No one sets out to get into a car accident, but if the worst-case scenario came to pass and you’ve been in a crash of cars, could you pay for the consequences? The fact is, most people would be hard-pressed to do so. Even if you have insurance, you could be facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and expenses – and you could spend months, or even years, of your life sitting in court. That’s a serious proposition. So how can you determine what a car accident lawyer will really cost you?
These three questions can give you a sense of how much that car accident really costs you. It’s going to take a lot more than just repairing your vehicle to get back on the road.
Were You at Fault?
One of the first questions you need to ask to determine how high the car accident cost will be after getting into an accident is whether or not you were the one at fault. The individual at fault will generally face much greater expenses than the other driver. These include:
- increase in car insurance rates
- insurance deductible
- legal costs
- medical expenses
Of course, if you live in a no-fault state, your individual insurance policy may cover the majority of the expenses. In other cases, the at-fault driver’s insurance will pay the majority of costs – if they have collision insurance.
Can You Afford A Car Accident Lawyer?
When a car accident goes to court, both parties need a lawyer. However, while the individual at fault will need to pay out of pocket for their legal advice, the victim will generally negotiate a contingency fee. If granted a contingency fee, you will:
- not pay unless you are awarded damages
- pay based on the total amount of damages
- negotiate a set payment percentage – usually about 33%
As for the driver at fault, most car insurance plans require the company to pay for your attorney, as part of their “duty to defend”. However, if you don’t have coverage or you’ve already exceeded your coverage, then you may be on your own. In that case, most lawyers will charge between $150 and $500 an hour. Your lawyer’s hourly rate is dependent on:
- lawyer’s experience and reputation
- complexity of your case.
- any physical injury involved
It’s also possible that another entity entirely is at fault in the accident; parties commonly found at fault for car accidents include:
- construction companies
- vehicle and parts manufacturers
- local government
In other words, the accident may have occurred because one of the vehicles was improperly designed or repaired, or because the road wasn’t maintained by the government or construction company. This differentiation is important and if an outside party is at fault, it’s possible that all those involved in the accident can be framed as victims and may be able to collect damages.
Was Anyone Injured?
Injuries also play a significant role in how much a crash of cars will cost you. Though either your insurance or the other driver’s insurance will typically pay for common injuries, when injuries become more serious, the victim may be able to claim punitive damages – and that’s when things can become costly. When considering punitive claims, judges typically consider:
- documentation of the accident
- psychological trauma and PTSD
- lasting injuries
- loss of work
Jurors are also often swayed by emotional appeal, such as whether a child has been injured, the public perception of the victims, and especially tragic-seeming injuries.
Punitive damages can vary widely. If someone is killed in an accident, punitive damages can reach into the millions. In less serious cases, punitive damages may be in the tens or hundreds of thousands, instead. Some states also have caps on personal injury that restrict how great these awards can be.
Was There Criminal Action Involved?
Car accidents occur under countless different circumstances, from slippery roads to drunken collisions, but only some of these crash of cars are criminal affairs – and that can change the outcome of an accident case. When criminal action is involved, then the case can leave the civil courts, and the consequences can go far beyond the financial, though financial awards are often greater in cases with a criminal element.
Car accidents may be considered criminal if one of the drivers was:
- texting or talking on the phone while driving
- ignored a red light or stop sign
- left the scene of the accident.
In these cases, there are usually both civil and criminal cases, one to address the basic issues, such as car accident costs like vehicle damage and injuries, that occur in any car accident, and then another case to address the criminal element. If you are at fault in a criminal accident, your insurance company does not have any obligation to defend you. You can, however, call on a public defender for that element of your case. On the other hand, if you are the victim in a criminal case, once again you can arrange for contingent representation.
Related: How to Choose the Best Car Insurance
Calculating Other Losses
Though issues of fault, injury, and criminal action all contribute to the expenses involved in a legal case, many of the associated expenses come from other losses.
- Loss of the Ability to Work – This may be at least partially covered by the awards in the civil suit, but there are limits. If you are badly injured, for example, you may find yourself out of work – and therefore without income – for longer than your award covers.
- PTSD or Pain and Suffering – These may not be possible to quantify financially. Even if you are given an award that covers psychological care, you may find yourself paying for treatment and medication long after that award runs out. Or, you may lose out on opportunities that you would otherwise have, including work, travel, and social activities, due to that trauma.
While courts do their best to quantify the losses an individual experienced due to a car accident, there is a limit to how much they can do to resolve that loss. With that in mind, then, it’s important to recognize that whether you are at fault or a victim, the legal consequences will only scrape the surface, financially and personally. Particularly if you are at fault, you may spend thousands of dollars trying to provide redress to another’s injuries, but no matter how much you spend, it’s unlikely you’ll really be able to do so.
A serious car accident disrupts lives and changes the path of everyone involved. It’s not just a matter of getting back on the road, but of finding ways to cope with your actions or your injuries. The real car accident cost is your past life – after an accident, it can take years to find a new way forward.