Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Being Sued for an Accident?

Most people do not need to hire a lawyer when sued for causing an accident because your insurance company is required to defend you and pay any claims against you. However, it may sometimes be necessary to retain a lawyer.

If you are involved in a car accident or someone is injured on your property, your insurance company will provide you with a lawyer, paid by the insurance company, to defend you against a personal injury lawsuit. However, you have the responsibility to do some things.

Man who was sued is deciding whether he needs to hire a lawyer

This article will tell you when you might want to consult with a lawyer and what to do when:

  1. You had a car accident
  2. Someone had an accident or was injured on your property
  3. You received a letter from a personal injury lawyer stating the lawyer is making a claim against you
  4. You received legal papers called a Summons and Complaint
Famous Defense Attorney Isidore Franckel

Famous Parisian Defense Attorney Isidore Franckel

What You Need to Do to Get a Free Lawyer from Your Insurance Company

Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible after your car accident or after someone has an accident on your property. Make sure you get a claim number and write it down.

Do not rely on reporting the accident to your insurance agent or broker. You must report the accident to your insurance company.

Most insurance companies have telephone numbers for 24-hour claims reporting. When you report to the accident, make a note of the claims number to prove you reported the claim.

sideswipe damage to car from accident

This car was sideswiped in Brooklyn. If this happens to you, you should call the police to file a report and then call your insurance company to report the accident.

What Will Happen After I Report an Accident to My Insurance Company?

Your insurance company will begin work on the claim which will include determining if and how much at fault you are for causing the accident and the amount of any damage to property and people.

What to Do If You Did Not Immediately Report the Accident

If you did not report the accident, you must report the accident as soon as you receive a claim letter from a personal injury lawyer indicating that a claim is being made against you.

Do not rely on reporting the accident or sending a copy of the attorney’s claim letter to your insurance agent or broker. You must report the accident and send a copy of the claim letter to your insurance company.

You can report the claim to your insurance company by telephone but you should also send a copy of the attorney’s claim letter to your insurance company by certified mail return receipt requested.

You should not have a problem with your insurance company for not reporting the accident immediately after the accident if you did not know that there was a possibility a claim would be made against you.

If you have not yet received a claim letter from a personal injury attorney by the time you’re reading this article, it’s a good idea to report the accident now.

What to Do If You Receive a Claim Letter from a Personal Injury Attorney

If you receive a claim letter from a lawyer advising that the claim is being made against you or you may be sued:

  • Call your insurance company immediately to report the claim
  • Get a claim number, right down and keep it
  • Send a copy of the claim letter to your insurance company immediately.

Do not rely on reporting the accident or sending a copy of the attorney’s claim letter to your insurance agent or broker. You must report the accident and send a copy of the claim letter to your insurance company.

What Will Happen After I Receive a Claim Letter from a Personal Injury Lawyer?

After you send a copy of the attorney’s claim letter to your insurance company, your insurance company will contact the personal injury lawyer and request the lawyer to send copies of all the medical records concerning the injuries claimed.

Your insurance company may attempt to settle the claim. If the claim cannot be settled, a lawsuit will usually be started by the personal injury lawyer.

What to Do When You Are Served with Legal Papers Called a Summons and Complaint

You may be served with legal papers starting a lawsuit, called a Summons and Complaint. This can occur right away, a long time later, or even years later. The person who called me today said that he had a car accident in Brooklyn almost three years ago and wanted to know if he needed to hire a lawyer.

When a Summons and Complaint is served on you, you should immediately forward a copy of the Summons and Complaint to your insurance company by certified mail return receipt requested. If you have not previously obtained a claim number, get one now.

Do not rely on sending a copy of the Summons and Complaint to your insurance agent or broker.

You should send a copy to your insurance company no matter how you were served. A common misconception is that you must be served personally or you must agree to be served by accepting the papers and it cannot be left at your door. This is not true.

What Will Happen After I Am Served with a Summons and Complaint?

Upon receipt of the Summons and Complaint, your insurance company will immediately assign a lawyer to represent you. You should receive a letter from your lawyer advising that you are being represented for the defense of your alleged negligence.

The lawyer assigned to represent you will be paid by the insurance company. This is one of the important benefits of your insurance policy. Although the lawyer is paid by your insurance company, the lawyer must represent you and not your insurance company.

If your lawyer fails to communicate with you or keep you apprised of important aspects of your case such as a settlement offer, you should send a letter to your insurance company requesting a new lawyer.

If your insurance company refuses to provide you with a new lawyer, you can retain a lawyer to force your insurance company to do that or to oversee the case to protect your interests.

Is There Anything I Need to Do When I Was Served with a Summons and Complaint?

After a lawsuit is started, you will probably have to testify at a deposition.

I Received an Affidavit of No Other Insurance from My Insurance Company, Should I Sign it?

If you have a personal injury lawyer, have your lawyer look at it first. Otherwise, you can sign an affidavit that you do not have any other insurance. Make sure that the affidavit doesn’t say you are admitting having caused the accident.

What Should I Do If I Receive a Bad Faith Letter or My Insurance Company Refuses to Settle?

A bad faith letter is a letter from the personal injury lawyer advising that the plaintiff is demanding payment of your entire insurance policy to settle the case and advises that if the entire insurance policy is not paid the lawyer will go after your income and personal assets.

The purpose of a bad faith letter is to put a time limit on when the amount of your entire insurance policy will be accepted in settlement of the claim or lawsuit. The amount of time is usually 30 days, after which the plaintiff will no longer settle and will go to trial seeking a judgment against you to try to collect more money than your insurance policy limit.

If you receive a bad faith letter from a personal injury lawyer before a lawsuit is started or from your insurance company or your defense attorney after the lawsuit is started, you should consult with your own private attorney immediately. Your own attorney will put pressure on your insurance company to settle.

Do I Want My Insurance Company to Settle the Claim against Me?

Yes. When your insurance company settles the claim against you, you will no longer have any personal liability for the injuries caused by your negligence.

Do you think you weren’t negligent for causing the injuries or do you think that the plaintiff wasn’t injured? That’s dangerous thinking!

In almost every successful case against a defendant, the defendant thought he or she wasn’t negligent. When you find out at the time of trial that the court or jury found you to be either 100% negligent or partially negligent, you will have a nasty surprise.

Additionally, defendants always think that the plaintiff wasn’t injured because he or she looked fine at the accident. We had many cases where even the plaintiff didn’t know he or she was injured but later found out there was a serious injury. We even had clients who didn’t know at the accident scene that they broke a bone that needed surgery.

If your insurance company refuses to settle the claim against you, the case will go to trial. If a jury verdict is more than your insurance policy limit, the plaintiff’s lawyer may hold you responsible to pay the amount of money above your insurance policy limit.

Is My Salary and Assets at Risk When I Am Being Sued for an Accident?

Yes. Hopefully, you have a liability insurance coverage limit which is more than the amount that you could be held responsible for. One of the advantages of having insurance is that your insurance company will provide you with a free lawyer to defend you. Unfortunately, insurance companies frequently don’t do a good job.

When your insurance company settles the claim against you, you will no longer have any personal liability for the injuries caused by your negligence.

Do I Need To Hire a Lawyer If I’m Being Sued For More Than My Insurance Policy Limit?

In New York State, lawyers are no longer allowed to sue for a certain amount of money. Now, lawyers will have to wait until the trial when allowed to ask for a specific amount of money, so you will not know if you are being sued for more than your insurance policy liability limit.

In almost all cases, you will not need to hire your own lawyer. The majority of personal injury cases with serious injuries are settled for the insurance policy limit. This is because it can be extremely difficult to impossible to get more money from the defendant. However, we have done that.

If the lawsuit against you is settled, your insurance company will require the plaintiff to sign a release, releasing you from all further liability.

If you have a lot of money or assets and you have a small insurance policy, this might be a situation where you should at least consult with a personal injury lawyer who also does defense. Some personal injury lawyers also work for insurance companies representing defendants.

Example: Your insurance policy has a $25,000 liability limit, you live in a $1,000,000+ house and earn a lot of money when you cause an accident resulting in someone being very seriously injured. This is a good time to consult with a personal injury defense lawyer. If you were drunk when you caused the accident, it’s an even better time to consult with a personal injury defense lawyer.

A personal injury lawyer will be able to look at the file and determine if the injury is really worth a lot of money. You cannot assume that the injury was not serious because the plaintiff looked fine after the accident. We have settled many cases for over $1,000,000 where the plaintiff looked fine after the accident.

Tip: Get an insurance liability limit as high as the amount of your net worth or the value of your assets plus one year gross salary. Umbrella insurance is cheap additional protection that not only protects your income and assets but also pays for a lawyer to defend you.

Also, get underinsured coverage matching (as high as) the liability limit. Underinsured coverage pays you when someone else has too little insurance. Find out how much underinsured coverage you need or use our underinsured coverage calculator.

When Should I Consider Hiring My Own Lawyer?

When your insurance company refuses to settle and you’re concerned about personal liability, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to review the file to determine if a settlement is warranted. Your lawyer can put pressure on your insurance company to settle and obtain a release to release you from further liability.

You Might Not Have Caused the Accident or You May Only Be Partially at Fault

Just because someone filed a lawsuit against you, that doesn’t mean you were at fault or 100% at fault for causing the accident. In many car accidents, both drivers are partially at fault for causing the accident.

In New York, if we can prove that the other driver was even 1% at fault, you are entitled to 1% of the value of your injury.

If you were injured in an accident that you believe was your fault, call us for a free consultation. We have recovered money for injured clients who looked like they were at fault but we were able to get money by proving the other driver was partially at fault.

Some of the personal injury settlements we obtained for clients who were mostly at fault for causing the accident is:

  • The entire $25,000 insurance policy for a client who ran a stop sign
  • The entire $100,000 insurance policy for a client who ran a red light
  • $155,000 for a client who was very drunk when he had a motorcycle accident
  • The entire $100,000 insurance policy for a client who pulled out of a parking spot and hit a truck
accident damage to driver's side fender on car hit when parked

The other driver claimed our client pulled out of a parking spot in the Bronx and struck his truck. Our client didn’t know he was injured at the time of the accident but he needed two surgeries. We settled this case for the entire $100,000 insurance policy.

What Do I Do if Someone Is Falsely Claiming to Be Injured in an Accident?

Notify your insurance company of the claim and tell your insurance company why you believe either the accident or the claimed injury is fraudulent. If the claim is phony or fraudulent, your insurance company will find out. They usually do, even if you don’t tell them.

Your insurance company won’t pay any money unless they are convinced you are at least partially at fault for causing the accident AND they will carefully examine all the medical records to make sure the claimant has an injury that was caused by the accident.

There are several ways that fraudulent claims can be made against insurance policies. These are three examples of what can happen.

Claiming to Be Injured When There Was No Real Injury

This happens and almost happened to me (see the next example, “Phony Fraudulent Accidents”). However, most of the time, the person being sued thinks there was no injury when there really was.

It is common for people to have an accident and not appear to be injured. They often don’t even know, at the time of the accident, that they were injured.

Two reasons why people don’t always know they were injured at the time of the accident:

  1. Shock masks pain from injuries
  2. Many injuries don’t exhibit symptoms until hours or days later

This video shows how a motorcycle police officer was in shock after being hit in the rear in a horrific crash by a car that ran a red light. He thought he was ok and didn’t know he was injured until later.

 

The most common injuries that do not always exhibit symptoms until hours, days, or even weeks later, are neck and back injuries, torn ligaments such as a rotator cuff tear in a shoulder, and a meniscus tear in a knee.

We have even had clients who didn’t know they had a broken bone until hours or days after their accident.

Phony Fraudulent Accidents

This happened to me in Queens, New York coming off the 59th Street Bridge. A car intentionally cut me off causing me to hit the car. The male driver came out screaming that I hit his car and a female passenger came out screaming that I killed her baby. I took out my police shield and they jumped in their car and quickly drove off. My car had no damage but their car had a nice dent.

If this happens to you, call 911. Always call 911 when you have an accident and report everything to your insurance company.

False Medical Claims by Doctors

Some medical clinics will fraudulently treat people in an accident to make money. We represented a client for a neck injury in a case that was settled for $1 Million. During the case, she had another accident and only injured her breast. She received a call from a medical clinic sounding like the hospital. She went to the clinic and was told to see several doctors for neck and back treatment. Fortunately, she refused the treatment. They then asked her to see a psychologist which she also refused.

Find out how you’re being scammed and how you could ruin your case if you go to a doctor’s office when they call you and you didn’t call them.

I reported the incident to her insurance company and she testified for her insurance company at an examination under oath. Had she been treated by those doctors, she could have ruined her case.

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How Do I Change My Personal Injury Lawyer In New York

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See more answers to FAQs

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Attorney Phil FranckelPhilip L. Franckel, Esq. is the author of all articles and content on this website.

Mr. Franckel is a personal injury lawyer, Founding Partner of 1-800-HURT-911® New York, President of 1-800-HURT-911, Inc., and a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. He has a 10 Avvo Rating, Avvo Client’s Choice Award with all 5-star reviews,  and Avvo Top Contributor. See Mr. Franckel’s bio.

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Philip L. Franckel, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York; He has a 10 Avvo rating; Avvo Client’s Choice with all 5-star reviews; Avvo Top Contributor; and a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

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