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Difficult times like a car accident or divorce cause a lot of emotional stress. These situations are complicated emotionally, financially, and legally.
Attorneys experienced in these challenging situations know how to negotiate without emotion. They use their years of experience to know when to push and when to compromise.
Legal matters vary significantly from one issue to another. The best lawyers tend to focus on specific fields like divorce, personal injury, real estate, criminal defense, immigration, and tax.
You don’t want a divorce attorney handling your car accident case. You want the most knowledgeable holding your hand through the process.
Many types of lawyers will work on contingency. That means they don’t charge anything unless they win. Personal injury, product liability, and workers’ comp attorneys usually work on contingency.
It’s hard to win any game if you don’t know the rules. Car accident lawyers, immigration attorneys and the likes know the in’s and out’s of the legal system. It would likely take you too long to learn the rules to handle your case yourself. You’re better off hiring a lawyer to play the game for you.
Savvy lawyers build up a network of experts with complimentary services. Accident lawyers have relationships with doctors, mechanics, and therapists. They can connect you with these professionals that have helped people like you when in similar situations.
The same goes for divorce, immigration, and real estate lawyers. The best lawyers in those fields can connect you with the right people when you need their help.
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Bret is a former lawyer and full-time writer who knows how to simplify complex topics. He received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. For over twenty years, he handled a wide variety of cases, including criminal defense, personal injury, family law, and consumer bankruptcy.
Sarah Harris Edwards is a respected law firm blogger. She also owns the content marketing agency Write Collective. Many well known lawyers partner with Sarah to publish helpful content online. She graduated from Emerson College in 2004 with a B.S. in Speech with an emphasis in marketing and public relations.
Ryan Duffy is an Associate in Charlotte, NC. His legal experience spans insurance law, workers' compensation, employment law, real estate, and more. In addition to practicing law, Ryan runs a highly rated legal content agency. Ryan received his Juris Doctor from Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law in 2017.
Kristi Patrice Carter has 23 years of legal writing experience. She's been published in Above the Law, Life Hacker, and the Law Dictionary and has self-published thirteen books. She holds a JD from the Chicago-Kent College of Law and a B.A. in English from the University of Illinois Chicago.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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Only people who are uninsured or underinsured must worry about this question. Many people are in one of these two categories. Roughly 28 million drivers have no insurance. Maybe twice as many are underinsured. In most states, drivers must only have about $100,000 of per-accident coverage. That’s nowhere near enough to pay economic damages in a catastrophic injury case, to say nothing of emotional distress and other noneconomic losses.
If you don’t have insurance and you cause a wreck, you could be personally responsible for all the victim’s economic and noneconomic damages. If you’re underinsured, you could be personally responsible for the uninsured balance. Assume Thelma hits Louise, causing $200,000 in damages. Thelma only has $100,000 per-accident coverage. Thelma could be personally responsible for the remaining $100k, unless another party is vicariously liable (more on that below).
Legal Issues Related To Car Accidents
However, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Before Louise can take anything from anyone, Louise must prove that Thelma caused the wreck.
Driver error causes about 98 percent of the car wrecks in the United States. However, not every driving mistake is negligence, or a lack of care. If Thelma glanced at her phone the moment before she hit Louise, most jurors would say “wrong place at the wrong time.” If Thelma had been glued to her phone for several blocks, that’s different.
Various defenses are available as well, such as comparative fault. Obviously, these defenses pack a lot more punch if drivers have good lawyers representing them. Auto insurance companies have a legal duty to defend drivers, even underinsured drivers, in accident claims. Uninsured drivers are on their own.
Finally, we mentioned vicarious liability, or third party liability, above. These cases are quite complex. If Thelma was drunk when she hit Louise, the restaurant, bar, or other commercial provider who sold Thelma the booze could be financially responsible for damages. Other vicarious liability theories include negligent entrustment owner liability and respondeat superior employer liability.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “judgment-proof” before. Most people are judgment proof, because most states have broad property exemptions. Creditors, including judgment creditors, can usually seize cash in a savings account and luxury items. Most other property, such as houses, cars, and retirement accounts, is exempt.
Judgment-proof doesn’t mean harassment-proof. Judgment creditors can file liens and significantly reduce your credit score. These creditors can also file lawsuits that debtors must defend or sell the judgment to a relentless debt buyer.
If you lose a car crash case and are personally responsible for a judgment you cannot pay, bankruptcy is often a good option. Bankruptcy’s property exemptions are usually broader. Furthermore, bankruptcy’s Automatic Stay prohibits all forms of judgment creditor or debt buyer adverse action.
Bankruptcy has some significant downsides as well. However, in most cases, the pros outweigh the cons.
It’s best to get legal help. Book a free lawyer consultation with AskLegally today.
The statute of limitations, which determines how long after a car accident you can be charged, protects the state as well as defendants. Evidence often weakens over time. Physical evidence gets lost and witnesses’ memories fade. So, the SOL encourages the state to act quickly. At the same time, most defendants shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.
Criminal statutes of limitations vary in different states. Misdemeanor SOL, which would include a charge like leaving the scene of an accident, are usually less than a year. Many felony SOLs, for charges like vehicular manslaughter or causing an alcohol-related crash, are usually between three and five years. In most states, there’s no statute of limitations for murder, sexual assualt, and a few other extremely serious crimes.
The civil statute of limitations is generally the same in all states. It’s usually two years for torts, like car crashes or falls, six years for contract disputes, and four years for anything else. Certain legal doctrines, like the discovery rule, extend the SOL. Tort victims don’t have to file claims until they know the full extent of their damages and they connect those damages with a tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) wrongful conduct. This doctrine comes up frequently in dangerous drug claims. Adverse side-effects often don’t appear for years. So, to put it bluntly, if you miss an SOL in civil court, you may not be SOL.
Relationship Between Civil and Criminal Cases
Criminal and civil cases often overlap. The negligence per se doctrine is probably the best example. Tortfeasors could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially causes an injury.
This doctrine varies in different states. In some jurisdictions, any safety law violation, such as speeding or running a red light, triggers the negligence per se rule. In other states, the violation must be a penal safety law, like DUI.
Negligence per se is a great time saver. Victims don’t have to prove all the traditional elements of a negligence case, like duty and breach. A lawyer introduces the citation into evidence, connects the illegal act with the wreck, and that’s that.
Usually, negligence per se applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the criminal case. Civil juries determine all the facts in civil cases.
Compensation Available in Civil Court
Criminal and civil cases are very different in other ways. Criminal courts punish defendants for their wrongful acts. Victims might be eligible for some compensation, usually through a crime victim compensation fund, but don’t count on it.
Civil cases don’t punish anyone for anything. Instead, tort claims force tortfeasors to accept responsibility for the mistakes they make. We all make mistakes, and we must all accept the consequences of those mistakes.
Additionally, civil cases fully compensate tort victims. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additionally, a third party may be financially responsible for these damages. DUI-related injuries are a food example. Most states have dram shop laws which hold commercial providers responsible for damages, in some cases.
Frequently, delay is an essential part of the process. William Gladstone, who said “ justice delayed is justice denied ,” clearly wasn’t a criminal defense lawyer. Delay usually hurts the party with the burden of proof, which is the prosecutor in a criminal law case. Delay makes criminal cases harder to prove. Furthermore, delay frustrates prosecutors, who are anxious to clear their busy dockets. Frustrated prosecutors often agree to good deals.
Other times, delay is an inevitable part of the process. Most civil cases take at least two or three years to resolve. This time doesn’t include the pre-litigation case evaluation and evidence collection process. The long litigation process is one reason many civil plaintiffs, such as petitioners in family law cases and victims in injury cases, should try to resolve cases quickly.
On a related note, delay in a civil case usually isn’t an attorney’s fault or the system’s fault. Each day, the plaintiff’s case gets a little weaker. Insurance companies and other defendants know this, which is why they drag cases out as long as possible.
Criminal cases depend on evidence. In almost all cases, the most critical evidence is a police officer or non-officer eyewitness.
Police officer turnover is very high. About 25 percent of officers leave within thirty-six months. Many seek greener pastures in other departments. Others leave for higher-paying private security jobs. Still others get frustrated and walk away altogether. The reason doesn’t matter. The point is, if the officer is unavailable, the case usually falls apart.
Non-officer witnesses often move away as well. Furthermore, a non-officer witness often has recall issues and/or loses interest in the case.
As time goes by, and as they repeat the same story over and over, witnesses muddle details. Police officers are trained to keep their stories straight. Non-officers don’t have this training. Technically, prosecutors can subpoena loss-of-interest witnesses, even alleged victims in domestic violence cases, and force them to testify against their will. But, that’s a bad scene that most prosecutors would rather avoid.
Delay sometimes affects physical evidence as well. Things get lost. Since the burden of proof is so high, something like a misplaced laboratory test could be the difference between a guilty and not guilty verdict.
A long line at McDonald’s means customers must wait longer for their Big Macs. Civil courthouses always have long lines. Therefore, people must wait longer for their days in court.
Furthermore, as mentioned, delay hurts the party with the burden of proof. Insurance company lawyers aren’t stupid. They’d drag cases out forever if they could. Common delay tactics include low-ball settlement offers and asserting legal defenses that won’t hold up in court.
Mediation, which usually doesn’t happen until late in the process, addresses these two common delay tactics. Everyone has a duty to negotiate in good faith. That means no going through the motions. Furthermore, a mediator knows how to make lawyers who cling to unrealistic positions see the light. Believe me I know.
Why not go to mediation early and avoid all this trouble? Early mediation is available in a few jurisdictions. However, in most cases, it’s unavailable. Don’t ask me why.
Quite frankly, legal clients usually don’t need frequent updates. Generally, most personal injury, family law, criminal defense, and other court claims involve flurries of activity followed by long periods of inactivity. That’s the nature of the judicial process. During these extended dry spells, there’s simply nothing to report.
Furthermore, ignorance is bliss, at least in many cases. Most people hire lawyers, at least in part, so they don’t have to worry about their cases as much. Therefore, lawyers assume their clients don’t want frequent updates. On a related note, no one wants to pay for frequent updates. A simple “nothing is happening” letter or email could cost $50 or $100 a pop, if the lawyer charges an hourly fee. That adds up.
However, attorneys have a legal duty to keep their clients reasonably informed about their cases. So, if your lawyer never sends specific updates, even in a monthly statement, and doesn’t respond to emails or phone calls, think about filing a complaint with the state Bar Association. But before you do that, consider the current litigation stage.
Building a Case
The first portion of a case is usually the most interesting portion for a client. Since they just got hurt, just broke up with their spouses, or just got arrested, their adrenaline levels are understandably high.
Usually, the first portion of a case also falls into the aforementioned long period of inactivity category, at least from a court perspective. However, from an everyday perspective, your lawyer is quite bust evaluating your case and collecting evidence.
Personal injury, family, criminal, and other laws constantly change. That’s especially true in the summer, when most new laws in most states take effect. Even a seemingly minor legal change could significantly affect the outcome of your case. So, lawyers must be ready.
Evidence collection is a long, boring process that includes speaking to witnesses, reviewing documents, looking at surveillance camera footage, and other things that are rather uninteresting.
Additionally, as mentioned, most lawyers assume most clients don’t want or need frequent updates. That’s especially true if, as is usually the case, nothing much is happening and/or a client is concerned about costs. If that’s not true, ask your lawyer to more proactively communicate with you. Understand, however, that this proactive communication means higher cost.
Resolving a Case
Once a case officially goes to court, the flurries of activity become more fast and furious. Pretrial procedural hearings, which clients may or may not want or need to attend, happen almost every month. Additionally, particularly in personal injury cases, clients often need to give their depositions, submit to medical examinations, produce documents, and so forth.
In civil cases, mediation usually comes next. A third-party mediator supervises a negotiation session and ensures that both parties negotiate in good faith. Mediation sessions usually occur in an informal setting, like an office building.
Client communication usually picks up at this point as well. Your lawyer will give you all the time and place details, explain the purpose of mediation, and go through some strategies with you.
If you think you need another opinion, book a free consultation through AskLegally.
In the movies, when motorcycle riders crash, they usually get right back up, apparently uninjured. Real life motorcycle wrecks are much different. Once riders go down, they never get back up, at least not all the way. The best motorcycle accident lawyer understands that. So, the permanent injury angle is a good starting point in your quest for the best motorcycle accident lawyer.
A good feeling about your lawyer isn’t enough. There’s hard data to consider as well. Over the last decade, the number of fatal motorcycle crashes has increased 20 percent. Basically, this number means that there are more riders on the road, and most tortfeasors (negligent drivers) ignore them. This combination means more compensation is available in these situations. Your attorney must have the tools to claim it.
Talk with Other Motorcycle Accident Survivors
Normally, I don’t recommend basing a search for a lawyer on Google reviews or other online reviews. Online, anyone can say anything, or almost anything, about anyone else. Motorcycle wrecks are an exception. Only lawyers who work with these victims truly know the physical and emotional trauma these victims endure.
Frequently, even if motorcycle accident victims survive, their injuries are catastrophic. Protective shells, not to mention multiple restraint systems, protect four-wheel vehicle occupants. Motorcycle riders, at best, only have crash helmets. Therefore, riders are essentially unprotected.
A few words about motorcycle helmets. In most states, failure to wear a helmet doesn’t affect the amount of compensation in the case, even if the jurisdiction has a helmet law. An extremely complex legal doctrine, mitigation of damages, applies in these situations. In a nutshell, victims musn’t wear bicycle helmets, seat belts, or otherwise mitigate (voluntarily reduce) their damages before their injuries. Otherwise, we’d have to wear crash helmets and fireproof suits when we drove to the supermarket.
Lawyers who work with motorcycle wreck survivors also understand the emotional trauma these victims endured. It’s hard for anyone else to imagine the horror of a large motor vehicle bearing down on you, and all you can do is brace yourself.
Do Your Homework
To find the best motorcycle accident lawyer, start by finding a lawyer who works with other survivors and with whom you have a connection. However, as the old saying goes, nice guys finish last. Your attorney must also have the proper skill set, in terms of:
- Experience: You learn a lot of things in law school. You learn even more in the school of hard knocks. Before you entrust your case to an attorney, the attorney needs to know what methods work, and maybe more importantly, what methods don’t work.
- Successful Track Record: Generally, lawyers trumpet their past successes on their websites and other advertisements. No announcements usually means no successes. Lawyers are many things, but modest isn’t one of them.
- Accessibility: As mentioned, motorcycle wreck injuries are physically and emotionally crippling, especially on bad days. So, an attorney must be physically accessible. Zoom meetings and email exchanges are better than nothing, but they cannot substitute for personal consultations.
Remember the clock is ticking as you look for an attorney. Injury victims have a limited amount of time to act.