Pursuing a car accident lawsuit can be a difficult and stressful process for most people. It has multiple stages that can be lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive.
Most car accident settlements, however, do usually end up settling out of court. But each case and car accident lawsuit are different, and there are always several other factors to consider.
If you choose to pursue a settlement offer before filing a car accident lawsuit, you may see several advantages with this process. You may be able to receive the compensation faster, avoid high attorney’s fees for having to go to court, avoid having to make an appearance at several hearings, and you can also avoid what could ultimately be an unpredictable decision made by the jury.
A demand letter typically marks the beginning of the settlement process and is a standard way of attempting to settle outside of court. However, it requires a bit of preparation and time to successfully complete a demand letter.
If you were treated for medical injuries following the accident, you should be sure you have obtained a copy of all the medical records associated with the accident. You should also request the amount of time you have missed work from your employer that also shows the salary and hours that have been missed due to the car accident. Gathering all information regarding liability is also suggested to include with the demand letter including the damages that have been done to the motor vehicle.
If the demand letter did not initiate settlement offer talks, then you may have to go to court and file the car accident lawsuit as originally planned in order to receive the compensation you deserve.
In this article, we will guide you through the 7 main stages of a lawsuit you need to know about from start to finish. These stages are:
Stage 1: Filing a Lawsuit
Your first priority following the car accident will be assessing the damage to yourself and your motor vehicle and filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. If for some reason their insurance company denies the claim, or your expenses exceed their policy limits, your only choice may be to file a lawsuit.
Once you have decided that legal action is necessary, your personal injury lawyer will file a lawsuit. Suits that are related to personal injuries are civil lawsuits, which are also known as personal injury or tort cases. A lawsuit begins when a complaint petition is filed with the local court.
The complaint your lawyer files will explain the allegations that you (the plaintiff) are making against the other driver who is referred to as the defendant. It will also detail the compensation that you are requesting. It may also spell out the legal theory or precedents that you will be citing in your case.
At this point, your lawyer will locate the defendant and serve the complaint to them. This basically means that a copy of the complaint will be hand-delivered to the defendant. In most cases, a process server is used.
It is now the other driver’s turn to respond. Almost all car insurance policies require the policyholder to notify the insurance company if they are being sued after a collision.
Once the defendant has been served the complaint, they will then be given a set amount of time to respond to the lawsuit. The response can either admit guilt and discuss a car accident settlement offer, or deny the allegations of the claim altogether.
In some cases, they may also make a counterclaim, which indicates that they believe you also contributed to the incident and are responsible for your own injuries and expenses.
If counterclaims are part of the response, you will have a set amount of time to respond to the counterclaims.
The other driver involved in the lawsuit will typically have up to twenty days to respond to the complaint. If at any time during the car accident claim process, before any verdict is entered, a settlement offer can still be reached. Just because you have decided to proceed with a lawsuit, does not mean that you are giving up your ability to settle the car accident claim outside of court.
Stage 2: Preliminary Motions
The next stage in your car accident lawsuit is the preliminary motions. These are essentially “trial before a trial” hearings in front of the judge to discuss the details of your lawsuit.
It’s important to learn about these proceedings because it is very possible that the defendant (and their lawyers) will make preliminary motions that can negatively affect your case.
Here are just a few of the more common preliminary motions in lawsuits:
- Motion to dismiss: This is the big one. If the judge agrees to dismiss the case, then it is all over. The motion to dismiss does not necessarily dispute the facts of the case but would argue that no relief or compensation is warranted or that you missed the deadline to file the case. In most cases, the motion to dismiss is based on technicalities.
A motion to dismiss may also be subject to the lack of subject matter jurisdiction which means that the court does not have the power to rule on the case in question. It is usually dependent on state laws.
- Motion for change of venue: This argues the case should be moved to a different courthouse or jurisdiction.
- Motion for a change of judge: This is a request to move your case to a different judge. If the new judge tends to be stricter on lawsuits, this could be detrimental to your case.
- Motion for removal: This motion requests that the case is moved from state to federal court. In these cases, the defendant’s attorney believes that federal law is in play or if the defendant is from another state.
Stage 3: Pre-Trial Litigation
If the pretrial motion to dismiss (if the defendant asks for one) is unsuccessful the judge will now set a trial date.
It is also possible that the judge will request that you enter into mediation and try to resolve the case and reach a car accident settlement offer without a trial. In mediation, both parties meet with a neutral third-party who attempts to bring both you and the defendant to a mutually agreeable outcome for the claim.
Mediation is a very structured process and can also be pretty informal. The attorneys will first meet with the mediator and discuss their side of the case, and then the mediator will meet with each attorney separately on a more individual basis to discuss the details.
After meeting with both sides, the mediator will offer their advice concerning the case and will hopefully end with a compromise and settlement offer that is suitable for all parties involved.
Mediation can be a powerful and helpful tool for any car accident lawsuit because a neutral party is introduced and information that may not have been previously recognized may come to light. However, mediation can also become a very costly endeavor and ultimately a waste of time if no compromise or agreement is reached at the end.
Stage 4: Discovery
If mediation is unsuccessful and no car accident settlement offer has been reached, the process of discovery begins for both you and the defendant.
During discovery, lawyers in the case will research and investigate the facts as they relate to your case. They will interview witnesses, take depositions, and examine all other documents (such as police reports).
All documents and evidence gathered during the discovery process must be shared with the other party’s lawyer.
All of the research and documents collected concerning the automobile accident will be used as evidence during the trial. It should be noted that the discovery process can take a very long time and in some cases the trial date may be set back due to a lengthy discovery.
Interrogatories are typically one of the first elements of discovery and is simply a list of questions that will be sent to the opposing party regarding the details of the claim. For a car accident lawsuit, interrogatories can prove to be very helpful because it is a way to clearly outline key information regarding the car accident lawsuit in reference to the injuries they are claiming. In addition, they will also answer questions regarding lost wages, medical treatment costs and duration, inquiries about witnesses, details of the accident, medications being taken during the automobile accident, and other questions relating to the state of the other person.
While the questions may seem very personal in nature, the courts and judge will allow them to follow through with the inquiries to shed much needed light on the case. If you receive interrogatories to answer, always be sure to answer by the determined deadline and answer each question as accurately and truthfully as possible.
Stage 5: Summary Judgment
During the discovery process it is possible that either you or the defendant will ask the judge for a summary judgment.
If your personal injury attorney believes that the evidence you have collected proves your point and supports your request for compensation for the automobile accident, then your personal injury attorney will file a motion for summary judgment. A summary judgment motion asks the judge to decide the case without a trial based on all of the evidence collected during discovery.
On the other hand, if the defendant’s lawyer believes that the evidence gathered during the discovery process shows that you could not possibly win if the case goes to trial, they will ask for a summary judgment in their favor, which will essentially dismiss the case.
Regardless of who files a motion for summary judgment, they must also include all evidence that supports your request as well as a memo from your attorney explaining the legal theories that support your request. The judge can either grant the motion or deny it. If your motion for summary judgment is denied, your next step is trial.
Stage 6: Getting a Settlement
Most people think they receive a settlement check at the end of the lawsuit process. However, that’s not true.
You can actually receive an offer for a car accident settlement during any point in the lawsuit process. In some cases, the defendant will put the offer forward before the discovery process starts.
In many cases, if the evidence gathered during the discovery process is ambiguous or does not completely prove liability, taking this payment offer may be your best option.
If you agree on the amount and accept the defendant’s offer you will be required to relinquish all future claims against the defendant which arise may because of this incident. This is handled by signing a full liability release. At this point, the case will be dismissed.
Most cases that involve an insurance company will end in a settlement.
Most times the settlement compensation will be sent to the personal injury attorney and will then be put into a trust. All liens and fees will be paid, and the plaintiff will then receive the remainder of the payment.
Stage 7: Going to Trial
At this point in your lawsuit, if a settlement or summary judgment has not been reached, the trial will begin. There are 2 types of trials: a bench trial and a jury trial.
A bench trial simply means that only a judge will hear the evidence and will decide the case.
If you have a jury trial, the jury will decide the facts of the case and if the defendant is liable. They will also determine what type of compensation you will be awarded.
It is important to remember that a settlement can be reached even during the trial phase.
Once the trial is concluded, either party can decide to appeal the decision. The appeals process can drag on for months or even years.
Once all possible appeals have been exhausted, the defendant will be required to pay the damages awarded during the original trial or the appeals process.
The length of your trial will vary depending on the complexity of your case but expect to be in court for several days.
Starting a car accident lawsuit can be a challenging, stressful, and lengthy process.
If you have been injured in a car accident and are considering filing a lawsuit, keep these following tips in mind:
- Hire an experienced trial attorney or personal injury attorney
- Keep an eye out for pretrial motions that can affect your case
- Thorough discovery is key to your case
- If you are confident in your case, ask for a summary judgment
- Settlement is always an option and is a common outcome
If you have been injured in an auto accident, it is always recommended to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable and reputable trial attorney or personal injury attorney to help guide you through the process from start to finish. They will be able to answer any and all questions you have, will ensure that all the proper documentation is gathered, and all paperwork is filed before the deadline, and they will be able to help you receive the proper damages and compensation you deserve following the accident for your injuries and even pain and suffering.
An attorney will also be able to help navigate the sometimes complex discussions with the car insurance company and insurance adjuster when you file the initial car accident claim. They may even be able to help you receive punitive damages.
Punitive damages are damages that exceed simple compensation and are typically awarded to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are a way to get the defendant to think about what has been done and hopefully prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future.
However, punitive damages may be seen as widely controversial depending on the state you are residing, and some states have placed limits on how much can be awarded in punitive damages for a car accident lawsuit.
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