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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Whenever you are involved in an auto accident, you may be confused as to how to handle your claim. How long does it take? How do you file? What happens once the claim is filed? Complicating matters, you may want to involve an accident lawyer. While lawyers can be instrumental in obtaining settlement money, they can also make the claims process more complex and are often not worth the added expense. How do you decide whether you need a lawyer?
The Claims Process
Once your accident has occurred, you will need to contact your insurance company to file the claim. You can contact your agent and file the claim through the agency, or call the claims department directly. In some situations, you may even be able to file the claim online. Regardless of how you contact the claims department, you will need to provide information about the accident. One this information has been input into the system, the insurance company will assign an adjuster to handle your claim.
Depending on the extent of the damage and the type of accident that occurred, different types of adjuster may become involved. If you are injured, a personal injury adjuster will be assigned; a separate bodily injury adjuster will also be assigned to handle injuries sustained by the other party. A liability adjuster determines who is at fault for an accident and conducts any investigation that must be completed to bring the claim towards closure.
If you are at fault for an accident, your insurance coverage will pay for the damage and injuries the other party sustains. If you are not at fault, your insurance will pay for your claim and then pursue the other party’s insurance to reimburse the money spent. At this point any deductibles that you paid would be reimbursed to you.
When an Attorney should be involved
Attorneys serve as a liaison between you and the insurance company. They can be extremely helpful in obtaining higher settlement amounts in some cases, and sometimes may be instrumental in bringing a claim toward closure. Sometimes, however, attorneys are unnecessary. They also make the process more complicated: As soon as you have an attorney, you forfeit your ability to speak directly to your insurance company, so settlement may take much longer. Whether or not you need an attorney will depend on the severity of the claim.
You May Need an Attorney if:
- You are severely injured or there are fatalities in the accident
- The other party doesn’t have insurance
- You are at fault for the accident and don’t have enough coverage
- You’ve received suit papers
- Liability is being disputed by the other driver
You May Not Need an Attorney if:
- The accident is fairly minor
- There were no injuries
- You want to be in direct contact with your insurance company throughout the claim
Attorneys are usually able to help you negotiate a higher settlement for injuries if you are not at fault for an accident. They can also help you protect your personal assets if you are at fault for an accident but don’t have enough coverage to pay for the claim.
Attorney-handled claims will usually take longer to settle than those without attorney involvement, and your claim will need to be handled out of a different department of your insurance company than other claims in most cases. You also will need to pay the attorney’s fee, although most attorneys will subtract this from your settlement amount.
You can also always add an attorney later on in the claims process if it seems necessary. For example, you can file a claim and settle your damage, but hire an attorney to help with the injuries. Be sure that the attorney specifies in his letter of representation exactly what he is handling on the claim so that you can continue to communicate with your insurance company as necessary.
Of course, just because there were injuries in your accident does not mean that an attorney is necessary. Most insurance policies will include injury coverage, and the injury adjuster will usually be happy to work with you to obtain a reasonable settlement. If the injuries are minor, an attorney is probably not worth his fee.