Your Legal Options After a Car Accident

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Most of us don’t think much about our regular use of motor vehicles. We drive to work or school, go grocery shopping or out for dinner, take weekend getaways or longer road trips, or just run errands around town. We assume these trips will go as planned — and most of the time they do. But car accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.

If you are injured in an accident and another driver is responsible, you could face significant expenses while you recover. Georgia laws govern drivers’ responsibilities and give accident victims certain legal rights. You have two primary options for enforcing those rights: working directly with the other party’s insurance company to settle the accident claim or working with a personal injury attorney. Let’s explore these options in more detail.

Option 1: Accept the Initial Offer

Drivers in Georgia are required to carry liability insurance, which is designed to pay for accident victims’ medical expenses, damage to the victims’ vehicle, and other financial losses related to the accident. Insurance companies typically try to settle claims as quickly as possible after completing their own investigations. If you are injured in an accident, the other driver’s insurer will likely reach out with a settlement offer to compensate you.

If your vehicle was damaged but you were not injured, it may make sense to accept this insurance payout. In this case, the settlement offer is typically tied to the value of your vehicle and the estimated cost to replace or repair it. If you sustained injuries though, this insurance settlement may not be adequate to cover your financial losses. That’s because injury accidents can, in some cases, require months or years of ongoing medical care. Accepting the settlement means you will have cash in hand fairly quickly. However, by taking this payout, you will forego your right to recover any additional compensation related to the accident.

Option 2: Engage an Attorney

A second option is to file a claim for damages with the help of a Georgia personal injury lawyer who represents car accident victims. Personal injury attorneys seek to help their clients obtain the highest possible payout based on the facts and circumstances of the underlying accident and its resulting injuries.

This may include compensation for immediate and anticipated medical expenses, lost wages, and other payments designed to compensate victims for their actual losses. Georgia law also provides for punitive damages in some cases, which are additional payments awarded in court. Punitive damages, designed to punish at-fault drivers, are not available for every accident; but in egregious cases, such as those involving the use of alcohol or drugs, this additional type of compensation may be available to victims or their loved ones.

Engaging an attorney means you will typically have to wait longer to receive a settlement or award for damages; however, by going this route, you may be able to receive significantly more compensation than you would otherwise. It is also worth noting that most personal injury law firms work under “contingent fee” arrangements. This means that you only pay your lawyer if, and when, he or she obtains a settlement or award in your case; you are not responsible for paying out-of-pocket.

Be Aware of Time Limits

After an injury accident occurs, you do not need to make an immediate decision about which option to take. However, there are time limits to bear in mind. The statute of limitations in Georgia for filing personal injury lawsuits is two years from the date of the accident. Similarly, there is a two-year statute of limitations for filing wrongful death lawsuits in Georgia, although this time period is based on the victim’s date of death, which may be later than the date of the accident.

The further you get in time from an accident, the more difficult it can be to locate evidence, capture statements from witnesses, and gather other relevant information to support your claim. With this in mind, it may make sense to consult with a lawyer to discuss options as soon as you feel able to do so. A competent attorney will be able to estimate the value of your claim and provide an opinion on the strength and relative merits of your case, should you choose to pursue litigation against the responsible party.

If you or a loved one suffered injury in a car accident, you are entitled to compensation for your losses, and you have different legal options for pursuing your rights. Ultimately, you should make the choice that makes the most sense based on your circumstances.

Author bio: David M. Van Sant is the owner of Van Sant Law, a personal injury law firm. He has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. Van Sant is a skilled trial lawyer who has received many accolades and has been nationally recognized as one of the best personal injury trial lawyers in the country.

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