Each year nearly 2 million Americans are injured in automobile accidents. Another 42,000 Americans are killed in accidents. Not every accident involving death, injury or property damage results in a claim or lawsuit. Not every accident should result in a claim. How do you know when to make a claim and when not to make one?
The answer to this question depends on several factors. Probably the first and foremost consideration is the nature and extent of your injuries and losses. Obviously, minor injuries and losses may not be worth the heartache associated with bringing a formal claim as a result of the accident.
Frequently, poor treatment by the insurance adjuster will lead a client, who otherwise would not have filed a lawsuit into proceeding in court. Many people simply want to be reimbursed for their out of pocket medical and other expenses. It is only after such minimal claims are denied or greatly reduced by the insurance adjuster do clients decide to proceed to hire an attorney.
Another factor commonly considered by clients when contemplating whether or not to bring a legal claim is the exposure of their private life and information. When a lawsuit is filed, there are few aspects of your past life that a court will prevent the other side from discovering. Past criminal behavior, other lawsuits, divorces, income tax returns, former jobs and employers are areas which are routinely discovered during a lawsuit.
Many defense lawyers will intentionally try to shame or embarrass the plaintiff in an attempt to shift a jury's attention away from his client's negligence. Most lawyers know that juries are less likely to award substantial sums of money to people they do not like. This is why many trials seem to be placing the life of the plaintiff on trial.
In automobile cases, the choice of whether to institute a claim must always consider on which party the fault has been initially placed by the investigating police officer. Moreover, there are certain legal presumptions that operate to place fault on one driver or the other depending on how the accident occurred. For instance, in a rear end collision, there is generally a presumption that the driver who rear ends another car is at fault in the accident. Of course, there are instances in which the preceding vehicle which was rear ended is at fault. However, the ability to prove fault is a key factor in deciding how to proceed.
Auto crash cases also should be evaluated by determining the type and availability of insurance coverages. Certain coverages apply regardless of the fault of the drivers involved. Other coverages only extend to the driver not determined to be at fault. Moreover, if the state in which the accident occurred requires little or only minimal insurance coverages, the amount of available insurance may very well be tendered by the insurance adjuster without the need to file a claim in court.
Finally, the cost of proceeding with the litigation as compared to the potential recovery should be considered. If a case will cost $10,000 to pursue and the available coverage if the claim is successful is $10,000, the case may not be worth pursuing. Unless the damages are substantial and clearly above the available policy limits, most insurance adjusters will not offer their policy limits in settlement. It is only after the case is developed, depositions are taken and money is spent before most contested cases can be resolved.
Unlike most other types of personal injury cases, automobile accident cases involving injuries are usually worth pursing with an attorney. This is not because people are rushing out and filing frivolous claims that get paid. It is more a function of the insurance adjusters constantly attempting to "low ball" and mistreat accident victims. Much of the insurance company's money could be saved by adjusters who fairly compensate victims well before attorneys get involved. However, the sad reality is that most people will have to hire an attorney to be fairly compensated.
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