When your insurance company fails to offer you a fair settlement in the wake of a car accident, it may be time to take matters into your own hands. While many people have heard of small claims court, few of us have ever needed to file a car accident case there. If the damages you sustained in a car accident are relatively minor, though, you may want to consider representing yourself in small claims court.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to do your research before entering into a new legal battle, especially one that you’re fighting on your own. While filing a case in small claims court is typically very easy, it pays to do your homework. Understanding exactly what to expect when you file a car accident case in small claims court will prepare you for what lies ahead.
Before you bring your car accident claim to small claims court, you’ll want to consider exactly what damages you’re seeking. Typically, personal injury claims do not belong in small claims court. These claims often seek compensation far greater than the small claims court maximums. Instead, most car accident claims brought to small claims court involve vehicle damages sustained in a collision.
In order to recover compensation for damages you sustained in a wreck, you’ll need to prove that you were driving safely while the other motorist was negligent. This is easy to prove when the other driver was cited for breaking a law involving traffic safety, but is less clear when no one was charged. If you think you’ll struggle to prove that the other driver was indeed responsible for the accident, you may want to rethink filing a claim.
Should you decide to proceed, you’ll need to file paperwork to initiate your claim. Typically a fill-in-the-blanks form, the paperwork should be available on your local Clerk of Court website. A small filing fee will be required, but should you win your case, this will be paid back to you by the person you are suing. You’ll also need this paperwork delivered to the other driver. Many people opt to hire a process server to deliver it on their behalf. The cost can also be factored into your settlement should you win.
Filing an accident claim can be intimidating, but smalls claims courts are designed to be as simple as possible. Ordinary citizens without any experience or training file such lawsuits every day. Every state has their own policies and procedures surrounding small claims court, but generally, you’ll be required to submit written questions for your opponent. The questions, called Interrogatories, will be answered under oath. Your opponent will also be offered the chance to submit their own Interrogatories for you to answer. Fail to do so, and you could be penalized by the judge or have your case dismissed altogether.
Winning Your Case
To be successful in small claims court, you’ll need to prove that the other driver’s negligence led to your accident. You’ll also need proof that the damages you sustained add up to the amount you’re seeking to recover. Proving both your liability and your damages is necessary in order to win your case. Prepare evidence to support both aspects of the claim before heading into court.
Once inside the courtroom, you’ll be required to testify. Should the defense question liability, be prepared to call witnesses to testify on your behalf. If there were no witnesses to your accident, consider other ways you can prove that the incident occurred the way you said it did. Look to the way the vehicles were damaged, the portion of the road where the incident occurred or show photographs of the scene. By coming to court prepared for anything, you’ll impress the judge and gain a lot of their respect.
Should you win your case, you’ll likely receive payment from the other driver’s insurance company. If they did not have insurance at the time of the collision, though, you may be fighting an uphill battle to get the settlement you’ve been awarded. When a person fails to voluntarily pay the judgment, you can request that their wages be garnished. Do your homework on your local small claims court procedures to determine the best path forward.
Fighting for justice can be incredibly frustrating, but our court system gives every citizen the right to pursue damages in the wake of an accident. If you’re struggling to get the compensation you deserve from the insurance company, don’t be afraid to represent yourself. If you’re curious about how much your claim could be worth, check out Lawsuit Info Center’s car accident settlement calculator. It’s just one of the many tools available to those seeking justice after a collision.