You’ve been in an auto accident. Do you need a lawyer? That depends on the impact of the accident and whether you sustained injuries. Often, your insurance company can guide you through the process. But if you’re hurt, you should definitely seek counsel.
This chapter covers:
You may not need an attorney when…
Why you might need an attorney
Colorado’s Make-Whole Law
How much does it cost?
If you hire a legitimate personal injury attorney, it shouldn’t cost you anything for them to take your case. Not a dime.
You May Not Need an Attorney When…
If you’ve been in a very minor accident and there’s only property damage – you weren’t injured at all – and if you have the right insurance, you probably don’t need a lawyer. You can probably handle the property damage claim with your insurance company on your own.
Why You Might Need an Attorney
If you’re in an accident that involves a higher speed, another driver and physical injury, you probably need an attorney. Think about all of the parties involved in that kind of case: the other driver, police, the other driver’s insurance company, witnesses (hopefully), your insurance company, the tow company, the hospital, your medical team, your health insurance company… the list goes on.
When you get all of those parties wrangling over one case, it can literally be impossible for an injured person to advocate for him or herself. And then there is one more big element to consider: Insurance laws are complex! Chances are very good that you won’t even know your rights and where there may be money for you to access to help you heal and to cover your damages. Some of these laws were designed to make sure that you – the injured party – get an adequate amount of money to heal and to recover all your damages.
Consider this example from the O’Sullivan Law files: We represented a driver, Steven, who received serious injuries in an accident. The person who hit him only had $50,000 in coverage and his insurance company quickly offered Steven the $50,000 saying, “This is all you’re going to get from us.” If Steven had taken that $50,000 he would have unknowingly waived his right to another $200,000 that he had available from his own insurance company due to his Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage. (See Chapter 1.)
Also, if you don’t have health insurance, an attorney can help reduce your medical bills by large amounts.
Here’s another example from the O’Sullivan Law files: Nine-year-old Amber was riding her bike in a suburban neighborhood of Denver. A man driving a truck backed out of his driveway and ran over her, crushing her pelvis. Amber was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado and experienced an amazing recovery but she will need care for her pelvis for the rest of her life.
The at-fault driver only had $50,000 in liability coverage. Amber’s mom and dad had $200,000 of UIM coverage on their auto policies. The O’Sullivan Law Firm was able to get $250,000 for Amber’s care.
Additionally, because of Colorado’s Make-Whole Law (see below), we were able to make all of her health insurance bills go away.
Amber’s parents didn’t know about the Make-Whole Law. They also weren’t aware that they could use their UIM coverage for their daughter, who had been riding a bike. And, of course, they were so focused on Amber’s day-to-day care that they never could have advocated for her rights against all of the involved parties. They needed a personal injury attorney.
Colorado’s Make-Whole Law
Here is another example of why you need an advocate who understands your rights and Colorado’s complex insurance laws.
Colorado has something called a “Make-Whole Law.” It is very powerful but you must access it in a very specific way or you could lose your right to thousands of dollars! Under this relatively new law, if you’re able to demonstrate that you have accessed all of your insurance policy limits from the at-fault driver and from your own insurance company, and yet it isn’t enough to treat your injuries, the health insurance company can be forced to reduce its claims upon you to nothing. In other words, if you’ve received all the money that you can get from any insurance available, and if your injuries still require care, then the health insurance company can be forced to reduce all of its claims upon you to zero. But the only way to take advantage of the Make-Whole Law is to systematically and chronologically file documentation that proves you used all of the other resources available to you and that you still require care. These are complex legal documents and one misstep can cost you the coverage.
Many, many accident victims are entirely unaware of the Make-Whole Law – and other laws designed to protect them – and they risk losing money that they desperately need if they don’t hire an advocate to help them.
Think of it this way: if you’re injured, your first priority should be healing. Hiring an attorney means you hire a staff of seasoned professionals who lift all of the tedious, confusing, frustrating elements of a legal case off your shoulders so that you can concentrate on getting better.
How Much Does it Cost?
If you hire a legitimate personal injury attorney, it shouldn’t cost you anything for them to take your case. Not a dime. If they win a settlement for you, they will take a percentage of the gross amount collected plus any costs related to your case. This is called a “contingency fee” because their payment is contingent upon them winning your case. Costs related to pursuing your case are separate and in addition to the attorney’s fees.
One more note…
You need someone who practices personal injury law exclusively. You may have a well-intentioned buddy who is a lawyer, but if he or she practices any other area of law, chances are they don’t know all of the best ways to advocate for your case. Hopefully the examples above prove this fact.