertising. I'm sure some lawyers would do that, but hopefully not. Something else to check is what their fee is if you go to trial. The one contract I saw said 33% if settled, 40% if it went to arbitration or trial.

The other complication here is that it's an uninsured claim. This probably changes the rules since you have a contract with your insurance company. Something else to think about is that you probably have some limit. The at-fault person is probably judgement proof. If your wife's medical bills are high and your limit is not too much higher, the insurance company might just give you the limit. At which point I'm not sure a lawyer can help you much and will just cost you a bunch of money. Hopefully someone else has more advice on this.

As for finding a lawyer, a personal recommendation would probably be best. Maybe some co-workers have had experience? One thing I do think is a good practice is to avoid having the lawyer send you to the "right" doctor. The lawyer I talked to basically said "I'm a lawyer, not a doctor, so I won't tell you where to get medical care". Personally, that sounds like a good idea to me.

I only read the first dozen or so words in your post... and the answer is yes.

I am a lawyer, and quite frankly, about half of my posts on here tell people they don't need a lawyer. You need a lawyer here. Ignore dblevitan's post, as it has a lot of wrong information in it. As for choosing a lawyer, this is more difficult. I find the firms that advertise on television to be kind of hacks. The lawyers are technically competent, but not the best ones, that is why they have to advertise on television for work. They usually are a bit overworked as well. If you know any lawyer at all (even if he does real estate or wills or whatever) ask that person, they will know who to call. Some people in these threads say call the local bar association. This is the worst way to pick a lawyer, as they have a list of members and when you call they recommend the next name on the list, then cross it off and wait for the next guy to call and use the next name on the list. You just have to pay dues to be on the list. Disclaimer, this isn't legal advice.

penguinknot said:   My wife was in a pretty serious car accident a few weeks ago that involved a week long hospital stay (broken ribs, collapsed lung, cracked vertebra, broken foot) and will be out of work for about a month by her doctor's estimate. I (and family) have only been involved in car crashes with no medical payments so my experience is essentially zero. Everyone says that we need to hire a lawyer to work with our insurance company (the other driver was uninsured so it will hit our uninsured coverage). Would you agree?

I've never hired a lawyer before so how should I find one? Go with one of the larger firms (the ones that do commercials - seems odd but I guess they've made money for a reason) or smaller? Anything in particular I should watch out for? I've talked to 3 and all of them do a contingent fee of 1/3 of the gross settlement. I'm slightly concerned about how that works if the medical bills are higher than our remaining 2/3 of the settlement but all 3 of the firms I've talked to have assured me that their fee is part of the negotiation with the insurance companies (health and auto)...

Any thoughts appreciated!

  There is a fair chance that you will get the other person's entire policy limit (it depends on how much it is) and that is all they will have (few assets to their name), in which case this will be a quick job for someone.  I wonder if you could find an attorney who would consult you on what needs to be done (check for assets and have a cursory discussion with the insurer) for an hourly rate instead.  If the attorney concludes, and you agree, that substantial work is needed (for example, if the person has a very high limit and you won't get it automatically, or if the person has assets and you may need to file suit), you could agree to the contingency fee.  But if it is as simple as an asset check and the insurer offering to pay you its limits, perhaps an attorney would do it for a couple hours of fee, rather than 33% of the policy limit?  Just a thought.  

drobins9 said:   
penguinknot said:   My wife was in a pretty serious car accident a few weeks ago that involved a week long hospital stay (broken ribs, collapsed lung, cracked vertebra, broken foot) and will be out of work for about a month by her doctor's estimate. I (and family) have only been involved in car crashes with no medical payments so my experience is essentially zero. Everyone says that we need to hire a lawyer to work with our insurance company (the other driver was uninsured so it will hit our uninsured coverage). Would you agree?

I've never hired a lawyer before so how should I find one? Go with one of the larger firms (the ones that do commercials - seems odd but I guess they've made money for a reason) or smaller? Anything in particular I should watch out for? I've talked to 3 and all of them do a contingent fee of 1/3 of the gross settlement. I'm slightly concerned about how that works if the medical bills are higher than our remaining 2/3 of the settlement but all 3 of the firms I've talked to have assured me that their fee is part of the negotiation with the insurance companies (health and auto)...

Any thoughts appreciated!

  There is a fair chance that you will get the other person's entire policy limit (it depends on how much it is) and that is all they will have (few assets to their name), in which case this will be a quick job for someone.  I wonder if you could find an attorney who would consult you on what needs to be done (check for assets and have a cursory discussion with the insurer) for an hourly rate instead.  If the attorney concludes, and you agree, that substantial work is needed (for example, if the person has a very high limit and you won't get it automatically, or if the person has assets and you may need to file suit), you could agree to the contingency fee.  But if it is as simple as an asset check and the insurer offering to pay you its limits, perhaps an attorney would do it for a couple hours of fee, rather than 33% of the policy limit?  Just a thought.  

  There is no policy limit since the OP said the other driver was uninsured.

This is why the OP needs a lawyer in this case. While he was prudent in having uninsured motorist coverage there could be long lasting medical effects from this accident. For anything above what his own insurance will cover (which is probably just the medical bills up to his policy limits) anything else will have to be gone after in a civil suit which will require a good lawyer.

timx said:   I am a lawyer, and quite frankly, about half of my posts on here tell people they don't need a lawyer. You need a lawyer here. Ignore dblevitan's post, as it has a lot of wrong information in it.
 

Could you tell me specifically what was wrong in my post? One thing I personally don't like about many lawyers is that they say "you can't figure it out" when most people actually can. There's nothing magical about practicing law - what you get with a lawyer is knowledge and experience, same as just about any skilled person you can hire. If anything, I tried to point out that the process is complicated and that hiring a lawyer is worthwhile if you don't want to deal with it yourself.

prosperity said:    There is no policy limit since the OP said the other driver was uninsured.

This is why the OP needs a lawyer in this case. While he was prudent in having uninsured motorist coverage there could be long lasting medical effects from this accident. For anything above what his own insurance will cover (which is probably just the medical bills up to his policy limits) anything else will have to be gone after in a civil suit which will require a good lawyer.
 

By that argument there is never a policy limit. You can always sue the at-fault driver. But if the at-fault driver is, say, an illegal immigrant driving without insurance who has already fled the country, what will suing that person do? OP may as well collect 100% of his policy limit. Definitely OP should consult with a lawyer to determine if the at-fault driver can be sued but if the driver can't be sued, I fail to see what a lawyer can do that OP can't.

dblevitan said:   
timx said:   I am a lawyer, and quite frankly, about half of my posts on here tell people they don't need a lawyer. You need a lawyer here. Ignore dblevitan's post, as it has a lot of wrong information in it.
Could you tell me specifically what was wrong in my post? One thing I personally don't like about many lawyers is that they say "you can't figure it out" when most people actually can. There's nothing magical about practicing law - what you get with a lawyer is knowledge and experience, same as just about any skilled person you can hire. If anything, I tried to point out that the process is complicated and that hiring a lawyer is worthwhile if you don't want to deal with it yourself.

  OP needs a lawyer because he UI/UM coverage usually won't pay out unless you secure a judgement against the UI/UM driver.

OP's not going to like that his insurance company is going to provide defense counsel to the defendant, but that that's how this works -- to protect his insurance companies stockholders/mutual policyholders.

This is based on my own experience in calif and nevada.If the at fault driver is uninsured you will have to file a claim on your uninsured motorist coverage. Most likely you have bodily injury coverage only ,not property damage.That means your car doesn't get fixed.You need to look at your contract and see what the limits are.Minimum in calif is $5,000 to $10,000 .My one night in the E R was just under $26,000 ,your several nights might make that look small.If your coverage is minimal you could end up responsible for the medical bills.Do this before hiring a lawyer.Usually if your uninsured claim is legit you will be paid the limit amount with out giving 1/3 to 1/2 to a lawyer .

If the at fault driver was cited ,make sure you follow the court proceedings ,let the D A know you are injured and they can hook you up with assistance for victims of crime.They can help you with the bills only. They can make the other driver pay you restitution as part of the penalty,or a condition to keep drivers license.

Lawyers are needed for complex situations where there is discovery needed ,determine fault,or if its a big company with deep pockets.The lawyers will not waste their time sueing the individual either as its not worth it.If a judgement is rendered then collecting it would be very hard. If you have any questions you can check out my car accident post or PM me .

The deal is insurers collect all the premiums up front and that is all the money they get and so they want to pay out as little of that money as possible on each claim. After all, the insurer only gets to keep what is leftover after paying all claims. Therefore, you will not get what your claim is worth unless you play the game and hold their feet to the fire. This almost always means having a lawyer and filing a lawsuit and taking it at least though discovery. Most large insurers these days are just picking the low hanging fruit pre-lawsuit because they have an army of relatively cheap staff counsel that they load up on cases. They do the bare minimum due diligence defense for most of the lawsuit (because they have so many cases). The insurers more and more make you go through this stage before getting a reasonable offer from them because they have learned over the years making you go to more effort and making the process longer is too much for many and they can settle those people out for a lot less.

At the end of the day you cannot really put a number on pain and suffering and it is unfortunate it doesn't bring everyone the closure they need because plenty of people find that the system values pain and suffering less than they would like. Maybe that is because the media and TV sensationalizes the big cases and most cases are not big cases. You don't want to be a big cases because then you are probably so gorked you would give up everything to be healthy again. Or maybe people think pain is worth more than it can turn out to be in the legal system because they think fault is binary when it often is not. Or maybe the big corporations/insurers just have a leg up these days as they seem to in other facets of life/economy and they have made the system more conservative compared to what the general public expects in all but the big cases.

Focus on getting well first, don't let the incident consume you or seek revenge or therapy with the legal system, that is probably a bad idea and you will be disappointed. At the end of the day, to the insurers, you are an arms length business transaction, try to maximize its value and move on with your life after.

stanolshefski said:   
dblevitan said:   
timx said:   I am a lawyer, and quite frankly, about half of my posts on here tell people they don't need a lawyer. You need a lawyer here. Ignore dblevitan's post, as it has a lot of wrong information in it.
Could you tell me specifically what was wrong in my post? One thing I personally don't like about many lawyers is that they say "you can't figure it out" when most people actually can. There's nothing magical about practicing law - what you get with a lawyer is knowledge and experience, same as just about any skilled person you can hire. If anything, I tried to point out that the process is complicated and that hiring a lawyer is worthwhile if you don't want to deal with it yourself.

  OP needs a lawyer because he UI/UM coverage usually won't pay out unless you secure a judgement against the UI/UM driver.

OP's not going to like that his insurance company is going to provide defense counsel to the defendant, but that that's how this works -- to protect his insurance companies stockholders/mutual policyholders.

  
I missed the fact that the tortfeasor was uninsured.  But BI and UM are virtually the same.  An insurer will want to make a fair settlement, but not more.  If the injury obviously warrants the policy limit, the insurer will probably offer the policy limit.  Then, a decision needs to occur: Do you accept the UM policy limit, or do you sue the at-fault party, hope for a larger judgement, pay 40% fee (it is higher when you go to trial), and hope the at-fault party is collectible for an amount that exceeds what you lost from the attorney.  For example, if the insurer would offer the $100k policy limit and you instead choose to sue, let's say you get a $500k judgement.  The insurer will turn over the $100k they offered originally.  But, the attorney will take his/her 40% fee from that, and probably expenses on top of that.  So maybe you get $50,000 or $55,000.  Then, what are the chances you are going to get another $50,000, or $450,000, from the person who didn't have insurance?  

dblevitan said:   
timx said:   I am a lawyer, and quite frankly, about half of my posts on here tell people they don't need a lawyer. You need a lawyer here. Ignore dblevitan's post, as it has a lot of wrong information in it.
Could you tell me specifically what was wrong in my post? One thing I personally don't like about many lawyers is that they say "you can't figure it out" when most people actually can. There's nothing magical about practicing law - what you get with a lawyer is knowledge and experience, same as just about any skilled person you can hire. If anything, I tried to point out that the process is complicated and that hiring a lawyer is worthwhile if you don't want to deal with it yourself.

  Do you recommend self-trepanation?



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