Auto accidents don't just cause property damage and injuries; they can also force the responsible person to assume a huge burden in the form of financial compensation. If you're on either end of this unfortunate seesaw, certain aspects of your case may demand the expertise of a skilled, experienced auto accident attorney — even if you think you have an open-and-shut case. Here are three scenarios that should prompt you to consult such an attorney as early in the case as possible.
1. You Live in a "Shared Liability" State
How much compensation you're entitled to receive (or required to render) in a personal injury case depends largely on where you live. In states that practice a rule called contributory negligence, injured parties can't ask for a penny in damages if they're judged to be even 1 percent responsible for the accident. But things get more complicated in states that follow the notion of comparative negligence. If, for example, you ran a red light but the other party failed to react in time due to intoxication, you both might be judged partly responsible. In this case, you might only be able to claim whatever percentage of your damages were judged to be the other person's fault. If that isn't confusing enough, there's a variation of this rule known as modified comparative negligence. Under this rule, the other party must be found to be more than 50 percent responsible for the accident before you can claim damages.
How do you make sure that you wind up on the right side of this equation? Your auto accident attorney can help immeasurably by understanding exactly how specific circumstances add or reduce the weight of liability. Even a small detail can balance the scales in your favor just enough to help you win a contributory or modified comparative negligence case, or reduce the percentage of liability you must shoulder in a standard comparative negligence case.
2. You Hit a Car from an "Incriminating" Angle
Sometimes how you hit a car has just as much impact on your auto accident case as the fact that you hit the car at all. For example, if you were making a left turn when you hit another vehicle going through an intersection, chances are that you'll be judged guilty — even in the absence of working traffic lights. Traffic laws generally require a car making a left turn at an intersection to yield to a car rolling straight through that intersection. You may also find the cards stacked against you if you hit a car from behind, even if the car ahead of you stopped unexpectedly or irrationally. That's because drivers are expected to maintain a safe braking distance behind other cars at all times. By this argument, you're guilty not just because you hit the car, but also because you were following it too closely in the first place.
As amazing as it may sound, your auto accident attorney may find a way to get you out of these rather incriminating scenarios. A skilled, diligent attorney will dig deep into the details of the incident for any mitigating circumstances that might shift the blame from you to the other driver. For instance, what if the other driver had come to a stop in a dark road, without a pair of working tail lights to warn you of what lay ahead in the road? What if you absolutely had to hit the other driver in an intersection to avoid some other sudden hazard in the road? Your attorney can bring these facts to light.
3. You Suspect the Other Party of Dishonesty
Your auto accident defense may look pretty bad when the plaintiff walks into the courtroom wearing a neck collar or using crutches. But what if those injuries had already been sustained in a previous accident, or if they aren't legitimate injuries at all? If you believe that your opponent has managed to sneak one past the insurance adjusters and police, then you need to take whatever action you can to set the record incontrovertible straight.
This is yet another situation in which your auto accident attorney can come to the rescue. Your attorney may request that the plaintiff undergo an independent medical exam to confirm the extent of their injuries — or even hire a private investigator to observe how the injured party behaves when no one is supposedly watching. Close evaluation of the details of the case may also produce inconsistencies in the plaintiff's testimony.
Don't assume either sure victory or wholesale defeat when you're involved in an auto accident case. Contact your local provider of auto accident attorney services to get the advice and legal savvy you need.
For more information, reach out to a law firm like David Helfand PA.