Often, at least one party bears responsibility for the wreck after a car accident. That person may also bear responsibility for compensating the victim for their losses, including lost income, medical bills, and vehicle damage.
Every car accident is unique. In the same way, specific state laws on insurance claims following a roadway accident are also unique. Most of the generalities are not victims and the responsible parties must notify their insurance companies about the accident, for example. Consulting a car accident lawyer can provide you with valuable guidance and ensure you navigate the legal aspects of your case appropriately.
Here are some other steps that most cases take on their way to a car accident lawsuit.
What Are the Steps Before Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit?
Filing a lawsuit is never the first step in dealing with a victim's financial losses after a car accident. There are multiple steps, including seeking medical care, reporting the accident to the insurance company, and contacting a car accident lawyer.
Other steps include:
- Gathering evidence of liability - One of the first things which must be accomplished is determining liability for a car accident. This is done through several sources of information, including police reports, traffic camera footage, and witness statements.
- Gathering information regarding losses - A successful car accident lawsuit must prove the financial losses a victim suffers. Gathering information, including medical bills, receipts for expenses incurred because of an injury, and demonstrating income losses, are compiled to file an appropriate claim.
- Submission of settlement demand - A car accident injury lawyer will submit a settlement request to the insurance company. However, the insurer will likely reject the first demand in nearly all cases and may return with a counteroffer.
- Negotiating with the insurance company - The victim's lawyer will enter negotiations on behalf of their client to reach a reasonable settlement with an insurance company. Should the negotiations fail, or if the statute of limitations is approaching, the lawyer may consult with their client and file a car accident lawsuit.
Nearly all personal injury cases, according to The Law Dictionary, settle outside of court. However, in many cases, a lawsuit is filed to protect the victim's interest if the parties cannot reach a reasonable settlement.
What Are the 8 Steps in a Car Accident Lawsuit?
Numerous steps occur when insurance negotiations break down, and a lawyer files to open a lawsuit. While these steps may vary depending on the state, here is what can be expected in most cases.
Step One: Filing a Complaint
The victim's lawyer will file the initial complaint against the driver who caused the car accident. This is done in a court that has jurisdiction over civil cases. The complaint will include specifics, including accident details and the injuries caused by the accident, and it will define the legal basis for filing the claim.
The complaint may also contain the compensation sought on the victim's behalf. Remember, while this is considered a civil case, the victim is the person who will be hereafter known as the plaintiff, and the responsible party will be known as the defendant.
Step Two: Response From Defendant
Once the lawsuit has been filed with the court, the party responsible for the accident is notified. As part of the notification of the suit, the defendant will be provided a specific time frame in which they or their attorney must file a response to the claim. The response may include admitting or denying they were responsible for the accident that caused the victim's injuries.
Step Three: The Discovery Phase
During this phase, the plaintiff and defendant will share information. The evidence in the case will also be shared. Remember, each party may present conflicting information. However, some items will be identical, such as the police report.
At this time, both the plaintiff and defendant will have the opportunity to conduct depositions. The depositions are statements made by witnesses to the accidents or other parties. These are sworn testimony and conducted under oath.
Step Four: Pre-Trial Motions
While this may seem unusual, it is an essential step. Both the defendant and plaintiff can make requests to the court. Some of the most common motions are motions to dismiss a car accident lawsuit. The defendant or their legal counsel typically makes this motion on the grounds that the case lacks a legal basis.
The plaintiff's lawyer will typically make a motion for a summary judgment. This means they are asking the court to find in their favor. There may be other motions made by either party, including motions to remove specific evidence from being part of the trial.
Step Six: Car Accident Trials
Sometimes car accident lawsuits take place before a judge only, or a jury may hear them. During the trial, the lawyers will present their cases. There will be a presentation of evidence and testimony from witnesses. Expert witnesses are usually called to confirm the victim's physical and psychological condition during a life-altering injury. In addition to a medical witness, the victim's lawyer may also call an actuarial witness who will help the court or the jury understand the financial losses the victim will face if they cannot return to work.
Once both lawyers have presented the relevant information in a car accident lawsuit, the judge or jury will evaluate all the evidence. They will then have to determine who is liable for the accident and what damages, if any, should be awarded.
Step Seven: Verdict and Judgment
When a settlement is not or cannot be reached in a car accident case, and the case is heard in court, a judge or jury will issue a verdict. Should the ruling favor the victim, then the court will also issue a final judgment amount.
Typically, in car accident lawsuits, the compensation will include lost income, property damage, medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering. Depending on multiple factors, the court may include other damages which the victim's lawyer requested.
Step Eight: Appealing the Verdict or Judgment
While not every car accident claim winds up in court, once it has and a verdict has been reached, each party may have the right to file an appeal. It is important to understand an appeal is not a second trial. Instead, it is an argument against the original verdict or judgment.
In most cases, either side can appeal within 30 days. Either the plaintiff or the defendant may file an appeal.
- Defendant appeals - The defendant may appeal on the grounds that the original verdict, which found them liable for the car accident, was incorrect based on the information presented during the original car accident lawsuit. There is no ability to provide additional testimony, evidence, or information during an appeal.
- Victim's appeal - Generally, if a victim appeals, it is because the court found against them or because they feel the judgment was inadequate. Therefore, the appellate court judge would review the submitted information, and they would decide whether there should be any changes to the original settlement amount.
Lawsuits are expensive. Appeals are also costly and time-consuming. Few people appeal car accident lawsuit verdicts and judgments.
Car Accident Lawyers and Lawsuits
While it is true that most car accident claims do not result in a lawsuit, the potential that a lawsuit may be necessary is a very good reason for a car accident victim to seek help from a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after a car accident.
Hiring a lawyer early on may help a victim with:
- Filing a claim with the insurer
- Preparing a complete settlement demand
- Negotiating with the insurance company
- Engaging with the responsible party's lawyer
- Preparing for potential lawsuit filing
- Working with experts when needed
Car accident lawyers will typically offer a car accident victim a free consultation. During the consultation, based on the information provided by the victim, they will evaluate the strength of the case the victim has presented.
Should the lawyer and client agree there are grounds to pursue a claim, the two will enter into a retainer agreement. The retainer will outline the steps a lawyer may take on behalf of the client. Additionally, the retainer will explain the lawyer's fees.
In most car accident cases, lawyers will work on a contingency fee basis. This means that the victim will not pay any legal fees unless and until the lawyer is able to get a settlement or judgment for the victim.
However, this does not mean other fees may not be associated with the case. Victims should ask about other fees they may be responsible for if the car accident lawyer cannot secure a settlement on their behalf.
What Are the Time Frames for Car Accident Lawsuits?
Like every car accident is unique, every car accident lawsuit is unique. The time it takes to complete a case will vary depending on several factors, which include:
- The victim's physical condition - A full claim cannot be submitted until the extent of the victim's injuries are clear. Once the victim has reached maximum medical improvement, their car accident lawyer can proceed with the claim.
- Negotiations with insurers - A car accident lawsuit is typically not pursued until negotiations have completely broken down. It is only at this time when a lawyer will file a lawsuit. Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. It is typically in the victim's and family's best interest to resolve the case sooner rather than later.
- Court schedule - Some timing will depend on the court's schedule. The busier the court, the more time it takes to get a car accident lawsuit on the docket.
Victims should discuss timeframes with their lawyer, understanding that numerous factors could impact the estimated time to complete a car accident lawsuit.
What Happens After a Car Accident Lawsuit?
Once a lawsuit judgment has been offered to the victim and all legalities are complete, the victim may be asked to sign a document indicating they will not seek any further compensation for their injuries from the responsible party.
Once that document is signed, in most cases, a check will be issued to the victim's lawyer. Fees associated with representing the victim and other fees will be disbursed in accordance with the fee agreement the victim signed when they hired their car accident lawyer. Once those fees are deducted, the lawyer will submit the settlement balance to the client.
Car accident lawsuits are complicated, so having a car accident lawyer who has experience handling these cases is essential. No car accident victim should ever attempt to represent themselves, even when filing a car accident claim.
Never fight for compensation on your own behalf. Always hire a skilled personal injury lawyer in Myrtle Beach to represent you. Setting up a consultation is free and will allow victims to learn their legal rights and options.