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When To Get an Attorney for a Car Accident?

When To Get an Attorney for a Car Accident?

Hurt in a car or motorcycle accident or a trucking accident in New York? If so, you’re probably wondering if you need a good personal injury attorney. The short answer is “yes”—if you or a loved one were injured, you should consult with an attorney so he can fight for your rights and get you a fair settlement check. At the least, you will get a free consultation which will give you peace of mind. Also, in most cases, you will get more out of your injury claim if you have representation than if you try to negotiate with the insurance company on your own.

Note: Though throughout our articles and guides, to help people find information online, we refer to “accidents”—you should not. An accident is something avoidable. Insurance companies like to refer to car “wrecks” as “accidents,” and they like for you to call them accidents too. Accident sounds better for the insurance company if your claim gets tried by a jury. When someone causes a collision through negligence, that is not an “accident.” Start calling it a wreck now, from the start, and you’ll be less likely to call it an “accident” later when (or if) you testify in a deposition or trial.

Second, don’t think because New York is a “no-fault” state, you don’t need an attorney. Click here and here for Everything You Need to Know About New York’s No-Fault Coverage.

Note: Were you in a wreck in New York that caused more than $1000 in property damage to any person? If so, you must report the accident to the DMV within ten days (link to DMV form here). If anyone is injured or killed, you must immediately report the collision to the police.

Damage to Your Car

It’s often not necessary to hire an attorney to settle your claim for property damage. The property damage claim is usually more straight forward than your injury claim, and the insurance company has less room to cheat you.

Also, New York’s no-fault laws don’t apply to the claim for damage to your car. You may still, though, want to file under your own coverage (if you have “collision coverage”). It’s often easier to get your own collision insurance to pay the claim as opposed to getting the at-fault driver’s liability insurance to pay. Your insurance may even go after the at-fault coverage and recover your deductible for you.

Whether under your collision insurance or the other person’s liability insurance, there is a fair chance you can resolve the property damage claim without an attorney.

Totaled Vehicle After a Car Accident

The general rule is that insurance (whether yours or theirs) should pay the “cash value” (or “market value”) of a totaled car. The law says that is the lesser of the repair cost or the cost of a “substantially identical” car. You can prove the cost of a substantially identical car through sources like Kelly Blue Book,,, or Craigslist.

It’s helpful to search all these sources to see what comparably equipped vehicles are worth. Then provide the insurance company with a summary or average.

The insurance company should pay something close to the retail selling price. Beware, though some insurance companies are using third-party services (such as CCC One) to value property claims; these services are masters at lowballing claims. The bad part about this is the value of these claims is often too low to make it practical for an attorney to handle the claim for you.

Repairable Auto Damage

 For “repairable damage,” at-fault insurance should pay the lesser of “the difference in the market value immediately before and immediately after the accident, or the reasonable cost of repairs necessary to restore it to its former condition.” See relevant case law.

Things get complicated where there is a difference in value between the car before the wreck and after the wreck, even though the car is “repaired.” A wrecked car, even when repaired, is worth less than a car that was never in a wreck. This difference is called a diminished value claim. New York law allows diminished value claims, but they are tough claims to win without an attorney’s involvement. Also, with diminished value claims, different rules apply whether you are pursuing your insurance (a “first-party claim”) or the at-fault insurance (a “third-party claim”). Click here for information about diminished value claims.

As with most auto collision repair claims, it is often not economically feasible for an attorney to handle these claims. That can make it tough to recover the full value of your property loss if the insurance undervalues the claim.

Bodily Injury Claims

So, you may be thinking, “New York is a no-fault state, so why would I need a car accident attorney?” There are several reasons you may want an attorney for your no-fault claim.

First, you may not just have a “no-fault” claim. No-fault coverage only pays “economic loss.” That essentially means doctors’ bills and lost wages. There are exceptions to New York no-fault coverage (see next section below), though, and those exceptions can get you additional money. Fitting an exception means money for things like your “pain and suffering” and “emotional distress.” A free consultation with a New York car wreck attorney can help you determine if your claim falls within one of the exceptions.

Second, “no-fault” doesn’t mean “no hassle.” Insurance companies hate paying any claim—even no-fault claims. These claims are complicated enough that the insurance companies have room to “fudge.” Your experienced New York personal injury or auto accident attorney has seen all the tricks and knows how to fight back for you.

Your New York car wreck attorney knows what is and what isn’t covered by no-fault coverage. He or she knows the time-limits applied and how to protect you from missed deadlines. Your attorney understands the process. He or she knows the required forms (and when to file them) to get you the medical care you need and how to get you every dollar you should. Click here for our guide to New York No-Fault Coverage.

Finally, a good New York auto accident attorney can help you find the best doctors to treat your injuries. The “best doctor” for your no-fault claim is not only one who knows the medicine, but one who knows the system. Click here for our guide to Finding the Best Doctor After a Car Accident.

“No-Fault Exceptions”

If your claim falls within an exception to the no-fault laws, you are not limited to “economic damages” (doctors bills) but can also recover for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other “damages.” These can be a very valuable part of your injury claim.

The exceptions apply to “Serious Injury Claims.” “Serious injury” involves Death or dismemberment, broken bones, lasting disability, permanent impairment, and other claims. A good personal injury attorney can often find a way to qualify you for a “serious injury claim.”

The “exceptions” are not “no-fault,” claims, but are called “liability claims.” For these claims, you must prove the other driver was negligent. Click for more information about the exceptions to no-fault coverage.

You need a competent personal injury lawyer for any liability claim. These claims are not for amateurs. The insurance company has a team of attorneys and other professionals lined up to limit or deny your claim. Your injury lawyer is the only one standing between you and that army of professional “claim killers.”

So, a competent New York auto wreck attorney will help fit you within an exception and help you find the right doctors. He or she will also gather the right kind of evidence to prove the other driver was at fault and that you were injured. He or she will know how to create and gather proper medical evidence. He or she will help you to say the right things (and not the wrong things) at your deposition or trial.

Always remember, an auto wreck attorney, like a slip and fall attorney or a workers’ compensation attorney, is paid a percentage of what he or she gets for you. That means your attorney has the incentive to make the most of your claim.

The insurance company (the one telling you not to hire an attorney) has the opposite incentive—they make more money by paying you less. 

How To Find a Competent Car Accident Attorney?

Finding a competent auto injury lawyer is key to maximizing your claim. But unfortunately, not all attorneys are created equal. So how do you find that “competent” lawyer? Google is a good start, and probably what got you to this page. From your Google search, you can get a bit of a feel for whether the attorney seems knowledgeable and competent. Are their online materials helpful and up-to-date? Are they AV Preeminent® rated by Martindale-Hubble? Do they have solid client endorsements?

Talk to a friend who has used a personal injury lawyer. Were they happy with the results? Did their attorney promptly communicate with them? Was their attorney willing to fight the insurance company? Would the attorney file suit if necessary, and was he or she willing (and able) to go to trial if needed? These are all good questions to help you narrow the field.

Your doctor can be one of the best sources for an attorney referral. A good personal injury doctor has seen and treated hundreds or thousands of auto wreck victims. They work with lawyers who specialize in injury claims. They have seen the good and the bad. Your doctor, a professional him- or herself, knows how to evaluate other professionals. Ask your doctor if they have a recommendation of a competent personal injury attorney. Click here for our Guide to Finding the Best Doctor After a Car Accident.

Next, interview the prospective lawyer. Your case may be one of many to the lawyer, but it’s hopefully the only case you will ever have. Does the lawyer treat you with respect and dignity? Is he or she willing to take time to talk to you about the details and to answer your questions? Car wrecks and insurance claims are stressful. You don’t need your lawyer to be your buddy. You do, though, want someone willing to take time to explain things in a way that alleviates some of your stress.

What to Expect from Your Auto Accident Attorney?

First, don’t wait. It is usually best to get your attorney involved from the very start. That way, they can protect you from making a mistake you can’t fix.

Second, you should expect a free consultation to see if you have a claim or case that should get filed.

Third, your attorney should feel strongly enough about your case to handle it on a “contingent fee” basis. That means you only pay your attorney if he or she makes a recovery for you.

Fourth, the lawyer you choose should be willing to keep you reasonably informed about the progress of your claim or case. You have a right to expect prompt communication from your lawyer.

Note: Don’t abuse this right. Calling every week will not make your case go faster.

Once you hire a lawyer, let them do their job. Attorneys are busy people, but at some point, your case will be the most important thing on their agenda. Give them time to develop the case to that point. If you truly think your attorney is not giving your case the attention it needs, don’t just “fire” him or her. That is usually the worst thing you can do. Once a client fires their lawyer, it can be very hard to get another lawyer to take the case on.

Talk to your attorney about your concerns and give him or her a chance to explain or solve your problems.