Deciding whether you need an attorney to help settle your claim is an important question. First off, you can always call accident attorneys and consult about your case – most offer free, initial consultations. Ultimately, whether you employ an attorney to help with your case must be decided by you and it is something you should consider with great care.
What an attorney can do for you and your case.
First, it is important to separate personal property from personal injury claims. If you are involved in a minor “fender-bender,” the damage is usually confined to personal property. In these types of accidents, the at-fault party is obligated to pay the “fair market value” of the property loss. That is, they are generally required to pay the fair value to restore your vehicle to its pre-loss condition.
This usually consists of you going to an automotive repair shop and obtaining an estimate. Most reputable repair shops are familiar with this process and they can write you an estimate that the at-fault party’s insurer is familiar with receiving. Some shops will even send the estimate directly to the insurers and handle all the back-office paperwork needed. It is rare that attorneys are needed for these types of interactions.
Other property losses may include a total loss of the vehicle. If your vehicle has been “totaled,” that typically indicates that the costs of repairs exceed the estimated fair market value of the vehicle. Sometimes, perhaps often, the total loss value of the vehicle is less than what the victim feels it is worth. This may simply be because the victim owes more on the vehicle than its estimated worth, or sometimes it is because the victim has made modifications that are not properly accounted for in its valuation. Whatever the reasons, if you think the value assigned to the vehicle is too low, you may be in for a fight.
While an attorney may be able to help increase the value offered for property loss, it is not usually cost-effective. Most plaintiff attorneys take cases on a contingency basis – meaning they are going to take the case for a 1/3 (33%) portion of the recovery. That means that for it to be cost-effective to hire a contingent attorney, the attorney would have to increase the value received by at least 33%. Most property-only claims cannot be increased enough with the help of an attorney to make up for the fees they will take from the recovery. If you hire an attorney on an hourly basis, expect to pay several hundred dollars an hour – again, not usually a cost-effective approach for a property only claim.
Despite the information above, you should explore your options and see if hiring an attorney for your property claim make sense for you and your case.
What about hiring an attorney for my personal injury case?
If you have experienced any injury as a result of the accident, an attorney is almost surely able to obtain a favorable result that is likely to net an overall increase to the client. In other words, many case values can be increased enough to net the client more than they would otherwise receive, even after the deduction of attorneys’ fees. After all, if attorneys weren’t able to bring the client a net increase after its fees, there would be much less need for attorneys. Here’s why:
In terms of personal injury cases, Nebraska law allows for the recovery of all “special damage” as well as all “general damage.”
Special damages are those that resulted in a monetary loss for the victim. In other words, special damages can be calculated because they include any “out of pocket” expenses. The two largest groups of special damages are medical expenses and lost wages.
Often, if an at-fault party’s insurance company is dealing with an unrepresented party, they will offer to settle the case for at or near the special damages. They may also refuse to consider borderline or questionable treatment, argue that some treatment was not necessary or the bills were not reasonable, or they may even downplay or disregard lost wage claims.
However, a victim’s special damages are not all that a victim is entitled to under the law. The general damages – those damage which are non-pecuniary (they didn’t cost money), are also compensable. These include, among other things, items of loss such as pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc…
These damages – special and general – are generally where an attorney can bring value and make it worth hiring and attorney. Since your attorney is most likely accepting a fee of 33% of your recovery, the attorney needs to be able to increase the offer by the other insurer by at least 33% to “make up” for its fees.
Certainly, if you have experienced a personal injury as part of your car accident, you should at least consult with a personal injury attorney to look over your case and see if you are entitled to more than the other insurer has offered up to that point. A good attorney may suggest being examined by additional medical experts and obtaining independent medical expert reports; it may be suggested to be evaluated by a vocational expert; there may be other tests and reports that need to be obtained to support claims of injury severity or permanency. Whatever your case requires, consulting with an experienced injury attorney is likely a good idea.
Adam P. Johnson is an attorney licensed in Nebraska who currently practices employment, personal injury & construction law with Johnson Tabor & Johnson Law in Omaha, Nebraska. Mr. Johnson is also a founding member and current President of Johnson Roofing & Construction - a small, family-owned roofing contractor in Omaha. Mr. Johnson is a second generation Omaha native and is proud to serve its community with honest and ethical legal services. Johnson's wife, Ande, is an active volunteer in the community and currently serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, the Rose Theater Family Guild, and in leadership positions with the Junior League.