Car accidents happen all too frequently. Believe it or not, most people will find themselves involved in a crash every 18 years. That’s a total of three or four collisions across a lifetime. Despite how common these incidents are, most people find themselves totally unprepared for the legal fallout that so often follows car accidents. If you’ve been involved in a wreck and are unsure of what to expect or how to proceed, keep reading. This guide will help you better understand your rights, legal options, and resources required to move forward.
Not Every Accident Warrants a Lawsuit
Most car accidents are settled out of court. When fault is clear and the insurance company is willing to negotiate a reasonable settlement amount, escalating your claim to a lawsuit is not usually necessary. Auto insurance companies know it is typically cheaper to settle out of court than to fight a lengthy and expensive legal battle.
If you’re not sure whether or not to file a lawsuit against the driver who caused your accident, you should speak with a personal injury attorney about your options. While it’s tempting to take a DIY approach to your claim, a lawyer can be a powerful advocate. An initial consultation with an attorney can help you better understand whether a car accident lawsuit is worth your time and money.
Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit
Should you decide to move forward with a lawsuit, you’ll definitely want an experienced car accident lawyer on board. Car accident lawsuits that seek to recover the financial damages associated with a collision are classified as civil suits. They begin with the filing of a petition or a complaint with the local court. Most states have deadlines for these kinds of lawsuits, so you’ll want to check your state’s statute of limitations for car accident suits. For example, many states require accident victims to file their lawsuit within two years of the incident. Miss that deadline and you could be out of luck.
By filing a complaint with the court, you’ll mark your status as the plaintiff. This means you are hoping to compel the other driver – the defendant – to compensate you for the damages you sustained in the wreck. Your complaint should include what compensation you’re hoping to recover. A lawyer can help ensure your complaint meets the legal criteria necessary to begin your suit.
The Defendant’s Response
Once you’ve filed the lawsuit, the defendant will have a limited amount of time in which to respond. In many cases, the response will include an answer that confirms or denies your allegations. Sometimes, the response will feature counterclaims. These show how you contributed to the accident and how you’re, in fact, responsible for your own damages. In some cases, the defendant may even make cross claims, showing how you caused the wreck and actually owe them for their own damages.
Next comes the preliminary motions where the judge will decide whether or not to move forward with the case. If a case was brought in an untimely manner or no relief is warranted, the judge may dismiss the suit altogether. They may also make a number of other motions, like a change of venue or judge, before the case can continue.
The Discovery Process
Next comes the discovery process, the period in which both sides can interview witnesses and examine documents relating to the crash. In some cases, a deposition may be necessary. Depositions allow lawyers for both the plaintiff and defendant to ask questions of the drivers, passengers and witnesses to the crash.
Further investigations into the wreck may reveal new evidence that bolsters a claim. This is the ultimate goal of discovery: to identify evidence and bring it to light in the hopes of settling a claim. Many people don’t realize that accident claims can be settled out of court even after the lawsuit has been filed. At any point in the process, lawyers can negotiate a settlement – this is especially common when new evidence comes into play.
Going to Trial
If a settlement cannot be reached via negotiations, the lawsuit will go to trial. Depending on your jurisdiction, the case may be heard by both a judge and jury. With jury trials, the judge still proceeds over the case and weighs in on which laws apply to the suit, but a jury will ultimately decide the outcome. This is an inherent risk of filing a car accident lawsuit: your fate may ultimately lie in the hands of the judge and jury. If they don’t see the case your way, you could walk away with no settlement at all.
Legal Advice for Car Accident Victims
If you’ve been involved in a wreck and are unsure about your legal options, talk with a personal injury attorney about what comes next. Many lawyers work on contingency, meaning no legal fees are owed unless they recover a settlement on your behalf. Initial consultations are typically free of charge and non-binding, allowing you to meet with several lawyers before making a decision about filing a lawsuit.
Need help finding a trustworthy attorney in your area? Lawsuit Info Center can help. We have the tools, resources, and contacts you need to get clarity on your car accident lawsuit. Get the justice you deserve – contact a lawyer now.