What Questions to Ask a Lawyer About a Car Accident
A free consultation with a lawyer is a good first step for an accident victim. Knowing what questions to ask can go a long way to relieving the stress and confusion that comes with filing an accident claim.
A free consultation with a car accident lawyer is only a highway billboard away. Or a TV commercial. Or a radio spot.
The widespread advertising by accident attorneys and personal injury attorneys can offer the comfort of knowing help is readily available. But it also might add to your confusion about how best to protect your interests.
You can relieve some, if not all, of that stress if you know what questions to ask a car accident lawyer in a free consultation.
It’s equally important to understand that a consultation with a car accident lawyer is a two-way street. In addition to asking the right questions, you should be ready to provide information that helps the attorney assess your case.
“When speaking with an accident attorney during a free consultation, outside of case length, compensation, and attorney fees, I would encourage a potential client to ask a number of questions,” said Allen Tittle, Founder and Managing Partner at Tittle and Perlmuter in Cleveland, Ohio.
1. Have You Taken on Any Cases Similar to Mine?
Tittle gives this question top billing. While knowing that a car accident lawyer has experience specific to your case may not be the only factor in hiring legal representation, it’s the table-settler for other pertinent questions regarding the likely outcome of your case, expected length of the case and the like.
“Attorneys should also be extremely knowledgeable on the laws and regulations that apply to your local area or state,” Tittle said.
2. What Issues or Challenges Would You Expect with My Case?
You may believe you have a cut-and-dried case that proves another driver’s 100% liability but that’s not how insurance companies typically operate.
“Some cases may have challenging witnesses or crash reports which we need to contend with and some prove challenging because the damages, while real, are not clear and obvious from an insurance company’s perspective,” said Emanuel Galimidi, personal injury and wrongful death attorney at Galimidi Law in Miami.
Remember, the insurance companies involved are looking to mitigate their costs in a settlement. They’ll probe for weaknesses in your case claiming everything from conflicting or flimsy evidence to procedural glitches in filing accident reports and insurance claims.
3. What Is the Timeline for My Case?
The timeline may well depend on the extent of injuries involved, since experienced attorneys may recommend an accident victim reach a certain stage of recovery (where medical expenses are most easily calculated) before a settlement is negotiated.
If a case goes to trial – and simply filing a lawsuit doesn’t ensure that it will – the timeline could be extended by eight months to more than a year for disclosure, discovery, mediation and, in select cases, a court proceeding.
An experienced accident attorney can give you a ballpark even if the variables make it difficult to pin down a timeline.
4. What Deadlines Do I Need to Know About?
Most insurance policies require clients to file an insurance claim “promptly.” Some states specify you file a claim within 30 days. But don’t confuse that deadline with the deadline to file a car accident lawsuit.
The deadlines to file lawsuits varies state by state. For instance, in Ohio it’s two years. It’s twice that in Florida.
Keep in mind that an experienced accident attorney may be reluctant to take a complicated case if you wait too long to get legal help and the statute of limitations is approaching.
5. What Are My Options for Recovering Compensation?
Galimidi: “It all depends on what you have lost. Pain and suffering is always on the table as a recoverable damage. But if, for example, you were injured and lost your job or clients as a result, your lost wages will also be a piece of that puzzle.”
Most cases don’t go to a jury trial. So, the first and most frequent avenue of compensation is a well-presented case that takes into account medical bills, vehicle damage, lost wages and other out-of-pocket expenses.
6. How Much Is My Case Worth?
Another way to determine what you can expect in a car accident settlement is to ask an accident attorney how he or she will calculate the damages. That requires them to address your particular case and not just provide a compensation average for your type of accident.
“You should understand how your attorney will calculate damages that include both economic and non-economic based on your state’s caps,” Tittle said.
7. What Do I Do If I Need Additional Medical Attention During or After the Case Is Settled?
Depending on the extent of your injuries, an accident attorney may suggest completing treatment before settling a case. That may not be what you want to hear if you are impatient for compensation.
Accident attorneys are versed in the formulas insurance companies use to project future medical expenses. Negotiating that expense is critical to a fair settlement.
Keep in mind, once a case is settled, you can’t go back and re-open a settlement because of ongoing medical expenses.
8. How Are Your Attorney Fees Structured?
Fees could vary firm to firm, which is why it’s good to ask how attorney fees are structured.
Personal injury cases are almost always contingent on the attorney recovering damages for you. From those damages recovered, you should expect to pay 30-33% if the claim resolves pre-suit or 40% if the claim settles after a lawsuit is filed or reaches a verdict.
» Learn More: How Much Do Car Accident Lawyers Charge?
9. Are There Additional Legal Fees?
Often, yes, there are additional legal fees, especially if a case goes to trial. Ask about fees for expert witnesses, court filings, court reporter fees and the cost of obtaining police reports and medical records.
Find out if those fees will be deducted from your settlement or if you need to pay as you go. The former is more typically the case.
10. Will I Need to Pay Anything out of Pocket, If We Lose?
Generally, you will not pay anything out of pocket if a case is lost, with the possible exception of some medical costs.
11. Will My Case Go to Trial?
Litigation isn’t cheap. That explains why more than 90% of car accident claims get settled before trial.
Even if a lawsuit is filed, mediation may settle the case before a verdict. But the possibility of going to trial is a good reason to hire an accident attorney with court room experience.
“You want to ensure that your attorney will work in your best interest, not just settle because it’s the easier path,” Tittle said.
12. What Is My Role in the Case?
You play a big role by providing as much evidence and information as possible. Beyond that, Galimidi says, how big a role you play is your decision.
“Whether you play a large or small role, you play the most important one,” he said. “(Because) you decide whether to settle and for how much.”
13. How Will I Stay Informed About the Status of the Case?
Get the name of a contact at any firm you hire. Make it clear that you want to be kept informed about the progress of the case your attorney is building on your behalf.
Should you expect a weekly email? Phone call? Set the parameters upfront so both sides have the same expectations.
14. What Is the Likely Outcome of My Case?
The question of the likely outcome in a car accident case unfortunately invites an unsatisfactory answer: it all depends.
But asking how many cases similar to yours a particular car accident lawyer has taken on (and won) should provide reasonable parameters. You should ask for the names and contact information, if possible, for clients the attorney has represented in similar cases.
How many have settled? How many have gone to trial?
Keep in mind, you have a say in determining the outcome.
15.What Information Do You Need from Me?
You should basically prepare for your consultation as you would if you were asked to prove your case to an insurance company.
Tittle’s list of details you should be ready to provide an accident attorney include:
- Incident date
- Summary of the accident (location, police department, passengers, insurance info)
- Injuries and damages
- Where did the accident occur? (city, state, and detailed location)
- Were you wearing a seatbelt? (if applicable)
- Were you taken by EMS to the hospital?
- Where and when did you get your first medical treatment?
- Was anyone cited at the accident? If so, who?
- What injuries have you been diagnosed with?
- What future treatment is planned?
- How are you feeling now?
- Police report number
- Have you missed any work as a result of the accident?
Be prepared. A free consultation with a car accident lawyer can be a major stress reliever.
A general rule: The better informed both sides are in a car accident consultation the better the working relationship and, quite possibly, the better the chances of a fair settlement or successful court case.
- Bieber, C. (2022, August 23) Car Accident Lawyer Fees 2023 Guide. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/legal/auto-accident/car-accident-lawyer-fees/
- N.A. (2016, May 29) How Long Will My Personal Injury Lawsuit Take? Retrieved from https://www.mccormickmurphy.com/blog/faq-how-long-will-my-personal-injury-lawsuit-take/