When To Get a Lawyer After a Car Accident

Two people on the phone with their car accident lawyers after being in a car accident.

California uses a fault-based insurance system. This means every vehicle owner must buy liability insurance. After an accident, injured victims file claims against the at-fault driver’s auto liability policy. To win these claims, they must prove the driver acted negligently in causing their injuries.

Negligence is a complex legal concept. Claimants must prove four elements to establish negligence, and the at-fault party has several possible defenses. As a result, you should consider consulting a lawyer early in the process to prepare your case and protect your rights.

Benefits of Consulting an Attorney Early

Insurers have a financial incentive to pay as little as possible in claims. At the same time, they have a legal duty to investigate claims in good faith and pay fair settlements once liability has become clear.

Tactics Used by Insurers

One way insurers satisfy both concerns is to get you to accept a quick but low offer. In other words, if you agree to the settlement, it must be fair.

Another way for insurers to underpay your claim is by reaching out to you before you can secure legal representation. This process typically involves the following:

  • Contacting you soon after the accident
  • Getting you to make a recorded statement
  • Using your words against you to deny or reduce your claim

This process might seem underhanded. For example, the claims adjuster might start your call with an innocent-sounding question like, “How are you doing?” When you answer with an off-handed, “I’m fine,” you have given the adjuster ammunition to accuse you of exaggerating or faking your injuries. 

Even though the adjuster has misconstrued and used your words out of context, they will use anything to weaken your case.

Another insurance company tactic is to shift some or all of the blame for the crash to you. Under California law, everyone who played a role in causing an injury receives a share of the blame, including the injured person.

The basis for shifting blame under the doctrine of comparative negligence can take a few forms, including the following:

  • You contributed to the cause of the car accident
  • You worsened your injuries by not seeking medical care
  • Your recovery was impaired because you did not follow the doctor’s instructions

If the insurer successfully pins at least some blame on you, it can reduce your compensation. For example, if you are 28% at fault for your injuries, you can only get compensated for 72% of your losses.

How a Lawyer Defends Your Rights

Consulting a lawyer early in the process helps in several ways. A lawyer will advise you not to talk to the other driver’s insurance company. No matter how much pressure it puts on you to make a recorded statement, the insurer can investigate the claim using the accident report, your statement to the police, and other information it already has.

If it becomes necessary to make a statement, your lawyer can guide you in what you should say. They will also sit with you during your statement to protect your rights and help you avoid any mistakes.

Most importantly, a lawyer will stand up to insurance companies on your behalf. A lawyer frames the narrative to keep the blame on the at-fault driver. The lawyer will do this using all the evidence rather than allowing the adjuster to cherry-pick or misconstrue evidence.

Knowing When To Get a Lawyer After a Car Accident

You should consider consulting a lawyer after any accident. Most injury lawyers offer free consultations to new clients. If the lawyer cannot help you or believes you can handle your case without legal representation, they will tell you. Thus, you can determine whether you need legal representation without any cost or obligation.

Remember, accident victims who hire a car accident lawyer get higher payouts on average.

There are a few situations in which you should strongly consider hiring a Sacramento car accident attorney for your case:

Injuries That Required Medical Attention

If you suffered injuries that required medical attention, the stakes are high. You likely paid at least something out of pocket to obtain treatment and deserve reimbursement for these expenses. 

More importantly, you may need future treatment, therapy, and medication. A lawyer can ensure you get full and fair compensation for all past and future medical costs.

You Lost Income

You may have missed work due to disabilities caused by your injuries. Even if these disabilities were only temporary, you still lost income. For permanent disabilities, your earning capacity might diminish over the remainder of your life. 

In both cases, a lawyer can help you calculate your income losses and pursue compensation that makes up for them.

Multiple Parties Are Involved

Auto insurance policies come with policy limits. Once the payouts reach the limit, the insurer stops paying, and you must pursue the at-fault driver for any further losses. This means you could face intense competition for insurance benefits if an accident injured multiple people.

Equally importantly, each party might be incentivized to blame other parties. For example, if the passenger in the at-fault driver’s car was injured, they are incentivized to join the driver in blaming you.

A lawyer can advocate for your fair share of the insurance benefits. They can also defend against attempts to shift blame to you.

Commercial Motor Vehicle Are Involved

Truck accidents can cause catastrophic injuries like brain and spinal cord injuries. In these cases, you also face much more powerful opposing parties since you will likely pursue claims against a trucking company and its insurer. 

As a result, you may need the assistance of an experienced and skilled car accident attorney to maintain pressure on these parties to get a fair settlement or damage award.

Disputed Fault

The at-fault driver has an incentive to dispute fault. They may try to assert that they did not act negligently. For example, they may claim that they swerved because a deer ran in front of their car or they had a medical event. 

If you cannot prove negligence, you cannot recover compensation. A lawyer can gather evidence showing negligence and tailor the legal arguments to prove it.

You Have Difficulties With the Insurer

Some insurers use delay to frustrate you into giving up on your claim. They may ignore your calls and slow-walk the processing of your claim. Other insurers use the opposite tactic of pressuring you into making a hurried decision. 

In either case, a lawyer provides a buffer between you and the insurer to blunt these tactics. In many cases, insurers will avoid using these tactics when you have a lawyer because they know they will fail.

Is It Ever a Good Idea to Go Without a Car Accident Lawyer?

You should always consider scheduling a free consultation after a car accident because it costs you nothing to find out that you do not need a lawyer. In a few limited situations, you have a lower need for a lawyer. Those situations include the following:

  • No one was injured in the car accident
  • There was only minor property damage
  • No one disputes what happened or who was at fault

In these cases, the stakes are lower because there are no injuries. Even if the other driver’s insurer blames you for the crash, you might only face a few thousand dollars in property damage that your liability insurer will likely cover.

The Cost of Hiring an Attorney

Consulting an attorney is generally free. Sette Law offers free consultations in Sacramento. Equally importantly, Sette Law provides representation for a contingency fee. This fee is calculated at the end of the case based on the compensation recovered. This type of fee has several benefits for accident victims, including:

  • No upfront fees
  • No fees for a loss
  • Work on your case starts immediately

Legal fees should be the least of your worries when you face the costs of your injuries after an accident. A contingency fee lawyer can help you preserve your money for medical treatment and living expenses while you recover.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney at Sette Law Today

A car accident attorney reviewing a contract with a client. On his desk is a stack of books and the scales of justice.

It’s important that you consult an attorney early in the process. Having legal representation early can help you protect your rights and keep the claim process on track.

If you have been injured in a car accident, let Sette Law fight for the compensation you deserve. Sette Law has over 26 years of experience representing car accident victims in Sacramento — call today.


California DMV, Insurance Requirements. (2024).

Cal. Civ. Code section 1714.

Cal. Ins. Code section 790.03.