Legal Process of Car Accidents
Car accidents are an everyday occurrence in Ohio. Fortunately, many accidents only produce minor injuries that insurance covers easily. If you have been in an accident, you might think you do not need to contact an attorney. You believe you can just deal with the insurance company on your own. But there are a few things to consider before ignoring the benefits of working with a qualified Ohio personal injury lawyer.
Who Is at Fault?
Some states employ a “no-fault” system with respect to car accidents. In other words, it does not matter who caused the accident, since the state requires every driver to maintain their own insurance coverage. Ohio is a “fault” state. The negligent driver or their insurance company liable for damages or injuries caused to third parties.
Determining fault is not always a simple matter. Say you are at an intersection. You have the green light and proceed. A driver traveling in the perpendicular direction runs the red light and hits you. In your opinion, the other driver is clearly at fault.
When the police arrive to take an accident report, the other driver claims he had the right-of-way. He claims that you ran the red light. Now you have a he said-she said situation. This is where an attorney can be helpful. An experienced car accident attorney can do the additional legwork and gather evidence to help prove the other driver was actually at fault.
Dealing with Insurance Companies
Even if there is no dispute over fault, you may still need a car accident attorney to help you deal with your insurance company. You might think this is unnecessary. After all, you are the customer and the insurance company must provide you with coverage! The truth is not quite so simple.
Insurance companies are businesses who answer to shareholders. They earn profits by charging premiums and settling claims as quickly as possible for as little as possible. Your insurance company is an expert when it comes to assessing the potential value of your accident claim and low-balling a settlement offer.
Insurance is also a contract–a lengthy contract that contains many legal terms, exceptions, and loopholes that the insurer can exploit. Your insurance company will not give you the benefit of the doubt or pay a claim because you are nice and loyal customer. They will strictly hold you to the terms of the contract, even if you are not fully aware of what those terms are or how they affect your legal rights.
Be Skeptical of First Offers
When dealing with any insurer–either your own or one representing a negligent driver–they may tempt you to accept an initial settlement offer without question. This is often a mistake. Remember, the insurer wants to settle quickly to minimize its own exposure. They are counting on the fact you want to avoid a protracted negotiation (or litigation) and will be grateful for any amount offered.
It is certainly understandable that you want to accept an initial offer. In the days and weeks following a car accident you may be facing a financial crunch. Medical bills are piling up while you are losing wages due to missed work. Any settlement offer may seem like a godsend. But jumping at a first offer is too often a case of shortchanging your long-term interests for short-term gain.
Consider the fact that in many car accidents, all of a person’s physical injuries are not immediately apparent. Internal injuries–particularly concussions or similar traumatic brain injuries–may not be detected for weeks or months after you receive initial medical treatment. The last thing you want to do is agree to a binding settlement offer before you learn the full extent of your injuries.
Also, keep in mind that many car accident injuries require extended care. If you suffer a leg fracture or slipped disc, you may require multiple surgeries over several years. You’ll also need physical therapy and other rehabilitation. In serious cases–i.e., paralysis or the loss of a limb–you may require lifelong care. You also need to account for the loss of future income if you are unable to return to work in your previous job.
How an Ohio Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Indeed, if you suffer any type of serious injury in a car accident, you should consult with a Cleveland car accident attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can advise you in several areas, including:
- understanding the terms of your insurance policy;
- learning about your rights under Ohio law;
- handling correspondence with your insurance company to make sure you do not inadvertently sign away your legal rights;
- assessing the potential fault of any negligent parties and estimating the potential value of a personal injury claim.
Even if you are reluctant to engage counsel, you should get an attorney if an attorney representing an insurance company or a potential defendant contacts you. Once the other side “lawyers up,” you are only hurting yourself by not doing the same. Remember, attorneys have experience dealing with other attorneys and insurance companies. Hiring a lawyer is not an aggressive act–it is merely helping to level the playing field in your favor.
You may worry that hiring a lawyer might lead to long and costly litigation. Consider that even if a personal injury lawsuit is necessary, most cases are settled out of court. It is generally in nobody’s interest to litigate a case from start to finish (and beyond to a possible appeal). But a lawsuit is often the best way to ensure car accident victims are fully compensated for their injuries.
If you have been in a car accident and need advice on how to proceed, contact the offices of Tittle & Perlmuter to schedule a free consultation with one our attorneys.