Going to Court and Your Car Accident Settlement
Most car accident cases are settled with an insurance company or through informal settlement negotiations. That's because settlement often saves you more time and money than taking your claim to trial. However, there are still rare cases where going to court is necessary. Read on to find out when and how your car accident case can be settled at trial.
Before Filing a Lawsuit
It may be necessary to take a car accident case to court if there are ongoing disputes between the parties or if the insurance company fails to respond to your demand letter. But those situations are typically rare because most insurance companies and attorneys have a general idea of how much the case is worth. Through informal negotiations, both parties can then come to an agreement as to how to settle the case. In addition, going to court can lead to expensive attorney fees and court costs. Therefore, it's important to balance the pros and cons before taking a case to court.
Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
If you're filing a lawsuit against someone, you will need to hire an attorney to represent you. Although filing a case without an attorney is possible, doing so will likely put you at a big disadvantage. It's typically in your best interests to have an experienced attorney handle your case, so you can recover the maximum amount of damages you deserve. When you first meet with an attorney for a consultation, you'll need to tell him or her everything that happened related to the accident. Prepare to answer several questions that the attorney may ask you regarding the case.
Steps to File a Car Accident Case
In order to take the case to trial, there are several steps you'll need to follow. First, your attorney will need to file a formal legal complaint, which is a document that identifies all of the parties involved in the case, states the legal basis for the court's jurisdiction over the issue, contains your legal claims and relevant facts, and demands for judgment or relief.
Next, you'll need to serve the defendant (the other driver who caused the accident) using the process server or the method required by the law of your state. The defendant will have a certain amount of days to file an answer to your complaint.
After that, you'll proceed to the discovery phase, which is the process of requesting information from the opposing party. You can obtain information by interrogatories (written questions), deposition (questioning in person), or production of documents.
What Happens at Trial?
When you file a lawsuit against the other driver who caused the accident, the court will decide whether that driver should be held legally responsible for the damages you suffered. By going to trial, you will have to present your case to obtain a judgment in your favor. The other driver will have a chance to present his or her side of the story. A full court trial for a car accident case typically has the following phases:
- Selecting the jury (also called voir dire): Most states will have the jury decide the issues involved in the car accident case. The jury often consists of 12 people, but it can sometimes be fewer than that. The judge will ask the potential jurors several questions to determine whether the person has any potential prejudices or a bias that would impair their judgment.
- Opening statements by each party: After the jury is selected, the attorneys from both sides will make opening statements, which is an opportunity to deliver the facts surrounding the case and the summary of the parties' arguments.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination: In this phase, the parties present evidence, such as witness testimonies, to the jury. Attorneys can question the person on the witness stand to determine what he or she knows.
- Closing arguments by each side: After all evidence has been presented to the jury, both parties will make closing arguments to persuade the jury to decide in their favor.
- Jury instructions by the judge: After presentation of evidence, the judge will instruct the jury on how to reach their decision in the case and inform the jurors about the applicable laws and their responsibilities as jurors.
- Jury deliberation and the verdict: The jury will proceed to a room at court to discuss their decision. There's no time limit, but it usually takes several hours, if not several days, to reach a verdict.
Explore Your Legal Options Before Going to Court: Talk to a Lawyer
Before you file a lawsuit, you'll need to explore your legal options to decide what will save you the most money and time. It's highly advisable to contact a personal injury lawyer soon after your injury because the trial process is time consuming and there are time limits (statues of limitations) to filing a lawsuit. Protect your interests and contact a car accident attorney in your area today.
Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.