You can collect damages after any accident that was caused by someone else’s carelessness, unless you live in a no-fault state. In the 12 no-fault states, your own personal protection insurance will pay your damages up to your policy’s limits, and you won’t be able to claim pain and suffering unless you meet your state’s serious injury threshold.
In a minor accident, your injuries most likely would not meet this threshold. If your damages do end up being more than your policy’s limit, you will still be able to sue and collect damages in a no-fault state. Your hospital bills and repairs could still be covered, but you wouldn’t be able to claim pain and suffering.
In the at-fault states, no matter how minor the accident, you can still file a claim. Whether or not you’ll need a lawyer to do this will depend on the circumstances of the crash and the evidence you were able to collect.
When You Might Not Need an Attorney
If your damages are so low that your case will end up in small claims court, you won’t need an attorney. In this situation and the following circumstances, it might be better to handle things yourself.
If there are injuries, more than one other party was involved, or there were any other complications besides damage to your car, it is in your best interest to get a lawyer.
1) No One Was Injured
If you didn’t receive any injuries and the damage is all property-related, it may not be worth getting an attorney. Many lawyers will not accept cases where no injury occurred because it’s not worth their while, or they may accept the case but take a higher percentage of the settlement.
You should not diagnose yourself as being injury-free without going to a doctor to have it confirmed. Some injuries only become apparent later.
2) Insurance Offers a Fair Settlement
Once you’ve determined the total value of your damages, you’ll want to send a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company to give them the opportunity to negotiate a fair settlement. If the company offers you a settlement that you believe is fair, you can skip the lawyer.
If they offer you less than you wanted, even after counter-offering, before you decide to get an attorney remember that their cut could be one-third of your settlement.
That means they’d need to get you 50% more. If you don’t think that’s going to happen because your accident was so minor, you may want to consider accepting their settlement offer.
How to File a Third-Party Claim
If you’ve decided it isn’t worth it to hire a lawyer, your insurance company may help you file a third-party claim with the at-fault party’s insurer. If they don’t, once fault has been determined you can still do it on your own.
Many insurance companies have a preferred network of repair shops they work with because they get a discounted rate. If the other party’s insurer offers to send you to their mechanic to get your vehicle repaired, you may choose to do so but you don’t have to. You have the right to choose your own mechanic.
One Los Angeles lawyer for car accidents recommends that when you are dealing with an insurance company you should never accept responsibility for any part of the accident, and if the representative asks how you are you should not say, “Fine.” You’ll want to keep your interactions with them brief and avoid giving them any extra information.
If a settlement check is offered, make sure it’s enough to cover your damages. Before you sign-off on any settlement, be sure you have been completely cleared by a doctor. Once you’ve accepted a settlement, any further medical treatment you seek will come out of your pocket.