The Vermont Bar Association offers a free referral service and, if you come through this system, you are entitled to a thirty-minute consultation for no more than $25. The aim is both self-interested and useful to you. All lawyers depend on new business for survival. Although some business does come through client recommendations and general word-of-mouth, businesses need to grow their client base. So the Bar Association markets the idea of seeking legal advice, gives you free advice on which type of attorney you need to see, and recommends someone with the right experience. Play your cards right and, within the thirty minutes, you should establish whether you have a case. If you cannot afford the car accident attorney’s fees and there’s no contingent fee deal on offer, you can look around for a pro bono or low bono lawyer, or one of the public service programs which might help. There’s a statewide 1-800 number to find out whether you qualify for legal assistance, e.g. because you fall below the poverty line, you are disabled or a senior citizen.
Once you get caught up in a situation involving the police, it’s always useful to know what your rights are. This may be an accumulation of points from minor offenses which threaten your driver’s license, or it may be a more serious offense where you need representation to avoid the risk of jail time. Whatever the need, you have a right to an attorney if you are being held in a police station. It’s often the case that formal changes can be avoided or, if charges are made, that convictions can be avoided with the right representation. Even minor traffic tickets can be beaten with the help of an experienced lawyer — a factor that can repay itself in keeping your car insurance affordable. If you are charged with a more serious offense like driving under the influence, it’s never a good idea to represent yourself, particularly if someone has been injured. With Mothers Against Drink Driving pushing for more serious penalties, some judges feel under pressure to increase the penalties for a deterrent effect. Without someone speaking for you, you can find yourself in serious trouble and, when it comes to renewing your car insurance, classified as high-risk and so uninsurable by mainstream car insurance companies.
Vermont is an at-fault state, i.e. the usual law of tort applies to fix the party at fault with the liability to pay compensation to the injured parties. That’s why every state in the Union has financial responsibility laws and most make it mandatory to hold valid car insurance when driving. If you are involved in an accident, you can:
• claim from your own insurer if you hold a policy;
• claim from insurer for the driver at fault;
• sue the driver at fault.
Obviously passengers, people on bicycles and pedestrians do not carry car insurance so will always be claiming from the driver at fault and/or his or her insurer. Sadly, if the driver at fault is uninsured or underinsured, the only option is to start proceedings in a local court. The cost of this action is justified when the driver at fault has sufficient personal savings or assets to pay compensation plus costs. If the driver has nothing, it’s a waste of money to sue.
To get the best results in negotiations with the insurance company, a car accident attorney with substantial experience is essential if the settlement is to be in line with the latest court guidance on the amount of damages for different types of physical injury. At some point, the auto insurance company will reach a take-it-or-leave it position. If you are going to reject it, the attorney must be clear significantly more will be obtained by going to court.