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What if the Car Accident Wasn’t Your Fault?

Do You Still Need an Attorney?

Video Transcript:

The lawyer is there for you. The lawyer owes an ethical duty to represent you and only you and your best interest. The insurance company has no such duty.

Rob Rosenthal:

If you've been in an auto crash and it's not your fault, do you need a personal injury attorney? Well, that's what we're going to find out today when we ask the lawyer

Hi again, everybody, I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com, and my guest today is Arizona attorney Tim Tonkin with the Phillips Law Group. Tim, good to see you. Thank you for making some time to answer our questions.

Tim Tonkin:

Good to see you, Rob, thanks for having me.

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's say someone's in an auto accident and they're 100% sure it's not their fault. Do they need a personal injury attorney? Can’t they just contact the insurance company and count on the insurance company to take care of everything?

Tim Tonkin:

I think it's always a good idea to call an attorney; a good attorney is going to tell the injured person, “Yeah, this is something that we think we can help you with.” Or “This may be something that you can do on your own.” Many people get into auto accidents, many people deal with insurance companies, many people resolve these cases, the smaller cases, on their own where the injuries may be minimal or not require more than a couple of visits to the physician.

However, sometimes things get a little more complicated. If someone has a more serious injury or if someone has an injury that's going to be left going undiagnosed, they need to call a lawyer. Better to call a lawyer, have the good honest lawyer tell them, “this is something we can help you with.” Or “This may be something you can do on your own.” Listen to that advice, make a fair evaluation for the individual person, and then they can choose whether or not they want to have a lawyer for these smaller injury claims. Sometimes I tell people who call me, “Hey, this is a lot like painting your house.” I can go out and paint my house. I could do it. I may not want to go to Home Depot fifteen times. I may not want to do all of the prep. I may not want to deal with the aftermath. And if I hire somebody, they're going to do it better, faster, cleaner, although we're going to pay somebody to do it. The finished product is going to be better than something that I could do on my own, and it saves me the hassle of having to run after the insurance company to talk to insurance adjusters, to wonder whether or not I’m getting a good deal or not a good deal. And so it's always safer to call a lawyer in all cases, but there may be somewhere we tell good folks, honestly, this may be something that you want to handle on your own because we're not going to add this value to you. But if it's something you want us to handle for your ease and your comfort, we'll be happy to take it on.

Rob Rosenthal:

That brings to mind a couple of questions. First of all, is there a cost for that initial call to find out if it's a case that you guys could handle?

Tim Tonkin:

No, personal injury lawyers like myself, they work on a contingency fee, meaning that they only get paid if they collect money on your behalf. We consult with people all the time, every day, for free. So that initial call to us at least, and some other good lawyers is going to be free. We’ll give you what advice we can, and you can take it from there to make the best decision that these potential clients can for themselves and for their families.

Rob Rosenthal:

The other question is, is it possible that somebody might not think they’re seriously injured, but it could turn into something. Maybe at the time they don't realize how badly they're injured or maybe it's an injury that doesn't show up right away.

Tim Tonkin:

Absolutely, and great question, Rob. So, if you call the insurance company first, the insurance company is going to minimize what may be happening to someone's body. If you call the lawyer first, we're going to worry about the injured body first and worry about the claim second. And so we want to make sure, because if somebody has injuries that don't show up right away or take a couple of days to manifest themselves, they need to have proper medical documentation in order to eventually get a settlement or a verdict that is commensurate or equal to what their injuries were.

If you call the insurance company first, the insurance company is going to say, “Okay, I'll give you $500 and we'll pay for one doctor visit.” And that’s going to be it. They’re going to have you sign a piece of paper; most likely they're going to have you sign away your claim. Well, if injuries come back, there's going to be nothing that the person can do, or if injuries show up later, there's going to be nothing that the person who signed a release can necessarily do. So it's better to call a lawyer, make sure the lawyer can talk to the injured person about all of their injuries, encourage that person to seek the right physicians or medical specialists in order to document all of the injuries. Initially after a crash, you want to make sure that you're documenting everything, because that littlest pain that you have, maybe your knee, and you're only worried about how bad your back hurts; well, two months down the line it really is your knee problem. You tore your meniscus in the motor vehicle collision. Well, when your head hurts and you’ve back pain, and you go to the hospital, you may not be thinking too much about your knee, but that's the one that's left.

If you don't document that properly, then the insurance company is going to later on question, “Well, we don't think that happened in the crash. We think that that may have been caused by something else, or something that was already there. Something that you did after the traumatic event or crash.” And that's what we don't want to allow to happen to our clients, which is insurance companies to take advantage of them.

Rob Rosenthal:

That kind of brings me to my next question, and then maybe a little bit back to the original scenario; Someone says, “You know, I'm sure I was not at fault. It's the other person's fault, the other insurance company.” Is there something wrong with them going, “I've seen the commercials. The insurance company cares about me. So when I talk to their insurance company, they're going to treat me fairly and give me the biggest settlement. They’re going to take care of me.” Is there something wrong in that philosophy, Tim?

Tim Tonkin:

Sometimes that may be right, honestly. But a majority of the time, it's not. And so in any transaction that you're going to go into in life, we want someone who knows the ropes, who knows the landscape, to help us through it. And that's any professional that you may call. The same thing when you're injured; the lawyer is your advocate. The lawyer is there for you. The lawyer owes an ethical duty to represent you and only you and your best interest. The insurance company has no such duty. It has no obligation, especially if it's the insurance company of the person who injured you or who hit you in the automobile crash; they owe you nothing. Their obligation is to their shareholders. Their obligation is to their bottom line, and that means minimizing and paying the least amount of money possible for people who make claims, good people who make claims for injuries.

Rob Rosenthal:

If somebody is contacted by the other person's insurance company early on in the process and they make them an offer, “Hey, we'll write you a check right now for this amount.” Is it your experience at A) That's usually a pretty low-ball offer? And is it generally, again, in your experience, that having an attorney do that negotiating for you is going to more than cover the attorney's fees that may be involved.

Tim Tonkin:

Absolutely. So, the insurance company's obligation is to themselves, and they're going to make a low ball offer to get the claim resolved. They want to open a file, close the file, and pay as little money as possible to do that. Calling a lawyer, they’re going to say, “Hey, slow down. Let's make sure you're medically evaluated. Let's make sure we wait a little bit and understand what all of your injuries are, and only then if we understand the full extent, the nature, and the duration of your injuries can we evaluate what your claim may be worth.”

The insurance company's quick offer of little money is just that it's a quick offer of little money that's in the insurance company's best interest. Lawyers eventually, after all of that process may take place initially, add value to claim. So your question was, is a lawyer going to pay for themselves, essentially. Am I going to get more money with a lawyer than I would without? Because I'm paying a lawyer based on a contingency fee to go out and collect money for me. And generally the answer is yes, but a good lawyer is also going to tell you when you make that call and say, “Hey, they offered me X amount.” Now, if someone tells me that and I say, “Well, were you injured?” And they say, “No, not really.” And I say, “Are you sure?” Then they say, “No, I'm not really sure.” Well, go to a doctor. Then if they say, “Yeah, I'm sure I'm not really injured, and they're offering me $500 to basically sign this release and I'm never going to get any medical treatment for it.”

Then I would tell that person, “Okay, I would encourage you to wait, get medical treatment, and see how these things, how your body plays out.” But after that time, if you want to make a settlement with the insurance company, then go for it. I'm not going to add value for you at that point, and good lawyers are going to tell people that I will add value for you or I won't. And that gets back to our original question. Should I call a lawyer? The answer is yes. If you call a good lawyer who's interested in you and protecting you and helping you, then they're going to give you good advice. And that good advice may be, “I'm not going to add any value for you, so why pay me to do it? This is something you can handle on your own.”

Now, I caution everybody who may be out there watching, we're talking about small injury claims. If you've gone to the hospital or if you need follow-up care, I would say definitely call a lawyer in that instance, because those injuries can manifest themselves later; they can go on for a longer period of time, and that's something where a lawyer definitely adds value to you and you need protection in those cases. The small cases where you may go to urgent care and be fine, that may be something you can handle on your own. But a good lawyer’s going to tell you that and help you through that process for free, usually if they don't end up representing you, so make the call. It's not going to cost you anything. Get some good advice and make the best decision for you and your family.

Rob Rosenthal:

Super helpful info, Tim. Thank you so much for making some time and answering our questions today. I do appreciate it.

Tim Tonking:

Thanks, Rob, any time.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's going to do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been Arizona Attorney Tim Tonkin with the Phillips Law Group. Remember, if you want the best information or you want to be able to make sure you can choose a lawyer that lawyers choose, go to askthelawyers.com. Thanks for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

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