Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Car Accident in Georgia?
Whether you should hire a lawyer after a car accident is an important decision. You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you talk to an insurance company, but you also have the right to fight the insurance company on your own. Make an informed choice. As you decide, consider these tricks that insurance companies use against injured people who don’t hire lawyers.
Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. Their purpose is to make money, not to make friends, and insurance companies don’t make money when they pay money to you. They will do anything they can to avoid paying you money. While an insurance company representative may pretend to be your friend, remember the simple truth—insurance companies want to pay as little as possible to you so they can keep more money for themselves. In fact, some insurance claims representatives may get paid more if they pay you less.
Most people are not prepared for the tricks that auto insurance companies play to avoid paying a fair amount for injuries caused by car accidents. The U.S. insurance industry is rich—the industry has trillions of dollars in assets and profits that exceed $30 billion per year. Its CEOs earn more than those in other industries. The insurance companies didn’t get this wealthy by paying money to injured people—they got this rich by keeping money for themselves.
There is a good chance you will be in an automobile accident at some point or have been in one already. Over two million people suffer injuries in auto accidents each year according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report.
On this page, we first talk about when you should hire a lawyer (if you decide to hire one) for a car accident case. Then we address some of the more common tactics that insurance companies use to avoid paying settlements to people who have been injured in car accidents.
When Should I Hire a Lawyer for My Car Accident Case?
Whether you hire a car accident lawyer is entirely up to you. But if you decide to get an attorney for your car accident case, it’s usually best to hire one quickly – preferably the day of the collision, or a day or two afterward. There are a few reasons for that.
Legal Deadlines. There are several deadlines that you will need to meet, and a good car accident lawyer can make sure you meet them. The best-known deadline is the statute of limitations, which is generally two years in Georgia under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 (although it is subject to certain exceptions). The statute of limitations sets the time by which your case must be filed with the trial court.
There are other, lesser-known deadlines that you also need to know about. Depending on what types of insurance are involved, an insurance policy may require that you notify the insurer about the collision “promptly” or “as soon as practical.” Deadlines like this are most common in underinsured motorist insurance policies. If a governmental entity is involved (for example, because the at-fault driver worked for the government or because of negligent roadway maintenance), then you may have to meet “ante litem” deadlines that can be as short as six months or one year.
Missing these deadlines can be a big problem. Sometimes missing a deadline can meet that you cannot win your case.
Preserving Evidence. Evidence might not last very long. One example is surveillance camera footage. In some cases, we found surveillance video from businesses near the accident that proved what happened and who was at fault. Obviously, video like that is very important, but it may not last very long. Most businesses delete or record-over their surveillance camera footage in days or weeks, so if you want your car accident lawyer to have a chance to obtain video of the collision, it’s best to move fast.
Another type of evidence is what we call “roadway evidence.” Roadway evidence includes skid marks, car accident debris (such as broken-off pieces of headlights), or wheel gouges on the shoulder of the road. If there is a dispute about who was in the wrong, it’s important to visit the scene of the collision and preserve this roadway evidence. An accident reconstruction expert can then use the roadway evidence to prove how the car accident occurred. But the evidence can disappear if a lawyer doesn’t move fast because rain, wind, and other traffic can scatter it.
The cars themselves are often evidence. The damage to the cars can show how severe the accident was, and can help an accident reconstruction expert determine how the collision happened. But again, it’s best to move fast. If the damage to the cars is important, a good car accident lawyer will want to get photographs of the cars, or have an accident reconstruction expert conduct a 3D scan of the cars, before they are repaired or crushed. That may not leave much time. If the car can be repaired, then the attorney has to get the photographs or 3D scan before the repairs are made. If the car is totaled, then the attorney has to get the photographs or 3D scan before the car is crushed and sold for scrap.
Medical Treatment. If you have personal relationships with your doctors or have good health insurance, this many not be an issue. But some people who have been hurt in car accidents may not have health insurance and may not know where to turn for medical treatment. The local emergency room or urgent care clinic can only do so much. If you need medical treatment but don’t have health insurance and don’t know where to turn, a car accident lawyer can point you in the right direction.
Witnesses. Memories can fade and witnesses can lose interest. Sometimes immediately after a car accident, witnesses are ready to come forward and share what they saw. The witness may have vivid memories of the injured person in pain, or may be angry at the at-fault driver for not paying attention. But over time, witnesses can forget about what happened and become less motivated to share what they saw. They may dread the idea of talking with lawyers or the possibility getting called to court to testify. If witness testimony is important, it is almost always best for a car accident lawyer or investigator to reach out to the witness quickly, before the witness’s memory (or motivation) fades. The attorney can often take a verbal or written statement to preserve what the witness remembers.
If you’ve decided to hire a car accident lawyer, it is usually best to act fast. Contacting a lawyer on the day of the collision, or within a few days afterward, is best. You can still hire a lawyer if you wait longer than that, but sooner is better.
If you or someone else in your car suffered personal injuries, hiring a lawyer is usually a good idea. But if nobody was hurt, the answer to “when should I hire a car accident lawyer?” might be, “never!” If your car was damaged but nobody was hurt, you may be able to handle the claim by yourself. In that case, take a look at our Georgia Car Damage Manual.
Tricks that Insurance Companies Use in Car Accident Cases
1. Delay Your Car Accident Settlement
Many people don’t realize how important it is to prepare a case for trial, even if your goal is to settle the case with the insurance company. Being ready to try the case in front of a jury is the ultimate weapon, and it is usually an accident victim’s only real weapon. If an insurance company knows that you (and your lawyer) are ready and willing to go to trial, then they know they have to pay you the full amount. But if an insurance company knows or suspects that the injured person is unable or unwilling to take a case all the way to trial, the insurance company won’t pay the full value of the claim. Why would they? If an injured person is unable to take the case to trial because he or she has not hired a lawyer, then the insurance company knows that the person will eventually have to take whatever amount the insurance company offers—even if it is too low.
Of course the insurance company won’t come out and tell you that. They want you to think that they’re going to do what’s right, and pay the full value of a claim, even if you aren’t able or willing to take the case to trial. They say that because they’re hoping that they can offer less than the full amount you’re entitled to, and you’ll take the money because you don’t realize they’re lowballing you. But think about the insurance company’s real goals. Will the insurance company make more money for itself if it pays you the full amount, or if it pays you less?
3. Pretend that They Don’t have to Pay the Medical Bills from the Car Accident
Car insurance companies often pretend that if a medical insurance company or a worker’s compensation policy has paid for your medical bills, then the car insurance doesn’t have to compensate you for them. That’s wrong. In Georgia, the at-fault driver (or the at-fault driver’s insurance company) has to compensate an injured person for his or her medical bills, even if the injured person had medical insurance. The reason is that someone who causes a collision or hurts someone else should not get a ‘discount’ on the damage that he or she caused just because the injured person was smart enough to have insurance.
Here’s something else the car insurance companies won’t tell you—after your case is over, your medical insurance company or worker’s compensation insurer can come after you and claim that you have to pay them back for the medical procedures that they covered. That process is called subrogation. And if the car insurance company didn’t pay you for your medical bills, where does that leave you? The car insurance company paid you just a little bit of money (for “pain and suffering,” maybe), and now your health insurance company or worker’s compensation insurer is telling you that you have to give that money back to them to cover your medical bills. That leaves you in a hole.
In this video clip from a car accident trial in Atlanta, GA, Butler Law Firm’s lawyer describes the wreck during opening statement.
4. Under-Count the Medical Bills Caused by the Car Accident
Medical treatment providers like hospitals, doctors, or surgical centers send their bills in unusual ways. For instance, if you went to the emergency room, you probably have multiple bills arising from that one visit. The ambulance company will send one bill, the hospital will send a second bill, and the ER doctors will send a third bill. Surgeries work the same way: the doctor who performed the surgery will send one bill, the hospital or facility where the surgery was performed will send a second bill, and the anesthesiologist will probably send a third. You are entitled to be compensated for all of those bills.
Car insurance companies know that, but they probably won’t tell you about it. They may identify only one or two bills, and claim that’s all they have to pay you for. You may not find out until after your case is settled that the insurance company didn’t cover all the bills that it was supposed to. By then, it’s too late. You’ve been lowballed.
5. The “Causation” Defense: Claim that the Car Accident Didn’t Cause Your Injuries
Car insurance companies often try to make you think they’re being nice or reasonable by admitting certain things. They may admit that their driver caused the wreck, and say that they’ll pay you something because of that. They may admit that you had treatment or a surgery after the collision. But later in the process, they may pull the so-called “causation” defense. That means they’ll argue that your injuries were caused by something other than the accident, and therefore they shouldn’t have to pay you the full amount.
Insurance companies do this a lot. They’ll dig through your medical records for years or even decades before the accident, trying to find some medical record from somewhere in your past that they can say proves that you already had this injury. Or they’ll claim that some event after the collision is what caused the injury, so they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Sometimes they just say “your age” is the cause of your ailing back. In many cases, the insurance company will hire a radiologist—that is, someone who reads MRIs—to look at your MRI and claim that the injury looks old, so it must not have been caused by this accident. Insurance companies pay these radiologists hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even, over the course of years, millions of dollars), so some dishonest radiologists will say pretty much whatever the insurance companies want.
Our best tool to fight these well-paid “experts” that insurance companies hire is cross-examination. Watch the video below to see what we’re talking about.
This video comes from Butler Law Firm’s cross-examination of a hired-gun radiologist named Barry Jeffries. Watch and see how much money the insurance companies have paid him.
6. Use Normal Pleasantries Against You to Blame You for the Car Accident
After a wreck, it is natural to be polite and look after the other person, even if that person was at fault. Unfortunately, sometimes if you tell the other person not to worry or kindly suggest the collision wasn’t the other person’s fault, their insurance company may try to use your kindness against you. The insurance company may claim that your statement implied that you were not really injured or were admitting to fault–even if that is not what you meant.
Even if the accident is clearly not your fault, Georgia is a comparative negligence state, which means your compensation will be reduced by the percentage you are to blame. (You are barred from collecting anything if you are 50% or more to blame). The other party’s insurance company will do everything they can to show you are partly at fault, because that reduces their pay-out. In other words, by blaming you, the insurance company keeps more money for itself.
7. Pressure Before You Have Had Time to Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer
Soon after a collision, you may be contacted by both your insurance company and the other person’s insurance company. Remember: you do not have to speak with them before you talk with a lawyer. The insurance company may push you into accepting a low settlement that is unlikely to cover your real expenses, which will still be rolling in. They may also record what you say in hopes that they can find something to use against you later.
The insurance adjuster may tell you that you must accept a settlement agreement by a particular date. Don’t listen. Much of the time, that’s just not true. Insurance companies may make say that to people who do not have lawyers because they’re hoping to force the injured person to settle before he or she has a chance to hire a good lawyer. Once an injured person hires a lawyer, the insurance company knows it’ll have to pay more.
8. Demand that You Provide a Recorded Statement Describing the Car Accident
9. Act Concerned for Your Welfare to Get a Quick, Cheap Car Accident Settlement
10. Lead You to Believe They Are Willing to Pay Everything from the Car Accident
In this video clip from a trucking accident deposition, Butler Law Firm cross-examined the owner of the trucking company about who was responsible for the collision.
11. Deny Your Car Accident Claim Outright
Imagine making deliveries for your employer on Peachtree Street here in Atlanta when suddenly a truck causes a collision that almost crushes you. This is what happened to Ethel Adams who had a $2 million policy with a subsidiary of Farmers Insurance in Seattle Washington. She almost died and suffered permanent and life-altering injuries that left her in a wheelchair. When she finally woke from her coma, she discovered that her insurance company was denying her claim on the grounds that the incident was not an accident, but rather a purposeful act.
In fact, denying claims was systemic in the company. Farmers Insurance actively awarded adjusters who met low payment goals by offering them an incentive program that included gift certificates and pizza parties. In other words, Farmers Insurance—which runs commercials where it pretends to be your friend—was giving gift certificates and pizza parties to insurance adjusters who underpaid people who had been hurt.
Other times, the insurance company may deny that it provides insurance coverage for an accident, then conceal the evidence about why. In one recent case, the truck that struck our client (who was a pedestrian) was owned by a car dealership, meaning that the car dealership’s insurance company had to provide coverage for our client’s injuries. But the insurance company denied coverage and claimed that the truck had already been sold at the time of the accident—then refused to show us the sale documents or any other proof of when the sale had occurred. Here is the email exchange with the insurance company. We followed up with a demand for the full insurance policy.
The lesson for us is clear—an insurance company’s goal is not to pay you money, but to keep the money for itself.
12. Dispute the Severity of Your Injuries and Your Medical Expenses from the Accident
13. Claim Your Injuries from the Car Accident Were Already There
This video clip comes from the testimony of our client’s doctor. Here, the doctor discusses how car accidents can cause back or spine injuries. We took this testimony, in what is called a “deposition,” so that we could show it to the jury at trial if necessary.