If you've been in an accident, it can be tempting to settle as quickly as possible and put it behind you. With a settlement you don't have to relive the events, subsequent injuries, and pain; you can move on. A private settlement might sound attractive because it's just you and the other party, but there are advantages to involving your insurance company and - sometimes - retaining your own attorney. Though you might be hesitant to reach out to an attorney because you're afraid of how much it will cost, retaining a qualified one can help ensure you get the settlement you're entitled to, and possibly more than you would have otherwise, even after the legal fees.

Determining fault
Sometimes, the person who is at fault seems easy to determine. If you're stopped at a red light and someone taps your bumper causing minimal damage, you and the other driver probably agree that it was the other driver's fault and he or she will pay for the repairs. However, when it's not quite as clear fault might have to be apportioned, meaning you and the other driver (or, ultimately a court) would have to determine fault. In addition, you may need an attorney to identify other parties who could be at fault. For example, if a car that just had its tires replaced blows a tire and hits yours, the tire company might owe you money as well if the tire was defective or its installation negligent. In this instance, you'd need a lawyer to advise you as to whether you might have a claim against the tire company or tire installer.

Identifying damages
Some damages are readily apparent, like a dent in the side of your car or a cut on your forehead. However, not all damages present themselves that clearly. For example, you might have internal body damage that won't be apparent for a few months. Or your medical insurance may cover the costs of the hospital stay, and using your sick time won't hurt your paychecks while you're recovering. So, though a $40,000 settlement might sound like extra money in the bank, you might have money owed to insurance and no sick leave left at work. An attorney can help walk you through the process and make sure you've accounted for all of your damages, because once you sign a settlement it's unlikely you'll be able to ask for more later.

Damage calculation
If you're in an accident that only causes cosmetic damage to your car, you could be fine with the other driver pay for the repair bill, especially if the other driver doesn't want to report a claim to their insurance company. However, depending on the damage, you could be missing out on additional reimbursement for what's known as "diminished value," or the amount by which the car's resale value declines as a result of the accident, even after repairs. For example, even though it has been properly repaired, cars with frame damage will sell for much less than a car that's never been in an accident. Many people don't know to make diminished value claims; an attorney who regularly works with auto insurance settlements can make sure your claim is valued fairly.

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