Experiencing a car accident can be overwhelming and traumatizing. In the aftermath, you may be worried about paying bills and meeting medical or legal expenses. In fact, worrying about finances is one of the many reasons you might wonder how to settle a car accident claim without a lawyer. Here are five tips for handling your car accident without a lawyer.
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1. Gather Evidence And Documentation
If you were not seriously injured and you can move your car to safety, that should always be the first thing you do after an accident. Then, it would be a good idea to gather evidence as soon as possible. Your memory will fade, so starting with taking pictures of the scene will be useful for proving damage to your car, or injuries to your body.
You should gather as much evidence as possible in case you need to negotiate a settlement or even go to court. The documentation you collect might be the easiest part of handling the aftermath of a car accident without a lawyer.
Evidence you should consider collecting:
- Photographs (from various angles): Damage to your car, traffic lights or signs, road conditions, bodily injuries
- Witness statements: Ask for contact information at the scene
- Police or accident report: The report may state whom the police believe to be at fault
2. Contact The Insurance Companies
Dealing with insurance companies might be the most challenging aspect of understanding how to settle a car accident claim without a lawyer. First, you should contact your own insurance company to learn what your policy covers. Having the documentation you gathered will be helpful when talking to your insurance adjuster. Be mindful of what you say when discussing the accident with insurance companies, even your own. Remember, even your insurance company is looking to pay out as little as possible, so having plenty of documentation and sticking to the facts will be important.
Generally, insurance policies do not allow for claims higher in value than the policy is worth. Let’s say you are in an accident and the other driver is at fault, but they don’t have insurance. Don’t panic. You will be able to bring a claim with your own insurance to cover the damages based on what your policy covers. However, if the damages total $150,000, and your policy limit is $100,000, your insurance company does not have to pay you the $50,000 difference.
The above example is a worst-case scenario; hopefully, the other driver will have insurance. Despite this, it may still be challenging to deal with the both your own and the other driver’s insurance company because they may also try to offer the lowest settlement amount possible.
3. Calculate The Value Of Damages
You will want to calculate your damages so that you are prepared to better assess a settlement offer. Settling a car accident claim without a lawyer doesn’t mean you won’t get compensation for your accident. Here are some steps you can take to calculate your damages.
Your damages will depend on your exact situation, including the condition of your car before the accident, and the impact from the accident. First, calculate your car’s value and the cost to repair. You should get at least one estimate from a car mechanic to compare to the estimate the insurance company will get. For example, a totaled car will be given a lower value than a car that needs minor repairs.
Second, you’ll need to assess something called “special damages.” Special damages are those you can calculate. Some of the most common special damages are:
- Medical expenses: You can recover the cost of the medical expenses you incurred as a result of the accident. This includes present medical needs and may also include any that you have in the future that are related directly to the accident.
- Property damage: In addition to car repairs, you can recover the cost of personal property that was damaged as a result of the car accident. This may include items like eyeglasses, a car seat, or a laptop.
- Lost wages/earnings: If you miss work as a result of the accident, you can recover your present wages and may include at least some future earnings that you would’ve made if you can no longer work.
- Replacement or repair of damaged vehicle
If you had a passenger in your car at the time of the accident and it was so bad that it resulted in the passenger’s death, there can even be damages for wrongful death.
4. Understand Your State's Time Limits For Filing A Claim
One thing to keep in mind is that there are time limits for filing a claim resulting from any kind of car accident. These limits are called statute of limitations. Statute of limitations are enforced so that cases are brought to court within a reasonable amount of time and a party cannot threaten a lawsuit for an indefinite period.
You will need to have at least a basic understanding of your state’s laws so that you don’t miss any deadlines. How? To settle a car accident claim without a lawyer, you can start with searching your state’s legislature website. This will provide you with the laws of your state, including the statute of limitations.
For example, if you live in Georgia, you can search for the Georgia General Assembly website. There you can learn that the statute of limitations for filing a claim for damage to personal property is four years. This means that you would usually get four years from the date of the car accident (when damage occurred to your vehicle) to file a lawsuit. There are always exceptions, so if your claim is seriously delayed for any reason, you should get the advice of a lawyer before proceeding.
Time limits for filing claims can be very tricky so make sure you stay organized and keep track of all necessary deadlines.
5. Determine If Your Case Would Be Better Handled By A Lawyer
While the above tips let you know there are times when you will not need a lawyer, you could benefit from expert advice if you have a challenging case. For instance, if your car accident resulted in serious injury or a wrongful death, the complexities of handling that claim could be better handled by an attorney. In addition, if your case involved a criminal matter like drunk driving, you would want to let an attorney handle your case.
A Car Accident Attorney May Give You An Advantage
Taking on your own case may save you money. However, the complexities and time commitment required may mean that handling your own claim is not the best solution. If you are injured in the accident, suffered property damage, or are finding it difficult to deal with the insurance companies, a lawyer can be a great asset. Get a free evaluation of your case today.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.