Most car accident cases are settled with the insurance company or through settlement negotiations with the personal injury adjuster. That's because settlement often saves you and the other side more time and money than taking your claim to trial.
But there are still cases when going to court is necessary. Read on to find out when and how your car accident claim 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. However, most insurance companies and attorneys will have a general idea of how much the case is worth.
Through informal negotiations, both parties can come to an agreement about how to settle the case. Also, 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 should 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 in your best interest to have an experienced attorney handle your case so you can recover the maximum amount of money you deserve.
When you first meet with an attorney for a consultation, you'll need to tell them everything that happened related to the accident. Prepare to answer a series of questions the attorney may ask about your case.
Steps to File a Car Accident Case
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.
The complaint is a document that:
- Identifies all parties involved in the case
- States the legal basis for the court's jurisdiction over the issue
- Contains your legal claims and relevant facts
- Demands judgment or relief
Next, you'll need to serve the defendants (usually both the at fault-insurance company and the driver involved in the accident) using a process server or the method required by the law of your state. The defendants 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)
- Depositions (questioning in person)
- Production of documents
What Happens at Trial?
When you file a lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident, the court will decide whether that driver should be 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 their side of the story. A trial for a car accident case typically has the following phases:
- Jury selection (also called voir dire): Most states will have a jury decide the issues involved in the car accident case. The jury may consist of 12 people, but it can be fewer than that. The judge will ask the potential jurors several questions to determine whether each person has any potential prejudices or biases that would impair their judgment. Sometimes the lawyers ask potential jurors the questions in addition to or instead of the judge.
- Opening statements by each party: After the jury is selected, the attorneys from both sides will make opening statements. This is an opportunity to deliver the facts of the case and a summary of the parties' arguments to the judge and the jury.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination: In this phase, the parties present evidence to the jury. Attorneys can question the person on the witness stand to determine what they know.
- Closing arguments by each side: After all evidence has been presented to the jury, both parties will make closing arguments in an attempt to persuade the jury to decide in their favor.
- Jury instructions by the judge: After closing arguments, 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 in the courthouse to discuss the case and reach a decision. There's no time limit, but it usually takes several hours, if not several days, to reach a verdict.
Below, we will go over some frequently asked questions about going to court and car accident settlements.
Q: How are medical bills considered in a car accident settlement?
Medical bills are integral to car accident settlements. They fall under economic damages, a term which encompasses all out-of-pocket costs resulting from the accident, such as:
- Hospital bills
- Therapy costs
Keep thorough records of all these expenses to ensure you receive fair compensation.
Q: What is a fair settlement offer in a car accident case?
A fair settlement offer should encompass all your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include costs like medical expenses and lost wages.
Non-economic damages cover:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
What makes settlement fair depends on your accident's circumstances, the severity of your injuries, and the laws in your state. For example, a $50,000 settlement offer for a claim with $200,000 in economic damages might not be fair. It wouldn't cover all your outstanding expenses, let alone non-economic damages.
Q: How are pain and suffering calculated in a personal injury claim?
Pain and suffering fall under non-economic damages and are typically calculated using one of two methods: the multiplier method or the per diem method.
The multiplier method multiplies the economic damages by a number (usually between 1.5 to 5) based on the injuries' severity. The per diem method assigns a certain dollar value for each day you've lived with pain and suffering due to the accident.
Q: Can I negotiate the settlement amount with the insurance adjuster?
Yes, it's common practice to negotiate the settlement amount with the insurance adjuster. The initial settlement offer from an insurance company is often lower than what you may be entitled to. A personal injury attorney can help you during the negotiation process to make sure the insurance company gives you a fair offer.
Q: What is the role of an insurance claim in a car accident lawsuit?
An insurance claim is typically the first step after a car accident. You make this claim to the insurance company of the at-fault party or your own insurer, depending on the situation. The insurance company reviews the claim, investigates the accident, and proposes a settlement offer. If the offer isn't satisfactory, a lawsuit may be required.
Q: Can I recover compensation for property damage in a car accident lawsuit?
Yes, compensation for property damage, such as vehicle repairs or replacement, is typically part of the damages sought in a car accident lawsuit. These costs are classified as economic damages and should be incorporated into any settlement agreement.
Q: How does an insurance policy affect the amount of compensation I can receive?
The at-fault driver's insurance policy limits significantly influence the compensation amount you can receive. If your damages' cost exceeds the at-fault driver's policy limits, you may have to seek additional compensation through a lawsuit or your own insurance if you have underinsured motorist coverage.
Q: How can medical records and treatment influence my car accident claim?
Medical records and treatments substantiate your car accident injury claim. They provide evidence of your injuries, the treatment you underwent, and the associated costs. This information can validate your damages and justify your claim for compensation.
Q: What should I do after a motor vehicle accident to support my future claim or lawsuit?
Following a motor vehicle accident, seek immediate medical attention, even if you feel okay. Report the accident to the police, document the scene and damage as best as you can, and obtain contact and insurance information from the other involved parties. These steps help ensure a thorough record of the car crash, which can be beneficial when you file your claim or if a lawsuit is necessary.
Next, notify your insurance company about the accident and start your claims process. Keep all records related to the accident, including medical bills, property damage estimates, and any correspondence with insurance companies.
If you have suffered serious injuries or if there is a question about who is responsible for the accident (liability), consult with a personal injury attorney. An experienced car accident lawyer can help maximize your potential compensation.
Lastly, always follow your doctor's advice regarding medical care and follow-ups. Not adhering to your prescribed medical treatment might negatively affect your personal injury case, as it could be perceived that your injuries are not as severe as stated.
Explore Your Legal Options Before Going to Court: Talk to a Car Accident 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 auto accident. The trial process is time-consuming, and there are time limits (statutes of limitations) to filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Protect your interests and contact an experienced car accident attorney in your area today for a free case evaluation.