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How to Buy and Sell a Used Car in Texas

I just bought and sold a used car in Texas. It could not have been more confusing and the state employees in charge could not have been less helpful. Both me and the seller were lawyers and neither of us had any clue how to do it.  

But I just sold my car and (I think) figured it all out. Now I want to share it with you.

1. Sign over the title to the buyer.

This is the part you don't want to screw up. Getting a new title issued is just slightly easier than getting a copy of Donald Trump's tax returns. And it'll cost you time and money. 

A Texas title is a two-page (front and back) document that acts as official evidence of ownership. Whoever holds the title owns the car. The title lists the owner(s) of the car on the front page. It should be signed by the owners as soon as they get it (but no one ever does this—they just stick it in the glovebox). Do it now. The signatures should read exactly as the owners do above them (husband and wife or co-purchasers sign next to each other).

Next, flip the title over. This is where the business happens. The first box at the top is called Assignment of Title. This is where the entire vehicle sale takes place. On the first line, the PURCHASER (or purchasers) writes his name and address. The name(s) should look exactly like the buyer wants the new title to read. 

Great, now you write the car's milage as displayed on the odometer. Don't check any boxes unless your odometer has rolled over (basically impossible, but box 1) or is broken (possible, but unlikely, box 2).

Congratulations, now write the date of the sale.

Next up, the important stuff. Put your John Hancock (signature) on the line above Signature of Seller/Agent. Write the signatures in order as they appear on the front of the title (husband and wife, etc.). Then, PRINT your name(s) EXACTLY as they appear on the front of the title (no punctuation) on the line next to your signature. 

Fantastic. Almost done. Now the buyer does the same thing on the line below you. Again, the names should appear EXACTLY how they want them to appear on their actual title. No punctuation. No nothing. Just signatures and names.

Woohoo! You just transferred your title. The new owner now owns your car. Wait, is it really that simple? OF COURSE NOT! There's a whole lot more paperwork and hours spent waiting in line at the county Tax Assessor's office ahead of you. But, you are done with the most important part.

2. Fill out and sign an Application for Texas Title.

This is a little known form lovingly named 130-U by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. It is absolutely necessary to transfer the title and you cannot sell or buy a used care without it. They will kick you right out of the Tax Assessor's office without it (the first time I bought a used car in Texas, I literally wrote a bill of sale on the back of a scrap piece of paper in my glove box and took it to the Tax Assessor. They laughed in my face). 

Oh, and it's about as confusing as an IRS Form 1040, but without the helpful instructions.

First, Check the Title & Registration box at the top. Do not do ANY of this in front of the lady at the Tax Assessor's office because she will kick you out into the street for "altering a government document." Do all this either with the buyer/seller or in the privacy of your own home/car/tax assessor parking lot, etc.

Next, fill out all the information you can in boxes 1-12. This is where you write the VIN number (make sure it matches the VIN on the title), model year, make (the company that makes your car), body style (copy what it says on the title), model, color, minor color (I guess if you have a two-tone paint job—YUK!), Texas license plate number, odometer reading (this better match the OD reading on the title)(and, again, only check the box if you checked one on the title), and finally empty weight (leave it blank unless you know this, which no one does), and carrying capacity (again, leave blank).

Nifty, now move on to Box 13 and check "Individual" unless you're selling your car to a business or the government (weird) and then check business or government. 

OK, now we're getting down to brass tacks. In boxes 16 and 17, fill out the first, middle, and last names of the BUYERS (this form conveniently calls them "applicants") EXACTLY how they read on the transferred title. The "additional applicant" is the husband, wife, or whoever the co-buyer is. Do not screw this up. The lady at the tax assessor's office will laugh with psychotic rage as she pushes you out the door onto the street if you do.

Cool, now we're moving on down to Boxes 18 and 19, where the buyer/applicant now writes their address and county of residence (notice how the form switches to calling the buyer the "owner" now...nice).

Good. Now it's time for the seller (who the form calls "Previous Owner") to write his or her name(s), city, and state. Again, make sure this matches the names on the title.

Woopdedoo, now you get to skip all the way down to Box 37, where you write the sale price of the vehicle. This is the actual sales price. Don't try to do what I did on my first car purchase when I was 15 and try to lie and say you brought a 1979 Volkswagen Scirocco for $100 bucks. They're smarter than that now. They just look up the value of the car on the internet. Write in the actual price. Do not fill in anything else in this box. The nice people at the tax assessor's office want to calculate how much tax you owe them. And yes, they've already heard the one about how this car has been taxed multiple times and this is a violation of your Constitutional rights, yada, yada, yada. 

Now, finally, we are close to the end. Skip down to the Certification Box. The sellers sign their names above where it says "Signature(s) of Seller(s)" and print them in the line next to it. Print them exactly how they appear on the title. Then date. This better be the same date as on the title or you know what.

Finally, the buyers (who the form now calls applicant/owner) sign and print their names on the lines below. The names and date must match the names and date on the title.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are done with the required paperwork. But now, just to be safe (and spell out the terms and conditions of the purchase) we need to do one more thing. The Bill of Sale. 

3. Fill out and sign a Bill of Sale. 

Again, you're not required to have this. The state doesn't care. It doesn't even want to see it. It's just the written agreement between you and the buyer/seller about the terms of the car purchase.  After looking around on the internet, I made one up myself. Here's a link to it.

This is important because it spells out the date of the sale, the purchase price, and MOST IMPORTANT that the sale is AS-IS. This means the buyer gets the car as it is, no warranties, no promises, no nothing. Just the car. If something goes wrong as soon as the buyer drives off, tough beans. It's their problem now. Everyone signs this and the seller keeps a copy. 

4. Gets paid.

This is the easy part. The buyers hands over raw cash or a cashier's check for the entire purchase price. DO NOT let the title out of your hands until this is done. Don't agree to take payments, meet the buyer later to pick up the money, accept a personal check, etc. This is where the rubber meets the road. Accept only cash or a cashier's check from a reputable bank.

5. Make a visit to the cheerful people at the County Tax Assessor's Office.

Get ready for some fun! The Buyer takes the transferred title and application to the appropriate county tax assessor's office (don't ask me why it's not the department of motor vehicles, it's the tax assessor. Texas is just weird that way) and gets in line.

The friendly clerk will fill out the rest of the form, walk you through the remainder of the process, and take your money. Bring cash or check because they don't take credit cards (well they do, but they will charge you like a 5% fee (a lot on a vehicle purchase) to use it). 

If you did all this right (and chances are you did not), you will receive your new title in the mail in four to six weeks.

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Why Your Texas Uninsured Motorist Policy is Just About Worthless

Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage is supposed to do what you think: Pay for damages caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Easy enough, right?

Wrong.

The big insurance companies push this type of insurance on Texas consumers. They use scare tactics to warn you that there are a lot of uninsured drivers out there and you could be “up a creek” if you don’t buy their uninsured motorist coverage to protect you against them. And they make a lot of money selling this stuff. It’s an easy policy add-on that puts quick money in their pockets.

The problem is, the insurance companies don't have any intention on paying you unless you haul them into court at your own expense.

Really?!?

Yes, a few years ago, the Texas Supreme Court decided to change the way the entire insurance world operates (i.e., you make a claim and your insurance company accepts or denies it). Instead, the Court said, you can’t even make a claim unless an actual judge in black robe says you can.

“A claim for UIM benefits is not presented,” the Court said in the 2006 case Brainard v. Trinity Universal Insurance Company, “until the trial court signs a judgment.”

This is like saying you can’t order your food until after you’ve eaten it. Or you can’t buy your house until after you’ve moved in. The Supreme Court basically re-wrote insurance and contract law (and basic logic) to say that you cannot have a cause until after the effect.

So all that stuff about protecting yourself from underinsured motorists? True, but you should really be worried about protecting yourself from fake insurance scams like uninsured motorist coverage in Texas.

"And," like Farmers says, "we don’t have to tell you, that usually means frustrating phone calls, four letter words, and maybe legal action."

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9 Things to Know About Your Property Damage Claim.

   The insurance company said I would be in good hands. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! 

The insurance company said I would be in good hands. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! 

Usually the first thing staring you at the face after a car accident is the big, rusting, twisted piece of metal sitting in your driveway (or the towing impound lot).

Luckily, if all goes well, your car should be repaired or replaced in a couple weeks. But, if insurance companies decide to give you the runaround (as they are wont to do), then you could be looking at an endless loop of unreturned phone calls, broken commitments, and towing storage and rental car bills piling up in your mailbox. 

Neither of us want that, do we. So here's what you do:

1. Point your finger at the right person (or insurance company). In a perfect world, the person who caused your car accident would get out of their car, apologize profusely, hand over their insurance information, and their insurance company would quickly pay for your rental car and repair or replace your vehicle to your utmost satisfaction. 

Unfortunately, what usually happens is the person who causes your car accident stumbles out and starts pointing their finger at YOU. After you threaten to call the police, they reluctantly give you their insurance information, but tell their insurance company the opposite of what happened—that you caused the collision. Then their insurance company, hoping that you'll just go away, drags their feet, doesn't return your phone calls, or, worse, believes their insured's bogus story and denies your claim. All while you're answering angry phone calls from tow truck operators asking when you're going to come pick up your rusting, twisted piece of metal in their lot, or worse—when they're going to sell it to pay for all their storage charges.

Now what?

2. Bite the bullet and make a claim on your own collision insurance coverage. If you're fortunate enough to have collision or "full" coverage on your car, then you can (and should) quickly make a claim on your own policy. Yes, it's not fair that your own insurance has to pay for someone else's mistake. But, as they say, "fair" comes once a year.

Your own insurance company has a duty under the Texas Insurance Code to treat you fairly and in good faith. It should quickly send an adjuster out to appraise your car and decide if it's repairable or a total loss. More on this later. Then it should put you in a rental car and quickly pay for the repairs or replace your vehicle. Simple as that.

Texas law forbids an insurance company from raising your insurance rates if you make a claim for a collision that was not your fault. But heaven knows what they really do. If you notice your rates go up, then shop around for a different insurance company. It's a competitive market with lots of companies fighting for customers. GEICO spent more than $1 billion last year on advertising alone. Someone else will be glad to have you.

3. What if I don't have full coverage? First, extend your left arm, with your palm facing up. Then contract all of your fingers and close your thumb around them to make a fist. Then quickly bend your elbow in such a way as to make your fist strike your face. There, now that you've successfully punched yourself in the face, read on. 

You are at the mercy of whatever fly-by-night insurance company the person who hit you had or did not have. Contrary to whatever they may tell you on their TV commercials, insurance companies are not cute little lizards with Cockney accents or stern, deep-voiced men droning on about personal responsibility. They are a big, fat, emotionless corporations who exist for one reason and one reason only: To make money.

Insurance companies do not care about you. They barely care about their own customers. Insurance companies make money by doing one thing well: NOT PAYING CLAIMS. So do not expect them to roll over and pay yours. They have invested lots of time and money into big, fancy Wall Street business consultants who have taught them to "delay, deny, and defend" even legitimate claims. Why? Because the longer the insurance company holds onto its (your) money, the longer they can invest it and make more money in the stock market. You don't think Warren Buffet owns GEICO because he loves the insurance business do you? Of course not, I didn't think so. He owns it because it's a great way to invest more money in the stock market—something Mr. Buffet does quite well.

And GEICO is one of the better insurance companies. Thanks to Texas's deregulated auto insurance market, there are scores of new, fly-by-night operators who call themselves insurance companies but are really just scams. Texas Watch, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, calls these insurance companies' products "junk policies." Why? Because they don't cover hardly anything and, even when they do, it's like pulling teeth to get them to pay.

So, if you don't have your own collision insurance, sit back, relax, and prepare to be ignored, low-balled, and bullied until you say uncle and call a lawyer.

Now, what if you don't have full coverage and the other driver does not have insurance at all? This is not the time to delay—call a lawyer. We will research your options and find out if we can help you. 

4. What if my car is repairable? If the adjuster says your car can be fixed, then take it to any body shop you want. I like to start by calling the car dealer where I purchased my car and ask them for their recommendations. Most car dealers get body work done all the time and know a good body shop that can work on their particular vehicles. Use them.

Once you make an appointment, the body shop will have an estimator give you a written estimate. Most reputable body shops have a dedicated employee that does nothing but argue with insurance companies all day. They are A LOT better at this than you are. So shut your trap and let them do their jobs. When all's said and done, you should have a car that looks just like new.

But, you ask, what if my car is worth less now than it was before it was repaired. This is called "diminished value." And to prove it, you need to hire your own appraiser to come and give you an estimate for what your repaired car is worth versus what it would be worth before the wreck. This is expensive and usually not worth the cost unless you are driving a) a brand-new car right off the lot or b) a collectors or exotic car that has a subjective value up to exert determination. Again, talk with your lawyer and he or she can help. 

5. What if my car is a total loss? Your car is "totaled" when it's worth less than the cost to repair it. If you have a big, fancy, expensive new car, then it will take more damage to total it than if it were an old, cheap jalopy. If your car is totaled, then your insurance company should quickly give you a written "total loss appraisal" that outlines the amount they are willing to pay for your car. This amount is the "fair market value" of your vehicle immediately before the collision, i.e., the amount you could have reasonably expected to sell your car for on Craigslist the day before the collision.

And no, contrary to what you might think, your car was not special. It was not worth more than 99% of all other Toyota Camrys driving around out there. It was just a car. It was metal and plastic and rubber and glass. That's it. The insurance companies use fairly sophisticated auto sales data software to spit out an accurate number here. So, unless you were driving a 1933 Duesenberg or an original Shelby Cobra at the time of your collision, then the number the insurance company gives you is usually accurate about 99.9% of the time. Take the money and run.

6. What about a rental car? Good question. Your car is wrecked or ruined and life goes on—you need to get to work, doctors' appointments, and your kids need rides to school and soccer practice. What do you do? Luckily, there are three ways to get into a rental car after a wreck—each with varying degrees of difficulty.

The first, and easiest way, is if you have rental coverage through your own insurance. This will quickly pay for a rental car usually for up to 30 days while your car is either totaled or repaired. Your car insurance company will usually have a deal worked out with a local rental outfit like Enterprise and you simply go to the rental car location and pick up a car with the rental car authorization number from your insurance company—no muss, no fuss. You will have to return your car when your car is fixed or totaled.

The second easiest way to get a rental car is to pay for it on your own. Just go onto any travel website like kayak.com and find a rental car and rent it. If you are hoping to be reimbursed later (more on that below), then make sure you rent the cheapest, yellow Chevy Cobalt you can find (no more than $25-$30 per day) and don't keep it very long. 

The third—and hardest—way to get a rental car after a wreck is to wait for the other person's insurance company to pay for it through a "loss of use" claim. Unfortunately, this is like waiting for a cold-front in a Texas summer—excruciatingly rare and short-lived. By law, the driver who hit you must pay for your economic damages. Like I said above, this includes the cost to repair or replace your vehicle. It also includes money to compensate you for the "loss of use" of your car. Seems fair and simple enough, right?

Wrong. Thanks to some ridiculous interpretations of Texas case law, predicting exactly what and when insurance companies will pay for loss of use is like the Heisenberg principle of insurance law—it's impossible. Some insurance companies will immediately offer to put you in a rental vehicle with their own rental authorization number. Some will offer to reimburse you for your own rental receipts (up to a certain amount or time limit). Still others will refuse to pay altogether—citing a Texas appellate court case to say they don't have to pay loss of use on total loss claims (utterly insane, but this is what they think). And others will offer to pay a small fraction of the real cost of your loss of use claim on the hopes that you'll just give up and take their money.

In the end, talk to your lawyer. We know the law and how to deal with each of these situations. 

7. I'm mad. I had just finished paying off my car and now I have to go buy a new one. Shouldn't the insurance company have to pay for that? No. Think of this from the Golden Rule perspective. If you caused a collision and damaged someone else's property, you would of course accept responsibility and offer to pay for the damage. I'm sure you would think it was fair to pay to repair or replace the property. But what if the property you damaged was old, used, and worn-out? And what if the owner demanded that, instead of repairing or replacing the old, used, and worn-out property, you had to buy them a brand, sparkling, spanking new one? Catch my drift? That ain't right.

So that's why the law demands that the person who hit you pay to repair or replace your vehicle—not a brand-new version of your vehicle, but the same dirty, smelly, cat-hair covered thing you were driving before this collision. Theoretically, you can take the money and go buy another car just the same as the old one. So if you were driving a 1997 Chevy Caprice with 170,000 miles on it, you can turn around and go buy another 1997 Caprice with 170,000 miles. Or, if you want, you can pay the difference and buy a brand new one (don't get another Caprice). It's your choice and it's the cycle of life. 

8. This sucks. I still owe money on my totaled car. Now what? Yes, this does suck. No one likes to pay money for something they don't get to enjoy. And your mangled, wrecked, P.O.S. in the towing yard is certainly giving you no love. But you still owe money—maybe even more than it's worth—on that thing. But your bank don't care—it wants to get paid. So what do you do?

Luckily, if you thought ahead, you have what's called "gap" insurance. This covers the "gap" between what your totaled car is worth and what you owe. It's not expensive and you usually can buy it anytime after you buy a car. Unless you put a lot down on your car and are not upside down in your loan, It is a very, very good idea. 

But let's say you're like most of us and didn't plan ahead. The insurance company will not pay you for your car unless your lien holder (the car loan bank) is on the check and, if you owe more than your car is worth, then all of the money will go to them. Then you're stuck making payments on a car you no longer have. This can be a problem. Again, talk to your lawyer. We may be able to help you make additional claims and recover more money to help offset the difference.

9. Believe it or not, your property damage claim is not that big of a deal. Remember the old saying: If it's a problem that can be fixed with money, it's not a problem. Count your blessings. If the biggest problem you have after your car collision is a wrecked car, you're lucky. It could be a lot worse. As long as you and your loved ones are healthy and safe, you can be happy. Remember the saying: Where there is life, there is hope. Your property damage claim will be over before you know it. You will soon be in a fixed or new car and forget all the trouble you went through. It's going to be OK.

If you have any more questions, call us at 512-329-6800. We'll be happy to help you.

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How Much is my Case Worth?

“One meeeeeeeeliiion dollars!”

Just kidding, of course. Remember, we don’t represent people who think a fender-bender earns them a ticket to some so-called “Lawsuit Lottery.” For one, that doesn’t exist. The Framers of our Constitution designed our civil justice system to fairly and accurately assign liability and value harms and losses. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best system mankind has devised yet. So there’s never a “jackpot” jury award or settlement—only fair and reasonable compensation for the real harms and losses caused by someone’s negligence.

That said, valuing cases is not an exact science. You may ask me what the weather will be like in Austin on August 8. I can tell you almost certainly that it will be hotter than a wicked witch’s white-hot steel whistle, but I don’t know if it will be cloudy or raining or windy or…you get my drift. That same thing goes for your case. I will know early on whether it will settle for a TON or a TINY bit, but there are a lot of variables in between. This is why we pay very close attention to what goes on at the courthouse and appellate courts. It’s the best way we know how to judge what actual real, live juries are compensating people in real cases.

Your case value will be determined by the sum of your economic damages (things that have a receipt) and non-economic damages (the stuff you hear about on The Good Wife or Law & Order like “pain, suffering, and mental anguish”). You may be surprised to find out that huge “million dollar verdicts” are actually quite rare (and for good reason). We are very conservative and only ask for what we think is fair and reasonable. We don’t want you—or us—to get laughed out of the courtroom or lose credibility with a judge, jury, or insurance adjuster. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.

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Do you Want your Lawyer to be a Lab or a Pit Bull?

Dude the Dog

A friend called me last week with a legal problem. After explaining the basic issues about a minor dispute that had exploded into a full-blown mess, he told me he wanted to hire a lawyer who’s “a real pit bull” to make the other side “as miserable as possible.”

I told him there are plenty of so-called pit bull lawyers out there who will do that—as long as you’re willing to pay them. But, I tried to convey, that’s not really what you want.

Lawyers like to advertise themselves as aggressive, all-or-nothing zealots who will stop at nothing to ruin their opponents. Some call themselves sharks. Some call themselves hammers. Some call themselves pit bulls.

I’ve found what they really are, most of the time, are big fat bullies.

A bully is someone who’s so insecure about himself that he has to abuse someone who he thinks is weaker than himself in order to feel better. It’s the same behavior you find on elementary school playgrounds and high school locker rooms. Not surprisingly, a lot of these bullies eventually decide they want to continue making people miserable as lawyers.

You see this behavior play out in the courts as bully lawyers spend all their clients’ time and money battling over stupid and irrelevant legal issues—just to abuse the other side. You see it in ridiculous discovery disputes and pointless procedural battles that do nothing but drive the other side batty and spend ridiculous sums of money.

In the end, no one wins but the bully lawyer—who gets to bill his client by the hour for every stupid, ridiculous legal filing and nasty letter he sends. 

We’re not like that.

We try to be more like our loyal black lab, Dude, who spends most of his time laying on our back deck. He is always there. And, if we accidentally leave the back gate open, Dude will still be sitting there when we get home. He’s friendly, easygoing, and loyal.

But when an unknown person comes through the back gate, Dude goes nuts. He barks and growls and looks menacing. I’ve had service people say they can’t work because the “aggressive dog in the backyard” won’t let them in. Of course, as soon as Dude knows the person is friendly, he backs off and goes back up to the deck.

Of course, it’s because Dude’s loyal. He sees our house and his house and us as his family. And he won’t let anyone threaten them.

We’re the same way—friendly, easygoing, and loyal. But, if we think someone is threatening you or your case, we’ll go nuts. Because we’re loyal to you. 

That’s the different between a lab and a pit bill lawyer.

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Will You Pay Me to Take My Case?

No joke. If you’ve ever called in sick to work and flipped on the TV during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you’ve probably seen the annoying lawyer commercials running all day long promising to give you an “interest free loan” if you hire the lawyer to take your car accident case.

Is this ethical? Believe it or not, the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (the ethics rules for Texas lawyers) allow a lawyer to “advance or guarantee court costs, expenses of litigation or administrative proceedings, and reasonably necessary medical and living expenses.” And we pay all of our clients’ court costs and case expenses directly to the vendor out of our own budget. This is a crucial part of the case and it’s only fair that we have some “skin in the game” along with you.

But we do not give clients cash money in the form of an “advance” on living expenses or an “interest free loan.” We think that violates the spirit of the rule and is just downright in bad taste. Not to mention the fact that, at the end of the case, the client will have to pay every penny of that advance back to the lawyer. As my Mom used to say, “it’s six by one, half-dozen by the other.”

It also doesn’t say much about the lawyers offering to pay clients to hire them. Think of it this way: If you were looking for a surgeon to operate on your very serious medical condition and you found one that said “I am one of the best in my field and will do my very best. I am honest and my fees for my work are reasonable.” And then you found another doctor who said “I'll give you an "interest free loan" to let me operate on you.” Which one would you choose?

Duh.

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Will I Have to Go to Court?

Not if we can help it. Eight out of 10 of our cases settle before we ever file a lawsuit. This is because we’re reasonable and conservative and settle cases for fair and reasonable amounts. This is not because we are weaklings—just ask your insurance adjuster who probably says some not-nice-things when they see our letterhead come across their fax machine.

If we have to file a lawsuit, almost 100% of those cases settle before trial. There’s always the chance your case will go to trial, but we do everything we can to avoid it. This is because we don’t like litigation (what lawyers call filing a lawsuit and going through the court process). We think it sucks. It’s time consuming, EXPENSIVE, and just all-out life-sucking. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for me. Like Abraham Lincoln (himself a pretty decent lawyer and fellow) said:

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.”

Well said Abe. Agreed.

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How Long Will This All Take?

Good question. Every case is different, but for the most part, from past experience, your case will be all wrapped up in about a year.

It really depends on how long you treat with your medical providers. We don’t want to settle your case before you’re done treating, because you may have more treatment or another injury pop up later. If you treat for a long time, then we will wait until you are finished with your treatment. If you wrap up with treatment quickly, then we will kick into gear and work on getting your case settled more quickly. It’s all up to you and your doctors.

Don’t worry, while you’re treating, we’re working. We’re busy collecting evidence and communicating with your medical providers to make sure you’re getting the best possible care. When you’re done, we’ll collect all of your medical and billing records and start going through them with a fine-tooth comb. Then we’ll type up a demand letter to the other driver’s insurance company. This is a fancy, long letter that details exactly what we think your case is worth and how much we’ll settle it for. We typically give the insurance company a few weeks to respond with a reasonable offer. If they do, then great—we’ll settle it. If they don’t, then we’re off to lawsuit-ville: Population you and us.

Again, each case if different—like a delicate little snowflake. But—bottom line—your case should be done in about a year.

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How Much Will this Cost?

Jon Selden & Company charges what’s called a contingency fee. This is just like the commercials you see on TV—we don’t get paid unless we win your case. When we do win your case, our fee is one-third of whatever we recover. If we have to file a lawsuit, then our fees go up to 40 percent. This is because it’s a huge pain in the you-know-what to file a lawsuit and go to court. But we will do it if it means winning your case.

Contingency fees are a great way to charge for legal services because our interests are totally aligned with your interests. In other words, we want your case to settle for as much as possible as fast as possible. Because, not only do you get more money faster, but so do we. This sure beats hourly-billing, where we’d require a HUGE retainer fee up front and then bill you a bajillion dollars an hour. In that case, our only interest is to keep stringing you along for as long as possible—not cool!

Every case has expenses too—stuff like copies, postage, medical record ordering fees, etc. We pay for all case expenses out of our firm budget, and then reimburse ourselves at the end of the case. Our case expenses in a typical car wreck case are usually a couple hundred bucks. So don’t worry, we won’t be staying at the Waldorf Astoria and flying private jets around* while we work on your case. We’ll be watching the budget very closely. Why? Because we’re spending our own money.

Remember, we want your case to settle for as much as possible as fast as possible.

*Actual question from actual client.

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Do I Need a Lawyer?

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Do I Need a Lawyer?

This is one we get all the time. And I’ll give you the classic lawyer answer that makes all people hate lawyers: Maybe. Maybe not.

Here you go: If your case is REALLY simple—I mean, you’re not hurt, you didn’t miss work, the person who hit you accepted responsibility at the collision scene and YOU HAVE PROOF, their insurance company is being really nice to you, your property damage is minimal, and you want to wrap things up in like a week or two. Then no, you probably don’t need a lawyer. 

Just call up the insurance company (what we lawyers call the “liability carrier”) and ask them to pay for your car repairs, rental car, PLUS an amount for your inconvenience and they will probably offer to pay for your car repairs, a few days of rental, and a thousand bucks. Not bad. But not good either. But hey, if this is cool with you, knock yourself out. 

BUT...If you got hurt AT ALL, missed work, the driver who hit you was wishy-washy at the scene or is lying about hitting you, their insurance company is being a bunch of bozos, or if your car is really messed up and you think you might have a diminished value claim (the difference between what your car was worth before the wreck and what it’s worth after repairs), then YOU ABSO-FLIPPIN’-LUTELY NEED A LAWYER. 

I know you’re smart, but do you really understand all the ins-and-outs of what you can claim for damages and what they’re worth. Not to mention the skills necessary to collect the evidence that will be admissible at trial to PROVE the other driver caused this wreck?

So, unless you’d suture yourself up—Rambo-style—if you took a bullet to your shoulder, don’t try to stitch your serious case together without a lawyer.

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