Tag: best car accident lawyer Las Vegas

Can I Get Attorney’s Fees From A Negligent Driver?

Punitive Damages in Las Vegas Personal Injury Cases

Can I Get Attorney’s Fees From A Negligent Driver?

Generally under Nevada law, the person at fault for a car accident is not obligated to pay for an accident victim’s attorney’s fees. If a car accident claim ends up in a lawsuit, however, it is possible that the at fault party may be responsible for the accident victim’s attorney’s fees.

Nevada’s personal injury law says a negligent driver is liable for an accident victim’s property damage, medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost income. However, if the injured victim has to retain a car accident attorney, the negligent driver does not have to reimburse the attorney’s fees that the victim has to pay out from his or her settlement.  If the victim pursues a lawsuit and wins, the negligent driver may have to pay attorney’s fees. But to get the negligent driver to pay the attorney’s fees, there are certain things that must be done during the lawsuit.

How Do Accident Attorneys Get Paid?

In most areas of law, when a person hires an attorney, they have to agree to pay the attorney an hourly basis and usually must give the attorney a deposit or retainer. Unlike other areas, personal injury attorneys typically get paid on a contingency fee basis. This means that the accident lawyer gets paid only if they obtain a settlement or award. Also, the accident victim does not have to advance any monies for the attorney’s fees.

Contingency fees are common in personal injury and car accident cases because accident victims usually can’t afford to pay for an attorney on top of the medical bills and other accident-related expenses. Also, car accident victims are normally not entitled to attorney’s fees from the negligent driver or his or her car insurance.

Why Am I Not Entitled To My Attorney’s Fees In A Car Accident Case?

Nevada follows the American rule with respect to recovering attorney’s fees. The American rule states that each party must pay its attorney’s fees and costs, unless there is a statute or contract that says otherwise. In Nevada, the general controlling statute on attorney’s fees states “[t]he compensation of an attorney and counselor for his or her services is governed by agreement, express or implied . . ..” Nev.Rev.Stat. 18.010. Under this general rule, a car accident victim may not be entitled to attorney’s fees from a negligent driver, but may be entitled to attorney’s fees if they are suing their own insurance company for insurance bad faith. That’s because an insurance policy does generally provide for the award of attorney’s fees to the winning party.

Under What Circumstances Are Attorney’s Fees Awarded In Car Accident Cases in Nevada?

Nevada law does permit the award of attorney’s fees to the party that wins a lawsuit under certain circumstances. Some of those circumstances are listed below:

  • Winning not more than $20,000. NRS 18.010(2) permits a party in a lawsuit who wins less than $20,000 to recover attorney’s fees. The party must be considered the “prevailing party.”
  • If an accident victim issues an offer of judgment during a lawsuit and wins an award that is higher than that offer of judgment, the accident victim may be awarded his or her attorney’s fees. This method is often how Las Vegas car accident attorneys get attorney’s fees for their clients.
  • If a court finds a negligent driver defended the lawsuit frivolously. This circumstance is very rare.

There are other circumstances where attorney’s fees may be awarded to an accident victim in a lawsuit that are more situation specific. For example, if a defendant engages in discovery during the lawsuit in bad faith, the plaintiff can seek attorney’s fees relating to that bad faith.

If you have a personal injury lawsuit relating to a car accident and want to know whether you can recover attorney’s fees, speak to a personal injury attorney with extensive experience in litigation. The accident lawyers at D.R. Patti & Associates have a combined 50+ years of litigating car accident and other personal injury claims and have won attorney’s fees in a variety of circumstances.

Are Traffic Tickets Admissible In Car Accident Lawsuits

Traffic Ticket Car Accident Attorney

So many times in our 50+ combined years as car accident attorneys in Las Vegas, we’ve had clients question why the negligent driver is disputing a car accident when that driver received a traffic ticket for causing the accident. We’ve had to explain that traffic tickets are generally not admissible in a personal injury lawsuit. A traffic ticket citation is a mere opinion by the investigating police officer. Even if the negligent driver paid the ticket, the ticket itself does not automatically become admissible.

Personal Opinions Of Police Officers Responding To An Accident Are Not Admissible In Court

When a police officer comes to the scene of an accident, they gather evidence and then make a determination as to who caused the accident. That determination is considered an opinion and not a fact. In court, only medical and other expert witnesses can testify as to their opinions. Nev.Rev.Stat. 50.265. Unless a police officer qualifies as an expert, he or she can’t testify as to who he or she believes caused an accident.

Police Officers Responding To A Crash Generally Do Not Perform An Accident Reconstruction

To qualify as an expert in Nevada, the expert must show that they have “scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge” that will help the jury and that they have “special knowledge, skill, experience, training or education” to back up their opinions. See Nev.Rev.Stat. 50.275. Basically, this law means that police officers must show they have specialized training in accident reconstruction to be able to testify as to their opinion on who caused a crash. Also, the law means that the officer must also be able to show that he has sufficient evidence to support his conclusion.

Police officers in Las Vegas usually get some training in accident reconstruction, but not to the same extent as recognized experts in accident reconstruction. Also, the typical Las Vegas police officer responding to a crash do not do the measurements and calculations that experts in accident reconstruction do. For example, experts in accident reconstruction usually measure “crush damage” or the extent of deformity in the vehicles involved in a crash. Police officers typically do not do that. Usually, police officers responding to a car accident take statements from the drivers and passengers involved in the accident and independent witnesses. They then base their determination on those statements. When a crash results in death, Las Vegas police officers may perform a more detailed investigation and calculations. If they do, those officers may qualify as experts in court and testify to their opinions.

The leading Nevada Supreme Court decision on the admissibility of a police officer’s opinion is the personal injury case of Frias v. Valle, 101 Nev. 219, 698 P.2d 875 (1985). In that case, the plaintiff was struck by a taxi cab. In court, the drivers disputed the severity of the accident. During the trial, the court permitted the use of the police officer’s traffic crash report as evidence. After the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant cab driver appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, arguing that the crash report should not have been admitted. The Court agreed with the cab driver and explained its decision as follows:

It is the function of the trier of fact to decide who and what caused an accident. The conclusions of Officer Sowder, based upon statements of third parties and a cursory inspection of the scene, did not qualify him to testify as to who was at fault. Evidence of the traffic citation was also inadmissible. By admitting Officer Sowder’s traffic accident report into evidence, the trial court erred.

Nevada Supreme Court, Frias v. Valle

While an investigating officer’s opinions may not be admissible, their observations of the accident scene are. Officers can testify as to what they saw, what evidence they gathered from the scene, and what the drivers said. The evidence gathered by traffic officers are invaluable to car accident attorneys and experts in accident reconstruction.

Paying A Traffic Ticket Is Generally Not An Admission of Guilt

Nevada law does say that if someone is convicted of a crime, then that person is conclusively deemed to be civilly liable for persons injured by that crime. See Nev.Rev.Stat. 41.133. The Nevada Supreme Court, however, has declared that violations of traffic laws are not considered crimes under this statute. Langon v. Matamoros, 121 Nev. 142, 111 P.3d 1077 (2005). Additionally, the Court has also said that paying a traffic fine is not the same thing as admitting guilt. Mendez v. Brinkerhoff, 105 Nev. 157, 771 P.2d 163 (1989). Most people pay traffic fines because it is easier than fighting it and going to court. The same thing cannot be said about other crimes.