When to Get an Attorney for a Car Accident
You might do everything possible to ensure you’re safe to drive before taking the wheel, from guaranteeing that your turn signals are operating to ordering an Uber if you’ve imbibed.
Despite your best efforts, accidents happen—and often at that. Whether another vehicle runs a red light and T-bones your car or you sneeze and inadvertently hit the vehicle in front of you, car accidents are exceedingly common, with approximately 6 million occurring in the U.S. every year.1
Everywhere from multi-lane freeways to rural county roads are dotted with billboards featuring personal injury and car accident lawyers. But when you’re already dealing with the aftermath of an auto accident and the emotional distress it can provoke, do you really need to hire a car accident attorney?
It depends. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios that necessitate retaining legal counsel for a car accident claim—and when you should set up a consultation.
#1 You’ve Been Injured
In an ideal world, any sort of vehicular collision would be totally minor. The car behind you gently tapped your vehicle and there’s little more than a slight dent and a scratch on your fender. No one has been hurt, and neither of your cars has been substantially damaged.
In the real world, we all know that car accidents can run the gamut from trivial to catastrophic—and that injuries are as common as their occurrence.
It’s widely advised, as a car accident victim, to consult with a lawyer—preferably a topnotch attorney who specializes in car accidents and personal injury claims—if you’ve suffered from any type of injury, but particularly injuries with enduring or even lifelong consequences, such as:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) – Auto collisions are caused by sudden impact, whether it’s one car striking another or a vehicle hitting a structure or tree. This jolt, if you will, can cause harm ranging from a concussion to permanent brain damage—or damage that emerges decades later. Indeed, research demonstrates that a brain injury may increase your risk of dementia by 80%, even 15 years after an accident of any kind.2The financial support you may need for an injury of this kind may well exceed your and the other driver’s liability insurance.
- Permanent injuries — Permanent injuries, whether it’s a spinal injury that will challenge your ability to walk again or an amputated limb, may alter your life forever. An attorney can help you arrive at a number to monetarily compensate for the loss and harm you’ve suffered.
These, obviously, are extreme cases. Other injuries, such as whiplash or a shattered wrist, may be milder but could nonetheless have a lasting, detrimental impact on your capacity to make a living and the overall quality of your life.
Whether you've been in a minor car accident or one that will require you to buy a new car, it's important to check for possible injuries. And even if you feel moderately “okay” after an auto accident and are tempted to resume your day or return home to rest, it’s imperative to receive immediate medical help: It may take hours or even days for your symptoms to surface, especially if the accident has shot you into a state of shock.
#2 You’re Suffering Psychologically
There are cuts, bruises, and broken bones that you may readily see after a car accident. And then there are the less obvious, more insidious psychological effects of being involved in a collision. This may show up in various ways, including:3
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Persistent anxiety
- Suicidal ideations
These mental health challenges can interfere with your ability to work, function on a day-to-day basis, and live as you once did. An attorney can help you ascertain if you have a case—and how you should be compensated for your pain and suffering.
#3 The Other Party Has Decided to Sue
Whether you live in a state that follows a comparative negligence law or the other driver believes that you were at fault, the other party may bring a civil action against you.
If your financial circumstances have already been taxed, it may be tempting to represent yourself in an attempt to save money. However, there are dozens of reasons why this may work against you:
- You may accidentally make self-incriminating declarations
- You might not have a comprehensive understanding of traffic laws
- You may lack objectivity about the collision and the case
Because a great deal of money, time, and potentially your freedom may be on the line, obtaining legal representation is downright crucial if the other driver has decided to take legal action against you. Be mindful of this when searching for a car accident lawyer.
#4 The Accident Was Due to Negligence or Recklessness
Negligent and reckless driving are two of the biggest culprits behind car accidents. This, too, is broad in scope.
Negligent driving includes:
- Driving too slowly or too quickly
- Drowsy driving
- Distracted driving
- Failing to stop at a stop sign
Reckless driving includes:
- Driving under the influence
- Failing to use turn signals when changing lanes
- Texting or talking on the phone
- Street racing
In either case, and whether you were the person driving negligently or recklessly or it was the other driver, working with a car accident attorney is essential. If, for example, you were driving under the influence and caused bodily harm or property damage, you may face felony charges.5
A lawyer will advise you on your plea and help you navigate your sentencing and penalties.
#5 You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated
If you suffered from injuries that have delayed or prevented your ability to return to work and you were terminated for your absence, you may want to obtain a lawyer’s guidance and assistance for receiving compensation.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, you may have a case against your employer if you work for a company that has 50 employees or more.6 Even if your company is smaller, you may still have a case.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also be in a position to file a claim against the other driver to recoup lost wages and lost earning capacity.
#6 You’ve Been Offered a Low-Ball Settlement
In an attempt to protect themselves, the other driver’s insurance company may offer you a settlement shortly after the accident to cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and/or the damage that has been done to your vehicle.7
What many people may not realize is that a car accident settlement is a lump sum and, in accepting one, you may be forfeiting your ability to ask for more compensation in the future—if, say, it’s been determined that you need to undergo surgery for a dislocated shoulder.
A lawyer can provide you with counsel on the car accident settlement and help you determine if you should accept it, counter it, or refuse it and/or file a lawsuit. This may be the first settlement you are offered, and you may not have a solid handle on what you are entitled to.
When to Get an Attorney After a Car Accident: Your Timeframe
If you’ve been injured—or the car accident was your fault and the other drivers (and/or passengers) were hurt—you ought to contact a lawyer immediately after the accident or as soon as you’re able to do so.
And while you may be full of adrenaline, fear, and confusion, refrain from making a definitive statement with either your insurance company or the other driver’s until you’ve spoken with an attorney.
That said, you can hire an attorney months—and, in some cases, years—after a car accident.
For example, if you sustained an injury that proved to require more time away from work than you believed, to say nothing of higher medical bills than you first imagined, you may hire an attorney to explore your possibilities as long as your timeframe is within the statute of limitations set forth in your state—or the predetermined amount of time you have to file a claim or lawsuit for injury or loss.8
In California, for instance, you have two years from the date of the accident to file an action against the other driver.
What Are The Benefits of Getting An Attorney After a Car Accident?
When to hire an attorney after a car accident often comes down to the severity of the accident, but a collision doesn’t need to be tragic to benefit from the counsel and expertise of a lawyer.
Here are just a few of the advantages of working with an attorney:
- Assistance with negotiating a settlement offer from the other driver’s insurer
- Counsel on the strength of your case
- Help with obtaining key pieces of evidence, such as photographs and testimonies from witnesses
- Guidance on Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADRs)9 to avoid having to go to court
- Having an ally through the emotional tumult that may arrive after a car accident
- Keeping track of, organizing, and filing vital documents
If you’re wrongfully at fault or want to know how to dispute a car accident fault, working with a quality, honest attorney may prove to be invaluable.
Discover Your Post-Car Accident Legal Options
Car accidents are arguably one of the toughest, most overwhelming events a person may have to handle in their life. In addition to suffering the emotional challenges that may arrive with one, you may also have to deal with several parties, from hospital administrators to the police.
There is no need to go at it alone.
If you've been involved in an accident and are seeking legal support and representation, head over to Mighty's Accident Attorney Directory to find a trusted attorney in your area today.
- Driver Knowledge. Car accident statistics in the U.S. https://www.driverknowledge.com/car-accident-statistics/
- Healthline. Dementia linked to traumatic brain injuries, even decades later. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/dementia-linked-traumatic-brain-injuries-years-later
- WebMD. Impact of car accidents can be long-lasting. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20010820/impact-of-car-accidents-can-be-long-lasting
- The Washington Note. 4 times you should hire an attorney after a car accident. https://thewashingtonnote.com/hire-attorney-after-car-accident/
- Encyclopedia. What happens when you get a DUI in California? https://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/what-happens-when-you-get-a-dui-in-california/
- Chron. Can I lose my job for a car accident injury? https://work.chron.com/can-lose-job-car-accident-injury-24757.html
- Forbes. Typical car accident settlement amounts (2022). https://www.forbes.com/advisor/legal/auto-accident/typical-car-settlement-amounts/
- NOLO. What is the car accident statute of limitations in California? https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-the-car-accident-statute-limitations-california.html?
- Harvard Law School. What is alternative dispute resolution? https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/dispute-resolution/what-is-alternative-dispute-resolution/
Written ByLuke Krolak
Client Operations Lead
About the author
Luke is a warm-hearted and highly skilled legal operations expert with an impressive 8-year track record in the personal injury field. As the Client Operations Lead at Mighty, he is dedicated to providing exceptional support, transparent communication, and genuine empathy to clients during their challenging journey. His expertise in streamlining processes and implementing cutting-edge technology makes him an indispensable ally for clients, case managers, and attorneys in their pursuit of justice.
About the reviewer