I AM BEING SUED FOR A CAR ACCIDENT, DO I NEED MY OWN LAWYER?
Our lawyers represent people who have been injured in a Minnesota auto accident because of someone else’s fault. However, we recently had a call from someone who caused a car accident and was now being sued for property damage (damage to the other driver’s car – fortunately, there was no injury). Apparently, the caller’s insurance company wasn’t able to settle with the owner of the car she hit. The caller wanted to know if she needed to hire her own lawyer for the case. We thought it would be useful to share our answer with you.
If you cause a car accident in MN and you get sued, your auto insurer will generally pay to have a lawyer defend you. There are only three circumstances where you might need to hire your own separate attorney: (1) if your car insurance company denies coverage, e.g. the insurance company says your policy was cancelled or you obtained the insurance fraudulently. If this happens, your insurance company will send you a letter specifically denying coverage and stating the reasons. (2) if your insurance company agrees to defend you but irrationally refuses to pay the claim, e.g. denies liability, and it appears that the damages could be significant, e.g. you were driving drunk and your accident paralyzed someone, but your insurance company insists that it was really the other driver’s fault. (3) if your insurance company acknowledges liability but refuses to pay the policy limits when the claim is worth that or more, .e.g. your coverage is $500,000, but the insurance company insists that being paralyzed isn’t worth $500,000.
The reason you need your own lawyer in those last two situations is because if there is a trial and the victim wins a big verdict, the insurance company will try to limit their payment to the amount of your coverage, leaving you potentially responsible for the remainder. For example, if before trial the paralyzed person was willing to accept the $500,000 policy limit to settle the case, but your insurance company refused, and the jury awarded $1,000,000 – you would be responsible for the excess $500,000. If you have your own lawyer in that situation, your lawyer will try to encourage the insurance company to settle with the injured person so that you are not left exposed to a potential large judgment in excess of your policy limits. There is also a law that says if the insurance company refuses to settle in bad faith, the insurance company can be held responsible for the excess verdict. Therefore, your separately hired car accident lawyer will try to document why the insurance company should settle and why refusing to settle would be bad faith. (You should keep in mind that the other person doesn’t really need to be paralyzed for their to be a big verdict. There are many types of injuries that can generate large medical bills and permanent injuries.)
Our MN car accident lawyers have been involved in this type of situation several times, both representing people who caused the accident and are worried about an excess verdict, and representing many injured people where the insurance company refuses to settle. We have also worked with the at-fault driver’s separate lawyer to set up a bad faith claim the insurance claim to protect the driver being sued.
However, where the lawsuit against you is for only for a limited amount of property damage to the other vehicle, like the caller mentioned above, there does not appear to be any risk of an excess verdict, so hiring a separate lawyer should not be necessary.
If you are ever in a situation like this, please do not hesitate to call us and speak with a car accident lawyer in MN for a free consultation. We are Minnesota personal injury lawyers and our attorneys have more than 25 years’ experience successfully handling hundreds of auto accident injury cases. The initial consultation is always free, and sometimes it’s just a matter of giving people peace of mind.
We have big firm experience, but we are also able to provide small firm attention. A lawyer can meet you to discuss your car accident case at our offices in Minneapolis, Edina, Woodbury, and St. Louis Park. Our attorneys also meet people at their homes in many surrounding cities including Chaska, Chanhassen, Apple Valley, Burnsville, Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park, Roseville, St. Paul, etc.