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When Should You Talk With an Automobile Accident Attorney?

Woman Injured at Car Accident Scene with Medics

Being in a traffic accident is a frightening, traumatic experience. The first priority is getting medical attention and treatment. As you recover from the accident, you will want to make sure that you receive the full compensation you deserve. In some cases, you should ask a lawyer to evaluate your case. But how do you know when you should talk with an automobile accident attorney?

Virginia Auto Accident Liability Law

One of the most important factors in deciding whether you should talk with an attorney will be the accident law that applies to your accident. The law in the state where the accident occurred will determine whether someone else is responsible for paying compensation for your injuries — and state accident laws differ significantly. If your accident was in Virginia, understanding our state's accident laws is the first step in determining whether you should talk with a lawyer about your accident.

There are states that have “no-fault” insurance laws that apply to car accidents. Virginia is not one of those states. In Virginia, legal responsibility for an accident is determined on the basis of who was at fault for the accident.

Liability for auto accident injuries in Virginia is based on negligence, a legal standard that requires drivers to exercise reasonable care in operating vehicles. If a driver fails to exercise the legally-required level of care, then he or she is “at fault” for the accident and is responsible for compensating victims for their injuries. In most cases, the driver will have insurance. It will be the at-fault person’s insurance company that has to pay compensation for the injuries.

In Virginia, there is an additional requirement that must be met for a person to be legally responsible for injuries caused by his or her conduct. Our state uses a legal standard of pure contributory negligence that applies to an injured victim. Under the standard, a victim cannot recover any compensation if his or her own conduct contributed to the accident. Virginia is one of just a few states that apply this rule.

To summarize: Two elements must be proven to recover compensation for injuries received in an automobile accident. Those elements are that:

  1. Another person's negligence caused the accident, and
  2. The injured victim's conduct did not contribute in any way to the accident or the injuries.

The questions of negligence and contributory negligence are complicated factual issues. Following an accident, it is often not at all clear who was at fault or whether an injured victim’s conduct contributed to the accident. While a police report is relevant to determining the cause of an accident, even that report is not conclusive evidence of what occurred and who caused the accident.

The insurance companies for the individuals involved in the accident will investigate and analyze the accident. In cases involving serious injuries that may have been caused by another person's negligence, the injured victim likely will need to retain a lawyer to adequately represent and protect her or her interests and right to compensation. The lawyer for the victim also will investigate the accident to reach an independent evaluation about the cause.

In most cases, the at-fault party's insurance company and the seriously-injured victim — through his or her attorney — will be able to reach an agreement about compensation, and the case will be settled. If the parties cannot agree, the case may eventually go to trial for a judge or jury to decide who is liable and what compensation must be paid.

When Is an Automobile Accident Attorney Necessary?

If you suffered injuries in an accident, your injuries will fall into one of two categories: Either the harm you suffered will constitute minor injuries — those for which you receive treatment and fully recover within a short period of time — or your injuries are serious and significant, requiring long-term recovery and treatment. Serious injuries also can result in life-long, permanent effects and disability.

When another person caused the accident, Virginia law specifies what type of damages can be recovered from the at-fault party. Those damages can be either economic or non-economic. Economic losses are financial costs, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Non-economic losses are harm such as pain and suffering, emotional suffering, and permanent disability.

If your injuries are minor and you recover quickly, chances are that your medical expenses will be paid in full by insurance. You likely will be compensated for any work you missed as well. If you have no long-term effects or financial expenses from the accident, there will be no other compensation that you can recover. Even if someone else was responsible for the accident, there is no legal basis for pursuing a legal action against the at-fault party, so talking with an automobile accident attorney is not necessary.

However, if you suffer serious injuries that result in considerable medical expenses, on-going treatment, extended pain and emotional distress, or permanent impairment, you are unlikely to receive full compensation for those losses from your own insurance. The at-fault party's insurance company is responsible, but they will try to settle your claim for the smallest possible amount. The only way to ensure that you receive all the financial compensation you deserve is to retain an experienced automobile accident attorney.

Why Do Serious Injuries Require a Lawyer?

Even if you suffered significant and lasting injuries and someone else was clearly to blame, the at-fault party’s insurance company is very unlikely to pay you the full amount of damages you are legally entitled to recover unless you retain a lawyer to represent you. The simple truth is that the insurance company will try to settle your claim for the lowest possible amount, even if that amount is not fair to you.

As a seriously-injured victim, you should never talk with the insurance adjuster who represents the at-fault individual. The adjuster will try to get you to make statements that hurt your case. He or she also will use proven strategies to try to get you to agree to a settlement. In addition, if you attempt to negotiate for yourself, you are likely to underestimate the amount of damages you deserve, because calculating non-economic damages requires an extremely complex analysis, with many variable that need to be taken into effect.

If the insurance adjuster for the at-fault person contacts you, inform that person only that your lawyer will be in touch on your behalf. Say no more. If you don’t already have an attorney, finding one is relatively easy. Many respected automobile accident attorneys do not charge for an initial consultation, so you have nothing to lose by talking with one.

For additional information, you can read two of our recent blog posts about how an automobile accident attorney can help you and how to find a personal injury lawyer.

Talk With a Virginia Beach Automobile Accident Attorney

If you or a loved one suffered catastrophic injuries in a Virginia accident that was another person’s fault — or if you’ve lost a loved one in an accident — it’s always in your best interest to talk with a personal injury attorney before you talk with the at-fault person’s insurance company. Experienced Virginia Beach car accident lawyer Jeff Brooke is dedicated to helping clients and their families recover the compensation they deserve. Contact us by phone at (757) 785-0837 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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