You’ve caused an accident. If it was relatively minor, or if you live in a no-fault state, taking care of the aftermath is pretty straightforward: You call your car insurance company, they conduct an investigation of the events, your car and the other party’s car get repaired. Your doctor bills are taken care of and the only out-of-pocket expenses for you are your deductible. But what about accidents where there was significant property or personal damage for the other party? And what if your coverage limits are pretty bare bones? These are scenarios where the other party may decide to hire a personal injury attorney. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire a car accident attorney to come to your defense. In most cars, your insurance company’s got your covered.
We spoke with Loretta Worters at the Insurance Information Institute to better understand what you can expect from your insurance company if you’ve caused an accident, and why hiring a defense attorney is sometimes an expense you can avoid.
Do I need to hire a car accident lawyer?
“If you’re the one who has caused the accident, part of what you pay for in your [insurance] policy is that your insurance company will defend you,” Worters said.
That’s right. Your insurance company doesn’t just pay claims for damages and injuries. They also defend you in cases where you are at fault. Like you, they don’t want to have to pay any more to settle a claim than absolutely necessary, so contacting them soon after an accident, regardless of who is at fault, is important.
Typically, the only time another driver will sue after a car accident is if the insurance claim will not compensate their total losses. So, for example, if they are injured in the accident and their total medical bills exceed the Personal Injury Protection limits of your insurance policy, they may look to you to make up the difference. If they do not have health insurance or have steep copays and deductibles, have lost wages from missed work or are unable to work at all due to the accident, they could seek to recover those costs by suing you.
Of course, your car insurance company will still defend you, but if they are unable to reach a settlement within the scope of your coverage and a judge finds in favor of the other party, you’ll be on the hook for the difference. Of course, the same holds true if you hire an attorney, except you have the added costs of his or her fees.
Get adequate car insurance
That’s why it’s important to make sure you have high liability limits, Worters said. State limits tend to be “woefully inadequate,” and leave many drivers vulnerable to potential lawsuits. The increased coverage or even an umbrella policy can make a huge difference. (We can help you compare car insurance quotes here.)
“We’ve become a very litigious society, so I think everyone should have it and it’s not that expensive,” she explained. “It’s about $200 a year for $1 million worth of protection.”
Confused by all the jargon associated with car insurance? Check out our explainer on how car insurance works for the details.
When You May Want to Hire a Defense Attorney
Of course, there are times when hiring a defense attorney is absolutely necessary. If the accident has resulted in criminal charges such as manslaughter or criminal negligence, for example. If you do not hire an attorney in these cases, the court will appoint one for you.
Aside from criminal charges, though, your insurance company should be able to adequately handle defense of your case. If for some reason you decide you are not happy with the insurance company’s defense, however, you do have the option of paying for an attorney familiar with defending personal injury cases.
Keep in mind that your insurance company will cease communicating with you regarding your case, and all conversations will go through your attorney.