The average person goes through their day completely unaware of the potential legal liability they may face by simply performing mundane activities like driving to work. A car accident, regardless of how harmless it may seem at the time, can be a litigation minefield for drivers who are not prepared to navigate the complex myriad of laws and regulations.
The question facing many drivers is the necessity of retaining counsel. Do you really need a lawyer just for a simple fender bender? Can’t your insurance company handle it? Does it really need to be this expensive and this complicated?
The first thing you need to understand is this: You have no friends after a car accident. The police are not on your side. Your insurance company is only on your side to the extent you can enforce the details of your policy agreement with them, and the other drivers are certainly not on your side.
On the other hand, if you hire an attorney, they are required by law to be on your side. The local Bar Association makes it quite clear to its membership that if they want to practice law, they must zealously represent the interests of their clients. If they fail to give you accurate and timely legal advice, they don’t get to be lawyers any more.
So remember your local Bar Association’s best advice: If you have no friends, hire one.
To be honest, most drivers have absolutely no idea what their potential criminal liability is in the aftermath of a car accident. Therefore, all the standard advice for dealing with the police applies. Drivers should answer no questions, authorize no searches and immediately invoke their right to counsel before they even identify themselves beyond what is absolutely necessary under the law.
Remember, in any criminal case, even if it is just a traffic ticket, anything you say can be used against you in court. When you hire a lawyer, they will be happy to hear you kept your mouth shut and planned all along to let them do the talking.
To summarize, keep your mouth shut. It’s your right. Exercise it.
Because you can be compelled to testify in a civil case, and because civil penalties can be quite painful, especially if your insurance company lives up to the reputation of most insurance companies, it is probably a good idea to get professional legal advice before you involve yourself in a civil dispute.
Gather all the information and evidence you possibly can, including every last person who might be a witness in your favor. Photograph everything you possibly can, including everyone’s insurance paperwork and license plates. Deliver all the information to your attorney and then be grateful for the fact your case and your version of events are now protected by privilege.
When you hire a lawyer, the first thing you should probably do is introduce them to your insurance policy agreement. Since there is a significant possibility you will end up in a dispute with your insurer that may lead to litigation, it is probably an excellent idea to let your attorney do the talking with your insurance company. Make your decision quickly, however, as your policy may have time limits with respect to reporting your accident.
Hiring a lawyer is stressful and unfamiliar to most people. Just remember whomever you hire has a legal obligation to give you correct advice. If they fail to give you proper advice, you won’t be held responsible for the decisions you make based on it.
Talk to your attorney first before you make any big decisions and be absolutely sure you don’t obligate yourself legally before your attorney has had the opportunity to review your case. There is no rush. Make sure you get it right the first time and save yourself the hassle of unwinding a bad decision. Competent legal counsel is worth its weight in gold, especially in an uncertain legal environment like an auto accident.