What Are My Legal Rights After An Auto Accident?

AUTHOR: A.J. Bruning | May 1, 2023
What Are My Legal Rights After An Auto Accident?

Whether another driver hits you on the Poplar Street Bridge while returning from the Metro East, during your commute to work, or while driving to a family weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks, you might face a long road to recovery with extensive losses. You should always first get medical attention, and then discuss your legal rights and options with a trusted car accident attorney.

By this point, you have probably seen more than enough attorney advertisements from law firms telling you they will fight for your legal rights after you have suffered an injury in a car accident. The phrase is so common that you may lose sight of your legal rights. To say it as succinctly as possible, you have the legal right to financial compensation for all the damages you suffered from a car accident when someone was to blame for them.

What you do with your legal rights is up to you. It is safe to say that your actions can make the difference in whether you even have legal rights. If you cannot prove what happened to cause the car accident, you may not have a right to anything at all.

To fight for your rights, you need to exercise a series of legal rights along the way. One of your biggest legal rights comes early in the process. Every person in the legal process has the right to hire an attorney to represent them. If you do not exercise this right, you do yourself a true disservice. What you are really doing is costing yourself a lot of money. If you think that not paying an attorney will save you money, you are thinking the wrong way.

If you do not know your legal right after a car accident, your attorney does. They know what to do to fight for them and how to maximize your financial compensation. You may be too close to your case to think clearly about what you need to do. An attorney can get to work at the outset and lay out the detailed series of steps you need to take to get the money you deserve.

It is easier than you think to exercise your right to an attorney. You do not need to pay a large sum to get a car accident lawyer working for you. In fact, you do not need to pay anything at all. Your attorney will represent you on a contingency basis. They only receive money if you get paid. Then, your attorney receives payment from the proceeds of your car accident settlement or jury award. If you do not win, your attorney will essentially have worked for you for free.

Car Accident Lawyer St. Louis, Missouri area

Your legal rights do not come from the insurance company. They step into the position of their policyholder. They have a legal obligation to defend their policyholder and pay for the damages they have caused, up to the amount of the policy maximum. They are only a participant in the process, albeit one with a large bank account and the money you need to compensate you for what you have lost.

The insurance company does not get to decide your legal rights. They can negotiate on behalf of their policyholder. The policyholder’s legal agreement with the insurance company states that there is a duty to defend them from claims caused by the accident. The insurance company must either settle the claim or pay for the responsible driver’s legal defense.

The Insurance Company Is an Arms-Length Counterparty in Negotiations

The insurance company sits across the table from you in settlement negotiations. They are neither above you nor have any power over you. No matter what they try to tell you, they do not have the power to set the terms of your legal process. If they will not be reasonable and pay what you deserve, you can take them on in court. In extreme circumstances, you can even sue the insurance company for bad faith.

If their driver injured you, the insurance company must pay. They will do everything that they can to avoid paying you what you are due.

They will use many tricks to wear you down and make you desperate, including:

  • Doing everything that they can to delay your claim, whether it is by taking far too much time to respond to you in the first place or by raising their offers incrementally
  • Making you lose hope by showing how far apart you are in settlement negotiations after making lowball offers
  • Trying to reduce the amount of money that you receive by blaming you in whole or in part for the accident

Insurance Companies Compromise Legal Rights to the Tune of Billions of Dollars Each Year

These tactics have proven successful in helping insurance companies make tens of billions of dollars each year. While there is nothing to say that the insurance industry should be non-profit, there is also no requirement that their outsize profits come at your expense. The best thing that you can do is not to let them victimize you.

The insurance company does not get the final say in your case. Their word only counts because they are a representative of the responsible driver. If you are playing in a sporting contest, the other team does not get to act as the referee. As much as the insurance company tries to act like it has decision-making power in your case, they have none.

Instead, the jury gets to decide the fate of your legal rights. A jury has the power of the law to make binding decisions in your case (subject to review from a judge and a possible appeal). If the insurance company is being unreasonable or will not pay you what you deserve, you have the right to a trial in court, where the jury will decide after hearing all the evidence. You may also need to take your case to court if the insurance company denies your claim entirely.

You Have the Right to Decide How You Will Get Money

You also have the legal right to decide how you will seek compensation. You can choose between filing an insurance claim or a lawsuit in court. If you begin the claims process, nothing can prevent you from going to court if you cannot get a satisfactory result.

Similarly, if you file a lawsuit, nothing will stop you from settling the case because you will continue to negotiate with the insurance company until the jury decides the matter (some cases even settle after a jury decision, but before the appeal).

How you proceed is entirely up to you, although it is much harder to file a lawsuit if you have no legal help.

You Have the Right to Control the Timing of Your Case (but You Cannot Wait Too Long)

You also have the legal right to determine when you seek compensation, so long as you do it before the statute of limitations expires. You should not wait too long to begin the legal process, even if you do not file a claim immediately. Waiting can mean losing key evidence you need to prove your case. At the same time, you must also take the time to build a strong case that can persuade the insurance company or a jury that you deserve money.

Your Attorney Will Fight for You to Get the Most Possible Compensation

One of the key areas where you may need to go to bat for your legal rights is when the insurance company is not offering you enough money to pay for what you have lost.

In a car accident case, you have the legal right to:

  • The complete cost of your medical care
  • Lost income that you should have earned from work
  • Pain and suffering for the physical and emotional discomfort that you have endured and will endure in the future
  • Compensation for the loss of enjoyment of life and permanent scarring and disfigurement

The insurance company knows exactly what you deserve when you file the claim. What you should get and what they offer are two completely different numbers. Their offer will almost always pay a fraction of what you deserve. The insurance company knows exactly what they are doing. They are skilled negotiators and are betting on you being the weaker hand. Their tricks are part of a time-honored process, even though they often completely lack honor.

You Have the Right to Reject Low Settlement Offers

You have the legal right to say no to an offer that does not pay your full amount of damages. There is a reason it is called a settlement offer - the insurance company makes an offer you can accept or reject. It is not a settlement dictation. If the settlement offer is insufficient to fully compensate you, an attorney should advise you to reject the offer.

If you say no to a low settlement offer, you can then:

  • Make your own counteroffer in the negotiation process - by making a counteroffer, you essentially reject the offer the insurance company made because you did not accept it.
  • File a lawsuit against the responsible driver in court that the insurance company must pay to defend.

You Can Negotiate the Best Possible Settlement Agreement

Most people will continue to negotiate with the insurance company until they reach a settlement offer. Although litigation is your right, it often makes sense for you to see the negotiation process through until it reaches a dead end.

Negotiation can mean getting your money quicker (although it will seldom be quick). In addition, negotiating a settlement offer also reduces the risk that a jury will rule against you (leaving you with nothing).

The end result of the legal process is often a settlement agreement. When you hire an experienced car accident attorney, chances are your check will be larger. Although hiring a lawyer does not guarantee a bigger settlement check, it puts you in a far bigger legal position. On average, people who come to the table with car accident lawyers will get more money than those who do not, even after paying their attorney part of their check.

Always Hire an Attorney for Your Car Accident Case

In addition, an attorney will take much of the pressure off your shoulders. You are already dealing with enough after a car accident. Not only are you tending to and recovering from your physical injuries, but you are also under pressure and stress. The last thing you need is to deal directly with the insurance company firsthand. You may react emotionally to what is day-to-day business for them. Their tricks aim to put you on your back heel.

The less you have to do as part of the legal process, the better off you are. You will still make all the key decisions (as is your legal right). Here, your decisions will be better informed because they will factor in the advice of an experienced lawyer who has advised numerous clients who are in a similar position to you. Working with your Missouri personal injury attorney, you can exercise your legal rights and maximize your compensation.

In the end, your knowledge of your legal rights can make all the difference in the legal process. Your own understanding can reduce the risk that you will be the latest in a long line of people who have been financially victimized by the insurance company’s business as usual. Being in the dark about what you are entitled to and how you can get it plays into the insurance company’s hands, and it will cost you money.

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A.J. Bruning


I was born and raised to represent individuals who have been needlessly injured. I mean that literally. At a young age my father would tell me about the clients he was representing. I would meet them and take pride in their admiration of my father. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and represent clients that needed my help.

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