If you are in a car accident in New Jersey, you might rightly wonder whether it makes sense to hire an attorney. New Jersey, after all is a “choice” state, so drivers have a no-fault option when they purchase their car insurance. That means, for accidents involving no personal injury or only minor injuries, you could be dealing directly with your own insurance company. Unless the insurance company demonstrates actionable bad faith — making no effort to honor the terms of your policy — you shouldn’t need a lawyer. The same goes for minor injuries. If you submit a thorough claim including documentation of all medical treatment, as well as losses due to missed work, sick days taken, and other expenses, you should be able to arrive at a reasonable settlement.
However, if you have standard, fault-based insurance, or if you’ve sustained what New Jersey defines as a “serious” bodily injury, it is usually beneficial to retain an attorney from the outset of your claim. In a negligence lawsuit for a serious injury, the stakes are raised significantly, forcing you to contend with numerous additional issues, including:
- Proving fault — You must be able to prove “by a preponderance of the evidence” that another driver was responsible for the accident. This is not as demanding as having to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but it still requires you to present a compelling case that your version of the facts is correct.
- Modified comparative negligence rule — The defendant may assert that you are at least partly responsible for the accident. The court reduces your recovery of damages in proportion to the share of fault it assigns you and, under New Jersey law, if you’re found to be more than 50 percent at fault, you can’t recover anything.
- “Pain and suffering” damages — How much did your injury hurt? How much does it continue to hurt? What kind of an emotional toll has all this pain taken? How much is that worth in terms of cash? These are difficult questions to answer, and even more difficult to explain in court. But in most serious injury cases, pain and suffering damages represent the lion’s share of the plaintiff’s compensation.
- Future losses — If your prognosis says your injury will continue to be a problem, you deserve compensation for that future harm, future economic losses, and future medical expenses.
Retaining a lawyer at the outset of your claim alerts the defendant’s insurance company that you intend to recover the full measure of compensation you are entitled to. Without the advice of an experienced attorney, you could be leaving most of your potential recovery on the table.
If you’ve suffered a serious bodily injury in a car accident, speak with a car accident attorney at Seigel Law. Call us at 201.444.4000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. We assist injured clients in Bergen County and throughout New Jersey.