If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you should strongly consider contacting a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Settlements from insurance companies can look good on paper. However, they’re often only a fraction of what a good attorney can negotiate for you.
In this article we’ll cover nine common questions that your lawyer will ask you at your initial consultation.
Since most personal injury cases revolve around proving fault and establishing damages, your attorney’s questions will generally fall under two categories:
- Questions about the accident itself (i.e. “who was at fault”).
- Questions about your damages and expenses you incurred as a result of the accident (i.e. “how much is your case worth”).
In the sections below, we’ll outline the basics of each line of questioning.
Questions About the Accident
Question 1 – When Did the Accident Happen?
Virginia has strict limits on how long you can wait to file a lawsuit after a traffic accident.
In almost all personal injury cases in Virginia, you have exactly two years after the accident to sue.
While this may seem like a long time in the context of a personal injury case, you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss this deadline.
For this reason, it’s important for you to get your dates straight with your attorney at your initial consultation.
Question 2 – What Caused the Accident?
Your lawyer will also want to know the details of the accident itself.
In particular, your attorney will be looking for facts that can show who was responsible for the accident.
For example, your attorney would want to know if the person who hit you was speeding, or if they ran a red light.
Similarly, your attorney will be interested in any witnesses to the crash, or if the other driver admitted fault after the accident.
You should also let your attorney know what the weather was like on the day of the accident.
Of course, it’s even better if you can collect evidence that supports these statements.
Dash cam footage is the best form of evidence if you have it. Likewise, if you have pictures of the scene of the accident, you should provide those to your lawyer immediately.
You will also want to let your lawyer know exactly when the pictures were taken.
This is especially true if there was a significant gap between the time of the accident and when you took the pictures.
Question 3 – Were You Even Partially Responsible for the Accident?
Your lawyer will need to know any details of the accident that might pose a problem for your case.
The biggest issues tend to come from a concept called contributory negligence.
Essentially, contributory negligence means that you cannot seek damages for any case where you were even slightly at fault.
Some of the most common examples of contributory negligence include speeding and distracted driving (such as if you were on the phone at the time of the collision).
If the other driver’s insurance company can show that you contributed to the accident in any way, you may have a hard time in court.
For this reason, it’s important to let your own lawyer know about any complications ahead of time so they can prepare to defend you against a claim of contributory negligence.
Question 4 – Were the Police Involved?
Put another way, did you or the other driver report the accident to the police?
If so, you should be able to get a copy of your police report online through the Virginia DMV.
Your attorney will pull this report after you hire them, but it can also be helpful to have this report at your first appointment.
While a police report is inadmissible as evidence in a courtroom, it can be very helpful to your lawyer in preparing your case.
Additionally, your lawyer will want to know if the driver who hit you was charged with an infraction (in other words, if they received a ticket).
That’s because a conviction or guilty plea is highly persuasive of the fact that the other driver was at fault for the accident.
Since most personal injury cases revolve around proving just two primary points—fault and damages—a conviction in a criminal court will often make the personal injury case much easier by simplifying the “fault” side of things.
Questions About Your Damages
Question 5 – Do You Have Insurance? What About the Person Who Hit You?
In most personal injury lawsuits, both drivers will have insurance.
After an accident, the driver who was not at fault will normally file a claim with the other driver’s insurance, who will begin to investigate the matter.
After this investigation, the other driver’s insurance will either (1) come back to you with a “settlement” that they believe fully covers your damages, or (2) claim that you were at fault for the accident and offer you nothing.
At this point, you should hire a lawyer if you believe that (1) the insurance company’s settlement fails to fully cover your damages, or (2) that you weren’t actually at fault for the accident, and would like to fight the insurance company’s decision.
As a result, the primary focus of most lawyers will be to either maximize your settlement from the other driver’s insurance company or to show that you weren’t actually at fault for the accident.
While this may seem simple on paper, it is much harder to meet these two goals in practice.
For all of these reasons, your attorney will be very interested in hearing about the insurance situation in your personal injury case.
In fact, some attorneys may base their decision on whether to take your case at all on this one simple fact.
For this reason, it’s important to discuss the possible outcome of your case with your lawyer before you file your lawsuit.
Question 6 – Did You Receive Medical Attention for Your Injuries?
Under Virginia law, you can seek compensation for all medical expenses connected to the accident.
This includes both immediate expenses as well as those incurred through ongoing treatment.
For example, if you broke your leg in an accident and were hospitalized, you could seek reimbursement for both your hospital bills and your later physical therapy expenses.
The best documentation will come from your medical records themselves.
However, you should also make your own personal notes whenever you visit the doctor, in particular noting the day, time, and cost of the visit.
You should also note the cost of any medications your doctor prescribes. Copies of these prescriptions are also a useful source of evidence.
Finally, remember that you should always go to the doctor after a traffic accident, regardless of whether you think you’re actually injured.
Even if your injuries are relatively minor, having a doctor’s testimony available can make a difference in other parts of your case.
For example, it can be very difficult to get reimbursed for missed work if you can’t show evidence of an injury.
At the bare minimum, you should schedule a checkup with your general practice doctor.
Question 7 – Do You Have Any Ongoing Injuries?
As mentioned above, Virginia’s personal injury laws take ongoing injuries and disabilities into account.
When it comes to a long-term or permanent injury, you can seek compensation for legal bills, lost wages, and ongoing pain and suffering, among other damages.
For this reason, it’s always in your best interest to document your injuries as completely as possible.
It’s generally a good idea to keep track of this information in a “pain journal.”
While this term means different things to different lawyers, we generally recommend spreadsheets due to their ease of use.
Make sure you note how you were injured, as well as how that injury has affected your day to day life.
You should also write down any visits to the doctor, prescriptions, or other relevant medical information that may help your attorney with your case.
Question 8 – Did You Miss Work After Your Accident?
Virginia personal injury law also lets you seek compensation for any lost wages related to the accident.
As with medical bills, this includes both immediate lost wages and those that you will incur in the future (such as due to a loss in mobility).
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to show lost wages in most cases.
Simply ask your employer for documentation showing what days you were unable to work and why.
Even if you used sick leave for those days, you may still be entitled to damages.
In addition, make sure to tell your lawyer if you suffered a permanent or disabling injury that makes it more difficult to work.
As another useful tip, schedule a performance review with your employer, and use any notable changes in that review in your personal injury case.
Can’t climb stairs? Difficulty focusing because of pain? Decrease in productivity due to a loss in motor function?
Document all of these changes and bring them to the attention of your attorney.
Question 9 – Have You Recorded ALL of Your Damages?
In Virginia, you can seek damages for all inconveniences caused by your accident, especially financial inconveniences.
For this reason, you should keep a spreadsheet which documents the full extent of your damages, not just the big ticket items like medical bills or repair costs.
For example, if your accident rendered you unable to drive, you may have had to use a rideshare service to get to work.
Make a note of any time this happens, as your lawyer will want to see it.
Your should also document any child care costs, changes in your daily routine, and any evidence of pain and suffering caused by the accident.
Ideally, you should make a spreadsheet listing these inconveniences, as well as your medical bills, lost wages, and the cost of having your car repaired.
It’s okay if you end up with lots of small numbers, because ultimately, it’s your lawyer’s job to find out what is worth bringing up in court.
As we’ve mentioned in other articles, you don’t need to hire an attorney after a Virginia car accident.
The primary benefit of an attorney is to increase the award you receive from an insurance company, such as if they give you a lowball settlement or if they claim you were at fault for the accident.
For this reason, attorneys will ask several questions at your consultation to see whether or not you have a personal injury case.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to use the details you bring to the table to find out whether a lawsuit is a good option for your particular situation.
Finally, note that this article only list a few common questions that an attorney may ask.
As always, each attorney is different, and their line of questioning will largely depend on the specifics of your case.