If you have been in a car accident, when is the best time to hire a personal injury lawyer? Following a car accident, you will likely find yourself very quickly hearing from various insurance companies. The easiest way to respond to them is to tell them to speak with your lawyer and if you have retained a lawyer that is always the right answer.
Once a lawyer is retained they will typically take over all communication with the insurance company. That said, some accident victims do not have the capacity or focus for retaining a lawyer during the acute recovery phase of an injury. If that is the case, it is best to put communication with the insurance companies in the hands of a trusted family member or friend.
You will likely hear from a bodily injury adjuster from your own insurance company following a car accident. The first thing you must do after a car accident involving personal injury is to notify your own insurance company that you have been in an accident (you would do this if there was only property damage and no personal injury as well). The insurance company will open an accident benefits claim and assign a bodily injury adjuster to manage your claim. They will send you several accident benefits forms for completion. These forms are designed to be completed by the public so it is not required to have a lawyer to complete them but it is always recommended that you have the forms reviewed by a lawyer. The information you put on these forms, which includes a description of how the accident happened, will carry forward throughout your claim. You want to be careful not to say anything on those forms that could later prejudice your claims.
You may also hear early on from an adjuster for the third party. This is typically the other motorist (or driver of your vehicle if you were a passenger) involved in the accident. If your injuries and losses reach a certain threshold you will have the ability to sue the third parties. The information, you provide the third party adjusters at the outset will be used to set reserves (i.e. the amount that insurance companies set aside to deal with your claim). If you paint a rosy and optimistic picture regarding your recovery to the insurance adjuster they may not set aside enough funds to deal with your claim if things turn out to be worse than you were initially expecting. Beware that your natural tendency will be to paint a rosy picture because that is what you hope to see happen. Once again it is best that the description of the accident and your injuries come from a lawyer. However, if you have not retained a lawyer and do find yourself engrossed in conversation with a third party adjuster; make sure to not minimize your injuries and potential claim!
After these initial conversations, the insurance companies will continue to check in with you. The accident benefits insurer will be in much closer contact as they adjust ongoing claims. They will take every opportunity to hear about the improvements in your condition, which may provide them with ammunition to potentially deny claims at a later date. At a certain point, if you have still not hired a lawyer, the third party adjuster may cease contact and assume that no claim is forthcoming. They may even close their file. If you later decide to retain a lawyer that lawyer will be faced with the uphill battle of persuading the insurance company that they have exposure regarding a claim file they have already closed.
In some cases, the insurance company may reach out to you to propose a settlement. At that stage, if you have still not hired a lawyer, it is definitely time to pick up the phone and call one. Unless you happen to be a personal injury lawyer yourself, you will likely be in no position to negotiate a settlement of your claim with a sophisticated insurance company.
Even worse, you may think you are sophisticated enough to negotiate a claim and may even convince the insurance company to double or triple its initial offer (however if that initial offer was negligible, then 2 or 3 times that amount will not be meaningful either). The insurance company has no obligation to negotiate a "fair" deal with you in these circumstances. What may seem like a "win" to you may be a terribly negotiated outcome. If you do reach an agreement with the insurance company they will insist that you sign a release, which again should be reviewed with a lawyer. Do not negotiate a settlement or sign a release without a lawyer!
Even after a settlement, we frequently find clients consulting with us. Sometimes they have already reached an agreement with the insurance company and want to have it set aside after realising that what seemed like a great deal was anything but. Beware that it is exceptionally difficult to set aside a settlement in these circumstances.
While we always recommend that potential clients consult with us as early as possible following their accident, we realise that may not be possible for everyone. That said, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer at Thomson Rogers as early as you are ready so that you do not inadvertently prejudice your rights in any way.