Not infrequently, people who contact our firm about an injury car accident or truck accident that they were recently involved in, ask us whether or not they should wait to hire an attorney. With very limited exceptions, our strong recommendation is to hire an attorney as soon as possible after you have been involved in accident. There are several reasons for doing this.
First, (like most of the other firms in the Portland metropolitan area who represents folks who have been injured in car and truck accidents), our firm’s attorney fee is contingent in nature; meaning that the person will end-up paying us the same fee whether they hire us early-on, or later in the process.
Next, in some cases it is crucial that all possible evidence be preserved, due to the potential need to litigate the case in the event that the insurance company for the person or company that caused the accident will not extend reasonable settlement offers. The “evidence” that I am referring to here includes, primarily, the data generated by, and saved within the involved vehicles’ electronic control units (ECU) devices, such as the airbag control module and powertrain control modules. These devices record a significant amount of data that can be very insightful about how a given collision occurred, such as: vehicle speed before, and at the time of the collision; the direction the driver of the car was steering leading up to the collision; and the severity of the impact forces (measured in Delta-V).
In a significant percentage of our clients’ cases, one or more of the vehicles that were involved in their accident ends up being a total loss, with the result that the vehicle is ultimately scrapped, which leads to the destruction of the ECU devices. Knowing this, when an attorney is hired early-on, they can immediately send “spoliation” letters to involved insurance companies, requiring them to preserve that evidence and/or allow an engineer or other forensic expert to download the data before the vehicle is scrapped. In some cases – such as cases where an insurance company disputes that their insured was at fault – we will also take dozens of photographs (as well as measurements, in some cases) of the damaged vehicle, before it is scrapped. This sort of evidence can sometimes be crucial to obtaining a quality settlement (or a successful outcome in a trial).
Similarly, in accident cases where there are particularly serious injuries and/or a question as to who was at fault, we will have a private investigator interview the witnesses early-on, before their memory of what happened begins to fade with the passage of time.
I should also mention that in cases where the accident was caused by a government employee or agency (city, county, state workers, etc.), the injured person is required to provide that government agency with what is called “tort claim notice” and a failure to do that within one hundred and eighty days of the date on which the accident occurred prohibits the injured person from pursuing their claim. And, there is a similar requirement (mandatory deadline) that applies when the person who caused the accident was impaired by the consumption of alcohol, giving rise to a potential “dram shop” claim against the establishment or person who served/provided the alcohol to the person who caused the accident (the classic scenario here is where a bar continues to serve someone drinks even though they are obviously intoxicated, and the person then leaves the bar and, while driving home, causes a serious injury accident).
There are many other reasons why someone who has been injured in an accident should retain an attorney as soon as possible. In the interest of brevity I won’t list all of those reasons here, but I will mention one more, and that is the fact that when one settles an injury claim, it is crucial that all liens (i.e. personal injury protection liens, health insurance company liens, etc.) be accounted for in the settlement discussions, because the person who was injured in the accident is ultimately responsible for satisfying those liens out of their recovery. Our staff does a fantastic job of tracking all of that (on a very detailed Excel spreadsheet) during our representation of the person. This allows us to be able to inform the client exactly how much money they will receive, net, if they choose to accept a given settlement offer.
If you or someone you know has the misfortune of being injured in a car, truck or other accident, please give us a call right away; answers to your questions are on the house.
THE FOREGOING IS A GENERALIZED SUMMARY OF THIS AREA OF THE LAW AND IS NOT INTENDED TO SERVE AS LEGAL ADVICE.