When car accidents cause injuries, victims must understand their options for financial recovery. Contact a Dallas car accident lawyer at Grossman Law 24/7 to learn what your case is worth: 855-326-0000.
Car accident victims are allowed to seek compensation from the person responsible for their car accident; everyone knows that.
However, most people have a significant misunderstanding of the most basic principles underlying this concept.
Or to put it another way, everything that you've ever heard non-attorneys say about car accidents and related lawsuits is probably quite inaccurate. In this article, our attorneys will explain the broad strokes of the relevant laws, and we'll also link you to other articles which delve into the specifics.
Insurance Carriers Want the Car Accident Claims Process to be Confusing
The main reason for this widespread confusion is the advent of the modern insurance claims process. Most everyone believes that an insurance claim filed against the other driver's insurance carrier is:
- a requirement that must be fulfilled, and
- that it is a process meant to favor or benefit the injured party.
Essentially everyone bases their understanding of car accident law on those premises, but it should work the other way around. Car accident victims should first understand the law, and then that understanding should guide the way that the insurance claim is executed.
The main reason that this misunderstanding is so prevalent is because that's exactly how the insurance industry wants you to think it works. They put forth great effort to create the illusion that when you're in a car accident, you need only file a claim and everything is taken care of, post haste.
The reality is that there is nothing in the law to support this. In fact, the law puts the ball in your court, so you (or your attorney) must know what steps to take if you want to be fairly compensated.
Eight Things You Must Understand About Car Accident Cases
There are eight concepts at work in a car accident claim that must be understood:
1. There's No Such Thing as "Car Accident Law"
There is no subsection of the law called "car accident law." Car accident cases are personal injury cases, so they are based on a combination of:
- non-codified (codes are written laws drafted by a legislature) concepts inherent in common law,
- codified injury laws drafted by state legislatures (in Texas, our injury laws are codified in the Civil Practices and Remedies Code),
- and statutes based in completely different areas of the law, such as insurance law, property law, etc. If you don't understand all of the relevant, overlapping laws, then you'll never have a complete understanding of how to handle a car accident case. (read more here about this combination of laws that apply in car accidents)
2. Who's Who in a Car Accident Claim
You, the injured party, are a called a plaintiff. The at-fault party is called a defendant.
3. You Can Skip The Insurance Claim Altogether
You are not required to file a claim against the defendant's insurance carrier. The insurance claims process may be, at best, a convenience, or, at worst, a potentially deceptive ruse to lure you away from exercising your rights.
But what it's definitely not is a requirement. You can bypass the process of filing a claim and simply sue the defendant if you so choose.
4. There are Several Different Types of Insurance Claims (and you should understand the difference)
Claims made against certain types of insurance policies (such as life insurance policies or workers' compensation policies) are eligibility-based claims. That is to say, you must only prove that you are eligible to make a claim and the insurance carrier must compensate you since you meet the eligibility criteria.
On the contrary, claims made against auto insurance policies are liability-based claims. You can only get money from the policy when you convince the insurance carrier that their insured driver was negligent and would, therefore, be found liable for your injuries if the case went to court. With a liability-based claim, the insurance carrier is allowed to fight back, but that's not the whole story.
5. Insurance Carriers Are Actually Required to Fight You
Insurance carriers owe their insured clients a legal obligation to provide a defense. If you sue a driver, their insurance carrier has to provide them with an attorney. Likewise, if you attempt to settle out of court, the insurance adjuster is required to protect their insured from your claim. Their job is to work against you.
6. Insurance Carriers Only Pay You When They're Afraid A Jury Will Make Them Pay You Even More
Your case has zero inherent value. Car accident victims often make the mistake of assuming that the defendants "owe" them compensation. That is not accurate.
What the law states is that car accident victims have the right to take the defendant to court, make their arguments against the defendant, and if the jury believes that the defendant acted negligently, then the defendant owes the plaintiff a sum of money.
100% of the value of your case is based on how a judge and jury would rule in the case. Yet it is expensive and time consuming to take every case to trial, so, in most cases, filing an insurance claim is the better option.
However, in order for the insurance claim to be successful (read: in order for the insurance carrier to offer you a fair amount), you absolutely must treat the insurance claim as if the case will indeed go to trial. In other words, insurance claims are not designed to work in your favor, but if you understand what makes them tick, then you can use the threat of a court case to gain the upper hand in the claims process.
7. Treating Your Insurance Claim Like a Trial Case Makes It Valuable. Treating It Like an Insurance Claim Makes it Worthless
If you were taking your case to trial, you would document the injuries and losses sustained, articulate your accusations against the defendant, and preserve and present evidence, all in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure (court and trial rules) and the Rules of Evidence. Likewise, if you treat the insurance claim in the exact same way, you are essentially telling the insurance carrier, "This is precisely how I would present the case to a jury, so you'd better settle with me or I'll file suit against your insured.
As you can see, I'm already prepared." This gives the insurance carrier a sneak preview of what they'll face in trial so they will be able to comprehend how a jury would punish their insured. Reread #5 above. Your case has no value other than the value a jury says it has, so if you don't treat your insurance claim like a trial, then you are announcing to the insurance carrier, "I don't know what I'm doing, so don't be afraid of what I can convince a jury to do."
If the insurance carrier isn't afraid of what you can do it court, they won't offer you very much. Good cases are often ruined by those with no legal experience doing a poor job of explaining why exactly their case is good. What makes a lawyer good at his job is knowing how to tell his client's story in a way that is both compelling and in accordance with the stringent guidelines present in a court case.
8. Court Rules and Decorum Matter
Cases are lost every single day by people who don't understand the rules of court. When to file, how to answer discovery, what you can and can't say are all things that you (or your attorney) should know. Once you accidentally illustrate to an insurance adjuster that you don't understand these things, they are not afraid of you anymore.
Further, once the statute of limitations has expired, you have no case at all. In #5, we mentioned that your car accident claim has no value other than what a jury says it's worth. So if you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you can no longer take your case to trial to find out what a jury says it's worth, ergo, your claim has no value.
About once a week, our firm is contacted by an accident victim who had a good case, but they let the statute of limitations run or they tried to handle a case on their own and their case was thrown out because they violate some court procedure that they didn't know existed in the first place. When that happens, you're completely out of luck.
Further Reading - Now that you know the basics, here are some more informative articles that will help you delve into the specifics. For a list of frequently asked questions, read our FAQ page.
The Factors a Car Accident Lawyer Will Assess to Determine Whether You Have a Case
Unfortunately, a car accident lawyer can’t take every case. But, sometimes, the reason an attorney might turn down your case is that it might ultimately be in your best interest not to accept it.
A car accident lawyer will take many factors into account before deciding whether or not to take your case. Some of the main factors a lawyer will consider in making the decision include the following:
- Existence and extent of any injuries;
- What legal “damages” exist;
- How much time has passed since the accident;
- Who was at fault;
- Whether your potential recovery is worth the cost of hiring an attorney; and
- Whether you have you already entered into a settlement.
Let’s dive into these factors in more detail below.
Did Your Car Accident Cause Physical Injuries?
Whether or not you sustained any physical injuries is an important factor. An attorney will often consider this before they decide whether or not they can accept your case. Although a car accident of any caliber can be a traumatic experience for all parties involved, this does not necessarily mean that you will always need an attorney.
If you did not sustain any physical injuries, or your injuries are very minor, you may not need an attorney. If the only damage that exists is damage to your vehicle, your car insurance will likely be able to help you take care of it.
Sometimes, however, you do sustain serious injuries that require medical treatment. And sometimes, your extensive physical injuries might even cause you to suffer additional emotional injuries. In these cases, you may need an attorney to help you protect your interests.
What Damages Did the Accident Cause?
Another extremely important factor to consider is damages. Legal “damages” are the costs associated with your car accident that you might be entitled to receive to help you recover.
Damages that could exist in a car accident case might include economic damages, non-economic damages, or even both. Economic damages are those that generally have a definite value or can be easily determined.
On the other hand, non-economic damages are less easy to determine, but they are damages a victim can recover, nonetheless.
A knowledgable attorney will take both of these into account when assessing your claim. Below are some examples of damages that an experienced car accident attorney will consider:
- Medical expenses;
- Property damage to your vehicle; and
- Lost wages or lost earning capacity due to injury.
- Pain and suffering,
- Stress and anxiety, and
- Emotional distress.
If there are no damages that you can recover, then it might not be beneficial for a car accident attorney to take your case. However, if any of the above damages exist, an attorney may be more likely to accept your case.
When Did Your Car Accident Occur?
When you first consult with a car accident attorney, one of the first questions they will probably ask is when the accident occurred. This is because of something called a “statute of limitations.” A statute of limitations is a statute that puts a time limit on bringing a certain type of legal claim.
In Texas, the statute of limitations for bringing a car accident claim is two years. This means that from the time you get in a car accident, you have two years to bring a lawsuit. For this reason, time is of the essence in a Texas car accident case.
When the statute of limitations has expired, you can no longer bring a claim in court. Accordingly, if it has been more than two years since you were involved in a car accident, an attorney may have to decline to take your case. Promptly consulting with an attorney can have a significant impact on whether they will be able to accept your case.
Who is at Fault (fully or partially) for Your Car Accident?
Having an attorney can be a great asset in a car accident case. However, an attorney can only do so much.
If it is clear that you caused the accident, an attorney may not be able to take your case to pursue a claim against another party. But, if it is clear that the other party was at fault, an attorney may be able to help you prove your claim.
Even where fault might be unclear, an attorney will take all of the relevant facts and evidence into consideration to see if they can help prove that you were not at fault. If they can, they might be more willing and able to take your car accident case.
What is the Potential Cost to You of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer?
Although you should always seek an initial consultation in the aftermath of a car accident, sometimes, it might not be financially worth the cost to hire an attorney. An attorney will need to assess the potential time and expense it might cost to take your case and then compare it to what you might ultimately be able to recover.
If it will cost you more in legal fees to pay for an attorney’s services than what you might receive in the long-run in damages or in a settlement, this is an important factor to weigh. If this is the case, it might actually be in your best interest for a car accident attorney to turn down your case.
Did You Already Agree to a Settlement?
Depending on where you are in the process of dealing with a car accident, you may have already entered into settlement negotiations with another party to the accident or with an insurance company. This is very important information to a car accident attorney in determining whether or not to accept your case.
If you have already reached a settlement agreement, an attorney may not be able to help you. Most settlement agreements include a clause stating that the victim cannot pursue a legal claim after the settlement. However, if you are still in settlement negotiations, or you have not yet received an offer at all, an attorney will be more likely to accept your case.
Is it Financially “Worth It” for You to Hire a Dallas Car Accident Lawyer?
Is hiring a Texas car accident lawyer worth it for me financially? This is an important question that many people face. An experienced attorney will take many factors into account before deciding whether or not to accept your case. However, it is also important for car accident victims to understand these factors as well.
In general, the more serious the accident, the more likely it is that a car accident victim will require legal representation. If your injuries and damages are extensive, you might not be able to handle a legal case on your own. An attorney can help make sure your interests are represented so that you are compensated and made whole. With that being said, it is always worth at least getting an initial consultation after an accident.
In Order to Win a Car Accident Case in Dallas Texas...
You must prove the defendant driver's negligence.
Car accident cases are predicated upon proving the defendant's liability. That liability is established by showing the driver's conduct constitutes either some type of ordinary negligence, negligence per se, or gross negligence.
Here are some articles that explain the various negligence allegations that are recognized in Texas courts for use against the defendant driver:
- How negligence works in a car accident case
- Here are some common, "off-the-shelf" negligence accusations:
Here is an article which explains the court-recognized types of negligence per se allowed in car accident cases:
- Texas-court-recognized negligence per se allegations:
- Running a stop sign
- Running a stop light
- Blocking a roadway
- Driving on the left side of the road
- Negligently loaning vehicle to an unlicensed driver
- Street racing
- Driving under the influence
OR prove some other defendant's negligence. Some car accident cases are not entirely (or are not at all) the fault of the driver of the other car. Sometimes a third party other than the driver is responsible.
Here are some articles that explain how cases against third parties are viewed under the law: