If you have filed a car accident insurance claim, you most likely want a fair settlement and move on. But what should you do if the other insurance company or driver will not make a reasonable offer for your injuries and damages? You may want to retain a personal injury attorney and file a car accident liability lawsuit.
Car Accident Liability Lawsuit or Insurance Claim?
There is sometimes some confusion on the difference between a car accident lawsuit and an insurance claim. Generally, a car accident insurance claim occurs when you tell the insurance company about a loss in an effort to collect insurance benefits under an insurance policy. Negotiations that occur will usually take place between you and the adjuster for the insurance company.
A car accident liability lawsuit is formal litigation that happens in civil court. The plaintiff tries to recover compensation from the defendant. If you determine that you want to file a lawsuit, below is how to do it.
A lawsuit starts in most states when the plaintiff files the complaint with the civil court that will hear the case. A complaint is a legal document that usually has several paragraphs that states what happened, the damages that are claimed, and the legal reason for filing the liability lawsuit.
The next step is one of the great aspects of the US legal system – providing notice to the defendant that he or she is the subject of some kind of legal proceeding. For example, if the state charges you with a crime, you have a right to know what the charges are. A car accident lawsuit is a civil case, but you still must serve notice to the defendant that he is being sued.
Telling the defendant about the lawsuit means that you will serve them with a copy of the complaint. It is referred to in most cases as a summons. There are rules about who can serve the complaint, when and how. Rules vary from place to place. Usually you have 30 days to serve the defendant notice.
The defendant now responds to your complaint. He will admit or deny the allegations that are made in the complaint. The answer also allows the defendant to put forth a legal defense.
Discovery is where the parties trade information that is likely to lead to evidence being uncovered. The purpose of this phase is to give the defendant the opportunity for both sides to see the facts, so they can plan their case, which includes building evidence and arguments. Usually this process involves document requests, written question and answer, and depositions.
After the discovery process is finished, each side has all the information needed to make its case. The trial usually will feature each side making an opening statement, and you as the plaintiff will present your evidence that usually includes documents and testimony. The defense will be able to cross examine your witnesses, present a defense, and then your attorney can cross examine the witnesses for the defense. Closing statements are the last part before the judge or jury renders a decision.
The verdict is reached through determining whose case is better according to a preponderance of the evidence. If you win, the defendant will be ordered to pay a certain amount.
It is possible during the liability lawsuit that each side may file various motions. An appeal of the verdict is also possible from the defendant if they lose. Remember that most car accident claims settle out of court because lawsuits are expensive and time consuming. That said, there are cases where it could behoove you to go to court because the defendant either refuses to offer a settlement or offers a small amount.