No one ever expects to be in an accident, but the fact is thousands of people are injured in an accident every day. Whether it is a car or pedestrian accident in Mercer County, or a slip and fall in Princeton, NJ, you may be wondering whether it is worth it to hire an attorney and just how much a New Jersey accident lawyer costs.
No Upfront Fees—Understanding Contingency Fees
The good news is that there is little to no risk in contacting a New Jersey injury lawyer, as most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means you pay no upfront costs and do not have to pay any legal fees unless your attorney successfully wins your case. Once your attorney has obtained an award, either through a settlement or judgment, your attorney’s fees will typically come out of the award as a certain percentage.
In New Jersey, that percentage is set by law at 33 ⅓% for the first $750,000 awarded. Rule 1:21-7(c). For awards higher than $750,000, the rates incrementally decrease to 20%. Ibid. The percentages are likewise lower when the client is a minor at the time of retaining the attorney. Ibid. In addition to there being no out-of-pocket expenses, there are also several benefits to hiring a New Jersey accident lawyer.
Benefits of a New Jersey Accident Lawyer
There are several benefits to hiring a New Jersey personal injury attorney, and doing so may make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Consider the following benefits when determining whether hiring an attorney is right for you.
Many New Jersey accident lawyers, like Farrell & Thurman, P.C., offer a free legal consultation to review your accident case. An accident attorney can help you understand if you have a viable case and walk you through the process of making a claim or filing a lawsuit. After the consultation, if you wish to continue looking for attorneys, you may do so. The consultation, in most cases, will not bind you to that attorney, and you will have the right to speak with other counsel.
Maximize Your Recovery
It is no secret that insurance companies use tactics to lowball inexperienced claimants who are not represented by a lawyer. Obtaining a fair settlement involves much more than telling the insurance company you were hurt. An experienced attorney will understand how to gather evidence, interview witnesses, obtain and review medical records, and retain expert witnesses to bolster your case.
An attorney will also ensure that deadlines are met and that the required legal paperwork is filled out and submitted. This is important as your failure to follow procedures can result in your case being forever barred. Further, in that unfortunate situation, it is typically not enough to claim that you did not know of a rule. For this reason, serious consideration should be given to hiring a New Jersey accident lawyer.
Not all car accident cases go to trial. In fact, the conventional wisdom is that 95% of cases settle before making it to trial. Lawyers, therefore, have a saying: “good cases settle, and bad cases go to trial.” To be sure, one study found that New Jersey plaintiffs win only 36% of personal injury cases that go to trial. As such, it is vital that you have an experienced attorney in your corner in the event settlement negotiations break down. You will want someone who knows the inner workings of a courtroom and someone who can present your best case to the jury.
Okay, so you have decided that hiring a New Jersey accident lawyer is right for you, but what do personal injury attorneys look for in a case?
What Do Personal Injury Lawyers Look for in a Case?
The viability of your case often centers around several factors, and personal injury attorneys are typically selective in the cases they accept. Since personal injury attorneys generally are not paid until the end of your case, and only if you win, a New Jersey accident attorney will want to ensure that your claim is worth their effort and time.
Who is Liable, and is There Sufficient Insurance?
Just because you were injured, it does not necessarily follow that you have a claim. For instance, if you were involved in a car accident, but the investigating officer determined that you were at fault, a personal injury attorney may be reluctant to take your case, even if your injuries are serious.
Even in instances where you were not at fault, a lack of applicable insurance will likely dissuade an attorney from taking your case. Consider, for example, the situation where you were walking on a sidewalk in front of your neighbor’s house, you tripped and fell, and you were seriously injured. As New Jersey law typically insulates homeowners from sidewalk liability, many attorneys may not be interested in your claim. Still, as most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation, you should at least take advantage of the same to ensure an exception does not apply. For instance, liability will typically be found when a homeowner planted a tree and that tree’s roots uprooted the sidewalk.
In some situations, however, the at-fault individual’s failure to have insurance may not deter an attorney from taking your case. For example, suppose you are hit by an uninsured motor vehicle. In that case, all hope is not typically lost, as New Jersey requires motorists to carry Uninsured Motorist (UM) benefits. Therefore, if you have insurance, an accident attorney can normally make a claim against your insurance company for your damages.
Severity of Injuries
As briefly mentioned above, most drivers in New Jersey carry on their insurance the limitation on lawsuit option. Under this option, your insurance contract, in exchange for a lower premium, will prevent you from recovering damages from minor injuries and require you to prove a “permanent injury.” N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8a. Therefore, if you sustained only soft tissue injuries after an accident, a New Jersey accident attorney is unlikely to take your case. However, legal exceptions may apply, such as the commercial vehicle exception. Therefore you should take advantage of a free consultation with a New Jersey personal injury attorney.
The Value of Your Case
Finally, even if you have a viable case, the value of your case will be important, especially to an attorney. As personal injury attorneys are typically paid on contingency, they will only receive a percentage of your award. Therefore, a personal injury attorney wants to recoup as much on your behalf as possible to make the case worth their time and effort. This is obviously good for you as well because the more an attorney can get for you, the more you likewise receive.
As the standard in most cases is relatively high, compensation will likely not be granted if the accident has not significantly affected your life financially or physically. Additionally, as the attorney will cover your costs upfront, a lawyer will want to be confident they will be reimbursed those costs by winning your case.
Why an Insurance Company May Deny Your Claim
No one wants to be involved in a car accident. Not only can you be seriously injured, but your vehicle will also likely require costly repairs or replacement. While car insurance is required in New Jersey to operate a motor vehicle, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-3, there are several reasons that your insurance may deny your claim.
Policy Violations or a Lapse in Coverage
A typical car insurance contract contains several exclusions allowing your insurer to disclaim coverage. For instance, if you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident, your car insurer will likely deny your claim. Additionally, you risk having your policy canceled, and your rates increased the next time you take out insurance. Failure to pay your premium on time will also result in your policy being canceled.
Moreover, how you were driving at the time of the accident may provide the insurance company with grounds to deny coverage. For instance, your insurance company may deny coverage if you were speeding, ignored traffic control devices such as a traffic light, or violated any other traffic laws.
Lack of Injuries or Treatment
Most New Jersey drivers are subject to the limitation on lawsuit threshold, which in most cases requires an injured claimant to prove a permanent injury to recover “pain and suffering” damages from the at-fault driver.
On the other hand, your insurance company will typically pay for your medical bills. These could be bills for chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, etc. However, suppose your injuries are not serious, or the insurance company believes your injury will not get better with further treatment. In that case, your insurance company may deny your treatment plan. In these instances, it is crucial to have an experienced accident attorney who may be able to retain an expert physician to support your claim for further treatment.
Another reason an insurance company could deny your claim is a lack of treatment. Following an accident, it is essential that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Even if you do not feel immediate pain, getting checked out is often a good idea. Do not try to tough out your injuries. Insurance companies will often argue that gaps in treatment or a lack of consistent treatment evidence a lack of injuries. For this reason, you must get immediate competent medical treatment following an accident, so your case is not denied or devalued..
Lack of Proof
Another common reason an insurance company may deny your claim is failure to preserve evidence. For this reason, it is imperative that you call the police following an accident so that the accident is recorded correctly. This is especially important in hit-and-run accidents. It is also a good idea to take photos of the scene, the vehicles involved, and any visible injuries. Finally, if there were any witnesses to the accident, you should ask if they would provide a statement and get their contact information.
Waiting Too Long
Car insurance contacts contain clauses that require you to timely notify your insurance company of an accident. Failure to do so may result in the insurance company voiding your contract. Therefore, it is important that you immediately contact your insurance company following an accident.
Additionally, while the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two (2) years, there are situations where the timeline is significantly reduced. For instance, if your injury was caused by a public entity (government employee), New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act requires you to file a Notice of Claim within 90 days. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8(a).
Other Frequently Asked Questions About New Jersey Injury Cases
How much time do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey?
The statute of limitations for most personal injury cases, including car accidents, is two (2) years in New Jersey. However, it is highly advised that you speak with a New Jersey accident attorney as soon as possible, as delays may detrimentally affect your case.
Further, special rules apply in some instances, such as where a government employee caused your accident. Under New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act, you have just 90-days to file a Notice of Claim with the approved government entity. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8(a).
Failure to timely file your claim, in most cases, will result in your claim being forever barred. Therefore, it is vital that you speak with a New Jersey accident attorney as soon as possible.
Will my driving history affect my car accident claim in New Jersey?
In most cases, your driving history will not affect your claim. However, during the claim process, insurance companies may attempt to use your driving history to negotiate down your claim. Therefore, it is important that you tell your attorney about any prior accidents, criminal history, bankruptcies, etc., so that they are not caught off guard and can adequately handle any issues that may arise. If your case goes to trial, an experienced attorney can obtain an Order barring your driving history from being introduced at trial.
Who covers my medical bills after a New Jersey car accident?
Contrary to most other states, New Jersey utilizes a no-fault system. The system is intended to provide injured claimants with speedy compensation for medical bills without the need to determine fault. Under this system, your insurance typically pays your medical bills.
For more information on New Jersey’s no-fault system, consult our Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage post.
Can I use the municipal traffic court case as evidence of my claim?
In most cases, a traffic conviction will not be admissible in your civil lawsuit. This is because a municipal court utilizes a “reduced” standard, and there are many instances where an at-fault driver may plead guilty to a charge. For example, drivers often plead guilty to a lesser offense to avoid points on their license or avoid trial time and expense. As plea deals are so standard in municipal court, the entry of a guilty judgment is often barred from being offered in a civil case through what is known as a “civil reservation.” However, if testimony were taken at the municipal court that conflicts with a later statement, the prior statements may be used against that party.
Should I talk to the insurance companies after an accident?
Following an accident, you should immediately contact your insurance company. Failure to timely notify your insurance company following an accident may result in your policy being voided. While speaking with your insurance company is generally okay, you should attempt to be brief while still cooperating with their questions.
As for the other individual’s insurance company, it generally is not wise to speak with them without an attorney.
Should I call the police after a car accident in New Jersey?
You should immediately call the police following an accident. Not only is it required by New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 39:4-130), but a police record can act as evidence for your claim and prevent the other driver from attempting to place you at fault. Further, never be coaxed by the other driver into not calling the police and instead “settling it between each other.” Instead, always be sure to call the police and document the scene as best as possible. This will include taking photos of the scene, the vehicles involved, any visible injuries, etc.
Thereafter, you should obtain your police report. If the report contains errors, or you disagree with the conclusions made by the officer, you should contact a New Jersey car accident attorney or the police station to make an amendment.
If you have suffered injuries and wish to discuss your legal options, Farrell & Thurman, P.C., offers a variety of convenient ways to schedule a free, no-pressure consultation. You may do so directly on our website (Schedule a Consult), via phone (609-924-1115), or by email (Contact Us).