Should I seek a personal injury lawyer after being rear ended?
October 18, 2009 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Should I hire a personal injury attorney after being rear ended?

I was rear ended while waiting at a freeway off ramp stop light. It was completely the other driver's fault. The driver even admitted fault to me, the other person that I hit (I was pushed forward into the other car) and the CHP that came on to the scene.

My issue is my car is an older BMW with high mileage. My insurance is claiming it will be a total loss. I'm thinking that I won't get much for the car. I don't think this is fair and would like to be give as much money as it takes to find a similarly configured car.

The car I was driving is a BMW wagon with manual transmission. It is pretty difficult to find one of these in my area (SoCal). Should I seek a personal injury lawyer?
posted by zzztimbo to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
Were you injured?
posted by caddis at 6:48 AM on October 18, 2009

You don't make any mention of being injured in the accident. Were you?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:48 AM on October 18, 2009

I don't really understand what driving a BMW wagon with manual transmission has to do with a personal injury lawyer or why you discussed your car in so much detail. What does your car have to do with this question? Please clarify.
posted by Justinian at 6:56 AM on October 18, 2009

If you were not injured and you are seeking to use the difficulty of proving or disproving soft tissue injury in order to game the system for more money then the answer to your question is no, you should not hire a PI attorney. Seeking payment without injury is insurance fraud and unethical. If you were injured then you have to assess whether the extent of your injuries warrants the hassle of a PI case. If it is just a few medical bills you should be able to get these paid without hiring an attorney. If it is long term neck damage etc. then you might want to at least consult with a few attorneys, yes a few, especially in this area of law which is frankly riddled with bottom feeders. I personally would err on the side of letting things be and forgiveness, and hire an attorney only if the insurer is truly not coming forward with adequate compensation, but you have to make your own mind up on something like that. Anyway, a few more facts might help people give more focused advice on the topic.

(as evidenced by my first comment, my typing ability is quite injured and I have yet to seek treatment)
posted by caddis at 7:02 AM on October 18, 2009

A PI lawyer would be useful if you were, y'know, hurt. They are not gonna get you a better settlement with your insurance company with respect to the value of the car. Your insurance policy is a contract, read it. It describes how you and they will proceed if they determine that the car is a total loss.
posted by fixedgear at 7:05 AM on October 18, 2009

I'm not following you in regards to what is not fair about your insurance claiming your car is a total loss. You seem to be implying that you feel as though your car should be worth more than it is - or, more precisely, that you have an emotional attachment to your car that increases the value of the car (to you but not others). So then do you mean to say that you feel you should be compensated for the emotional pain of having your car totaled? And are you asking if you should hire a personal injury attorney to seek compensation for the emotional injury suffered in the car accident? Because, if so, I don't believe that you will have a successful case, but I'm sure crazier things have happened in a court of law.
posted by billysumday at 7:06 AM on October 18, 2009

I am going to agree with the others who assume you are not injured since you didn't mention it. Of course you shouldn't try to use a pretend personal injury to compensate for having been carrying inadequate insurance. Of course you already know that.

If you drive an unusual/collectible car you could next time carry a policy that will adequately pay to replace it if it's ruined. Read about and ask your agent about "agreed value" policies (and read about and beware "stated value" policies). If your car is only slightly older/nicer than average, it will be hard/expensive to find this kind of coverage (and that sucks, and leaves those of us who like our older cars in a bad spot.) I sympathize with you, but don't do this evil thing and lie to sue someone.
posted by fritley at 7:10 AM on October 18, 2009

When my car was totaled, the insurance company did a search for cars of the same make and model, with roughly the same age/milage and addons, and came back with a number that was almost double what I would have guessed the car was worth.

You haven't even seen the insurance payout amount yet, so why do you assume there is a problem? If you don't like the amount, look around and see what it will take to buy a similar car of the same make and model. Then you can try to negotiate from there.
posted by lemonade at 7:17 AM on October 18, 2009

The same exact thing happened to me a month ago - car was totaled because I was rear ended and pushed into the car in front of me while I was stopped. My car was old but was not a BMW, but it also did not have very high mileage, but to my surprise I got way more from the insurance than I expected for my old car - a bit more than the KBB value. I was prepared to argue with them and have figures ready of what my car was worth and the sources (not sure if that works, but everyone told me to do that), but when they told me how much money I'd be getting for my car, I was pretty happy with that.

So every case is different but you might be pleasantly surprised. And not sure that a personal injury lawyer is even worth getting involved with if you were not injured. You probably should've went to the hospital the day of the accident in order for it to be believable - my friend who was with me did that because she's all paranoid, and she was totally fine, but because she went to the hospital the insurance gave her $500 for signing a paper saying she'll never sue them.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:18 AM on October 18, 2009

If you are injured, then you may need a personal injury lawyer. If you're just looking to scam someone for money, then no you shouldn't.

The way your question is written, I think you're saying that you want claim injury to get compensation that is beyond the value of your car. Making fraudulent injury claims is a pretty rotten business. It also takes considerable time. When are you planning to get this replacement car?

If you've got legitimate injuries, please come back and clarify.
posted by 26.2 at 7:20 AM on October 18, 2009

Your car is worth exactly what someone would have paid for it prior to the accident. No more. There is no such thing as an emotional injury due to material damages in this situation.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:48 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My guess is that the OP is asking whether he can recover damages via tort and is confusing the idea of "personal injury" with "damages." I don't know the answer to that question, but it at least makes sense as opposed to the way others are reading the question.

If on the other hand you mean, "I need money for my car, should I claim injury to squeeze some money out of the other party, and also should I leave a legal trail on a public website?" then the answer is "no."
posted by justkevin at 7:48 AM on October 18, 2009

A free consultation makes sense here. The attorney will let you know what his or her advice is.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:05 AM on October 18, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry, I used the wrong term. justkevin is correct, the would should have been "damages" and not "personal injury." So far I feel fine.
posted by zzztimbo at 8:07 AM on October 18, 2009


Plaintiffs' lawyers make their money on personal injury claims. Any claim based on damage to your car disappears when compared to the possible recovery for injuries, and no lawyer who works on a contingent fee (as all PI lawyers do) would be interested in a case involving only damage to your car.

The central question then is whether you were injured. If you have substantial injuries, then it makes sense to hire a PI lawyer.

However, soft tissue injuries are easy to claim and difficult to disprove. Alas, there are many dishonest PI lawyers, who have arrangements with dishonest chiropractors and doctors. You'll be sent to a chiropractor and get a false, or grossly exaggerated, diagnosis, which will be quickly settled for the amount of the driver-at-fault's insurance policy.

It's possible to convince yourself that making a false PI claim is justified. If you take only the payout for damage to your car, you'll end up with less than what it costs to replace the car. A quick and easy false claim will bring out out about even, everybody does it, and the insurance companies expect it. And so on and on.

I couldn't live with myself if I did it, but it's your life.
posted by KRS at 8:54 AM on October 18, 2009

Damages? Your only damages are your car, and that's what the car insurance is for. IANAL, but I highly doubt you could successfully sue for more for your car in what was just a regular car accident. If that were the case, people would be doing it constantly, and I don't think the auto insurers would go for it. Like the others, my experience was that the other guy's insurance company gave me over twice what my car was actually worth, so don't assume you'll get lowballed.
posted by ishotjr at 8:57 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

why are you handling this through your own insurance carrier? Who is the carrier for the other driver? Have you submitted your claim to them?

Depending on how long ago the accident was you can indicate to the other side that you have stiffness and they are always aware that stiffness can lead to further tests. Often a whiplash injury surfaces days after the event. If this happened a while ago it is harder to manufacture the "threat" of injuries. Sometimes the insurance carrier throws in some extra $. I barely tapped my friend's car as we were both leaving a parking lot. I was surprised to learn that my company gave her the "extra" $ (beyond the damage to her car).

Don't try to inflate your claim. It's a hassle and bad karma.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:29 AM on October 18, 2009

As others have stated, it sounds like you are considering this option to squeeze more money out of them in anticipation of receiving less money than you believe your car is actually worth.

This is fraud and illegal. DO NOT DO IT.

Accidents suck and you will likely be out a decent chunk of change if you want to get a similar replacement vehicle--even with whatever insurance is willing to pay. That's just life and if you want to drive a similar car, you just need to suck it up and pay for it.

At this point I suggest you start looking at prices in your area for your exact make/model and look up the Blue Book value of it so you can be armed w/ info in case your insurance company low balls you. As others have said though, you may be surprised at how much they will pay.
posted by Elminster24 at 10:22 AM on October 18, 2009

I do have a recommendation for a good accident attorney in SoCal. Memail if you're interested.

I also don't understand the question -- please clarify the insurance company situation? Thanks.

And to all the folks getting down on the OP for the injury thing...

If the accident involved 3 cars, the OP's was in the middle and stationary, the impact was sufficient to push his car into the vehicle in front AND total OP's vehicle (I know the "total" declaration is a cost/value decision, but still..) Well, the OP might not realize it immediately, but there definitely could be soft tissue damage or some other bodily injury. It's a physics thing, not a scam.

Any attorney would make the OP see a doctor, just to be on the safe side.

For sure there are scammy injury claims. But without more info regarding this particular situation, I think it's premature to be making moral or ethical judgements.

California is chock-a-block with uninsured drivers. I think I read the figure was something like 45% of drivers on the road here are uninsured. This complicates so much and effects how insurance companies deal with claims.

Disclosure: I was the only insured driver in an accident involving 4 cars, and my car was also stopped at a light. My insurance company was terrible to me, I had to get a lawyer. I felt ashamed having to deal with "an ambulance chaser." But I know now it was the best thing for me to do medically, financially, and legally.
posted by jbenben at 10:44 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

But I know now it was the best thing for me to do medically, financially, and legally.

Quoted for truth. In a sense, the insurance companies have a cold war mentality and lawyers and legal fees are the ICBMs. They have a lot of them, so you better at least have one.

Less dramatically: a good, honest personal injury attorney (and there are plenty TYVM) or an assistant will likely review your case and give you a sensible answer. Their answer may very well echo some of the above.
posted by GPF at 3:27 PM on October 18, 2009

The damages you seek are not going to be large enough to induce a PI lawyer to take your case on contingency. Paying by the hour will eat up any recovery you might have otherwise gained over just negotiating with the insurance company. If they pay you the value of your car, what you could sell it for in a private transaction, then you are whole and if you seek anything more then you are not being realistic and not even the courts would help you. Perhaps someone would throw you a few bones to avoid the expense of litigation, but that is pretty unethical. If on the other hand, as is so frequent, the insurance company offers something substantially less than the value of you vehicle, threaten to sue and actually sue, but do it pro se, that is do it yourself. The court clerk will help you prepare the pleadings and you can purchase a book for a few bucks which will tell you most of what you need to know. Make friends with the court clerk. The insurance company will settle, but you have just upped the ante.
posted by caddis at 7:26 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't have to take what they offer. Document the car's value, and negotiate.
posted by theora55 at 5:32 PM on October 19, 2009

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