Most people do not need to hire a lawyer when sued for causing an accident. However, it may sometimes be necessary to retain a lawyer.
If you received a claim letter from a lawyer or lawsuit papers called a Summons and Complaint from a lawyer who is suing you for an accident, and you had insurance on the day of the accident, don’t panic! It is very unlikely that you need to hire a lawyer.
Note: If you were injured, it’s always best to call a personal injury lawyer before you call your insurance company. See what to know and if you should give a statement to your insurance company.
If a claim is made against you because of a car accident or someone is injured on your property, your insurance company is required to do the following:
- Provide you with a claims representative, paid by the insurance company, to handle claims against you.
- Provide you with a defense lawyer, paid by the insurance company, to defend you from a personal injury lawsuit filed against you,
- Pay any claim settlement or judgment against you up to the liability limits of your insurance policy.
However, you have the responsibility to do some things. Keep reading to see the four things you need to do after an accident, so you don’t have to worry about being sued.
This article will tell you when you might want to consult with a lawyer if you are being sued and what to do when:
- You had a car accident.
- Someone had an accident or was injured on your property.
- You received a letter from a personal injury lawyer stating the lawyer is making a claim against you.
- You received legal papers, starting a lawsuit, called a Summons and Complaint.
What You Need to Do to Get a Free Lawyer From Your Insurance Company
- Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible.
- Get a claim number and note the claim number in your file.
- If you receive a letter from a lawyer representing someone else in the accident, send a copy of the letter with the claim number you got (when you reported the accident) to your insurance company immediately.
- If you didn’t report the accident to your insurance company yet, do it now and tell them you received a claim letter from a lawyer.
- If lawsuit papers, called a Summons and Complaint, are served on you or are left at your door, send a copy of the Summons and Complaint with your claim number to your insurance company immediately.
- If you didn’t report the accident to your insurance company yet, do it now and tell them you received a Summons and Complaint from a lawyer.
- Cooperate with your insurance company and appear at a deposition if they tell you to.
Should I Report Every Accident to My Insurance Company?
Yes, it is definitely recommended. See why you should notify your insurance company after an accident when there is no damage to the car and what else you must do.
How to Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
- Call your insurance company and report the accident as soon as possible after your accident.
- Make sure you get a claim number from your insurance company 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 the accident, keep the claim number that proves you reported the claim.
What Will Happen After I Report an Accident to My Insurance Company?
Your insurance company will assign a claims representative to begin work on the claim which will include determining if and how much at fault you were for causing the accident and the amount of damage to property and people.
If a lawsuit is later filed against you, your insurance company will assign a defense lawyer to represent you.
What Is the Difference Between a Claim Letter From a Lawyer and a Lawsuit?
A lawsuit is not a claim letter from a personal injury lawyer. A claim letter starts the claim against you and is not filed in court. It is just a letter. Lawsuit papers are filed in court and are also served on you.
Lawsuit papers do not look like a letter. A lawsuit paper is called a “Summons and Complaint “and are several pages long.
What to Do If You Did Not Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
If you did not report the accident and you received a claim letter from a personal injury lawyer indicating that a claim is being made against you, report the accident 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.
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 did not report the accident at the time of the accident or even after receiving a claim letter from a lawyer, and now you have been served with lawsuit papers, called a Summons and Complaint, you MUST report the accident IMMEDIATELY and give a copy of the papers to your insurance company immediately. If you fail to do that, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer can get a default judgment 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, write it 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 representing the person injured in the accident.
What to Do When Someone Sues You For an Accident
When someone sues you for a car accident or any accident, you will be served with legal papers that start the lawsuit. The papers you are served are called a Summons and Complaint. If you are served with legal papers, keep reading.
What to Do When You Are Served Legal Papers
When a Summons and Complaint are 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 they cannot be left at your door. This is not true.
How Long After an Accident Can You Be Served Legal Papers?
You may be served with legal papers starting a personal injury lawsuit immediately after the accident, weeks or months later, or even years later.
Someone called us while I was writing this article and said he was injured in a car accident in Brooklyn almost three years ago and wanted to know if he should hire a lawyer. We took his personal injury case.
We also just received a chat message from someone in New York City who said, “We just received papers and are being sued for a car accident my son had over a year ago.”
I had a car accident on the Baldwin Freeport border in Nassau, and the other driver went to a lawyer the next day.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Am Sued for an Accident?
99.9% of the time, you will not need your own private lawyer to defend you because a lawyer paid by your insurance company will defend you.
Almost all personal injury cases are settled with a release signed by the injured person before your insurance company will issue a settlement check. The release will release you from any further liability or responsibility to pay any money to the person signing the release.
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 to defend the lawsuit against you.
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 to 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 After I Am Served with a Summons and Complaint?
After a lawsuit is started, you will probably have to testify at a deposition. All you have to do is cooperate with your insurance company by showing up at your deposition. Learn how to testify at a deposition.
Should I Sign an Affidavit of No Other Insurance From My Insurance Company?
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 if it is true. Make sure that the affidavit doesn’t say you are admitting to 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 advising 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 the settlement of the claim or lawsuit against you. 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 scene. 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 for paying the amount of money above your insurance policy limit.
Are My Salary and Assets at Risk When I Am Being Sued for an Accident?
Yes. Hopefully, you have a liability insurance coverage limit that 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 of 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
Can Someone Sue Me if There Was No Damage to the Car and They Weren’t Injured?
Yes. While there may be insurance fraud, it frequently happens that there is no damage and no apparent injuries, but later someone finds out they have a very real injury.
We have had several cases where someone had a serious injury including fractures requiring surgery when there was no damage to the car. Some of these people left without calling the police because there was no damage and they didn’t know they were injured.
Usually, the person knows about an injury within hours to a day or two, but injuries like a torn meniscus or rotator cuff are often thought to be a sprain and not diagnosed until 4–8 weeks later.
Usually, these people call us soon after but sometimes much later. As long as it’s within the statute of limitations a lawsuit can be filed.
While people often think it’s insurance fraud, insurance companies are not ignorant. They require proof that the accident caused the injury before they will pay one dollar.
What Do I Do if Someone Falsely Claims 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:
- Shock masks pain from injuries
- 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 that 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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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.
Robert Plevy, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York. Rob began his legal career in 1993 as an Assistant Corporation Counsel defending The City of New York against personal injury lawsuits.