It's rare for car accident claims to go to court in the sense of a courtroom trial. More often than not, they get resolved through an out-of-court settlement. In fact, a skilled car accident lawyer can frequently get you money for a car accident without even needing to file a lawsuit.
But that's not always the case. Some car accident claims do end up in court. And it's often difficult to predict at the early stages whether a case will go to trial. That's why it's crucial to have an experienced lawyer in your corner who knows how to get you results in court and out
Most Car Accident Claims Settle Out of Court
Millions of car accidents happen in the United States every year. Nearly all of them cause property damage, victim injuries, or deaths the types of harm that can be the basis for a personal injury claim.
If all those claims were to go to court, the judicial system would be swamped. But they don't. In most cases, the parties involved in the crash and the insurance companies that issued coverage to them for car accident damages resolve claims for compensation through negotiated settlements.
A settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal claim out of court. In the typical car accident
settlement, an injured crash victim receives a payment in exchange for releasing liable parties and their insurers from all further crash-related liability. Settlements bring car accident claims to a definitive end in most cases. Once the parties have fulfilled their obligations under them, the claim concludes and usually cannot be revived.
Most car accident lawsuits get resolved through settlements because insurance companies and car accident lawyers who collectively deal with millions of claims per year have an in-depth understanding of claim values and tend to favor the efficiency and certainty of a mutual agreement to the unpredictability, effort, and expense of taking a case to court.
In other words, in most car accident claims, parties on both sides see no reason to fight with each other in court over who has liability or how much money should be paid since they all share similar views on how that fight would turn out. A settlement amounts to skipping the fight and going straight to the expected conclusion, saving everyone time, money, and risk.
Settlements are so common, in fact, that personal injury attorneys for injured car accident victims can frequently achieve them without even filing a lawsuit. If the evidence adequately supports the victim's claim of liability and damages, a lawyer can usually trigger settlement negotiations by submitting a claim for payment to an insurance company that issued accident coverage to the victim (a first-party claim) or an at-fault party (a third-party claim).
After verifying the claim's validity, an insurer will usually enter into discussions with the lawyer, culminating in a settlement offer. And if that offer covers the victim's financial losses and future needs or gets as close as possible to doing so, the lawyer will usually advise their client to accept it. (Lawyers cannot agree to settlements without their client's permission.)
Of course, that's not always what happens. Sometimes a lawyer does need to file a lawsuit against an at-fault party or insurance company to force those with liability to pay attention to a car accident claim.
But filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean a car accident claim will end up in a courtroom trial. Lawsuits trigger procedures by which a court oversees a claim. More often than not, by following those procedures, the parties to a car accident lawsuit eventually find a way to resolve the case before a trial starts.
But Some Car Accident Claims to Go to Trial
Despite the efficiency and certainty of settlements, however, some car accident claims will end up in a courtroom trial. Numerous factors can prevent the first settlement of a car accident claim.
They can include:
- Genuine disputes between the parties over liability or the appropriate amount of damages
- High stakes that make fighting worthwhile, such as a party facing liability for especially large damaged amounts
- The presence of legal or factual issues that one or both parties have reasons to want a court to resolve
- An at-fault party or insurer refusing to settle for personal or business reasons independent of the claim at issue
- A party taking an unrealistic or stubborn negotiating position
The potential reasons a personal injury case won't settle are difficult to predict before they arise. Lawyers can rarely size up a claim and tell you with certainty that it will settle for a particular amount. And whatever the reasons a settlement doesn't materialize, going to trial represents a significant step in any car accident claim.
That’s why, even though trials are relatively rare in car accident cases, it’s essential to have a lawyer on your side who has a solid track record of getting results not just through settlement but also via courtroom victories. Having a seasoned trial attorney in your corner gives you the best shot at a favorable outcome no matter which direction your case takes. And it signals to at-fault parties, insurance companies, and their representatives that they can’t take it for granted that you will settle your claim at all costs.
Court-Related Procedures That May Affect Your Case
A car accident case doesn’t need to go to trial, however, for court-related procedures to have a potential impact on it. And that’s another reason why hiring an experienced courtroom lawyer to handle your claim is critical.
For example, the process of achieving a favorable resolution to a car accident claim may involve:
- Giving a sworn testimony about the crash and your injuries in an interview with an opposing party’s lawyer, known as a deposition
- Engaging in formal exchanges of information with an opposing party through a process known as discovery
- Submitting written arguments to a court to advance your claim or give you leverage in settlement negotiations, a process known as motion practice
- Participating in court-ordered settlement conferences or mediation
The right lawyer for your car accident injury case has detailed familiarity with these procedures and how to navigate them to your advantage. It’s no exaggeration to say that a skilled lawyer can use these procedures to turn an average case into a slam-dunk one and to force the other side to increase their settlement offer dramatically.
By the same token, a car accident case can suffer significant setbacks if you don’t have a lawyer who can handle court-related procedures correctly.
For instance, it's essential to have a personal injury attorney by your side who can prepare you to give sworn testimony in a deposition and protect you from an opposing attorney's inappropriate questions or bullying tactics. Court-related procedures can create numerous pitfalls for unwary litigants to fall into if they're not careful and represented by an experienced advocate.
Who Decides if a Car Accident Case Goes to Court?
No single person decides if a car accident case goes to court. Numerous parties have decisions to make about whether a case will see the inside of a courtroom.
As the injured victim of a car accident, you get to decide whether to accept or reject a settlement offer from an at-fault party or insurance company. It’s also up to you whether to authorize your lawyer to file a lawsuit on your behalf. So, in those two senses, it’s your decision whether a case goes to court.
Of course, first, you’ll need a lawyer to negotiate a favorable settlement or prepare legal filings. You won’t have much of a choice to make if the parties with liability make only token offers (or no offers at all) or if your lawyer isn’t equipped to advocate for you in court.
On the flip side, the liable party or insurance company also has a consequential decision to make. An injured accident victim might be ready and willing to settle a case, only to find that despite their attorney’s best efforts, the opposing party has no interest in making a reasonable offer. Or conversely, a party with liability might be desperate enough to settle a car accident claim that they’ll make an offer so generous that the injured party has no choice but to accept.
Judges can also play a significant role in deciding if a case goes to trial. During the phase of a lawsuit known as motion practice, either party can ask a court to decide the case in their favor before trial. A judge who agrees with their arguments can issue a ruling that delivers a victory (or defeat) before either party sets foot in a courtroom.
What if I Don’t Want to Go to Court for My Car Accident Case?
It’s okay not to want to go to court. You’re not alone. With the exception of trial lawyers, many of whom absolutely love making arguments in front of a judge or jury, most people prefer not to have to endure the stress and anxiety of the courtroom.
The good news is, as noted above, chances are pretty slim that your car accident case will end up in court. But it’s not impossible. So, if you have an extreme aversion to participating in a trial more so than the average car accident victim, it’s usually a good idea to tell your lawyer about it as early as possible in your case. That way, your lawyer can try to navigate the negotiation process in a way that enhances the chances of a settlement.
Just don’t tell anyone else how you feel about courtrooms. Nothing will undermine the value of your car accident claim faster than letting an at-fault party or insurance carrier know that you’ll do anything to avoid a trial. Negotiating a favorable settlement of your claim can resemble a game of poker, where you can often take the pot without necessarily holding winning cards, so long as you don’t tip your hand.
Do I Really Need a Lawyer if My Car Accident Claim Will Probably Settle Anyway?
Yes, you really do need a lawyer. The probability of your case settling on favorable terms relates directly to the quality and experience of your attorney. Your odds of coming out of a car accident claim with a fair settlement plummet if you don’t have a qualified attorney fighting for you. No one, not defense lawyers, not insurance companies, not judges, and not juries takes an unrepresented car accident claim seriously.
Plus, hiring a lawyer has a wide range of benefits beyond ensuring that you have quality representation in settlement negotiations or at trial.
The right lawyer for your car accident claim will also have the resources and know-how to:
- Investigate your car accident to identify every party who may have liability to you
- Analyze insurance policies to determine if they cover your losses and, if so, for how much
- Handle all communications with insurance companies for you not just settlement negotiations
- Answer your questions and counsel you about important life decisions that could affect your rights
- Gather and organize the evidence needed to prove your claim
- Prepare the written submissions necessary to present your claim to an insurer or court
- Collect and disburse the money owed to you under a settlement or court award
A car accident lawyer will also probably agree to represent you on a contingent fee basis. That means it won’t cost you anything upfront to hire a lawyer who will begin working on your case immediately. Instead, the lawyer’s fee will consist of a percentage of any money recovered on your behalf. In other words, you only pay the lawyer if the lawyer wins for you.
What Happens After a Deposition in a Car Accident Case?
After a deposition, settlement negotiations might lead to an agreeable outcome for both sides. The vast majority of car accident cases settle sometime before going to trial. Litigation is expensive, and both sides are incentivized to avoid the extra costs. However, if a settlement does not occur, a case will likely go in front of a judge. If you’ve suffered injuries in a car accident and have filed a lawsuit with the help of your lawyer, you can expect to participate in a deposition. Or, maybe you have already been deposed. Either way, you might feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what comes next. Below we discuss what happens during a deposition and provide more information about the path your car accident case could take after a deposition.
Depositions Are Part of Discovery
Each civil lawsuit has four main stages. Before potentially settling a case during mediation, going to trial, and a possible appeal, both parties must engage in discovery, the first stage of a lawsuit.
Discovery refers to the formal exchange of information between plaintiffs and defendants before trial. Witnesses, plaintiffs, and defendants must answer questions under oath during a deposition. Although the questions are similar to those used in the courtroom, depositions happen outside of court. If they do not occur at one of the attorney’s offices, they occur at a neutral location.
If you bring a lawsuit against another driver, the driver’s attorney will typically conduct the deposition. This process allows both sides to discover the other party’s story. Lawyers on both sides can determine the strength of the deposition and decide how a court might react to a particular witness’s testimony.
Lawyers also typically depose expert witnesses and eyewitnesses to get a complete picture of the accident before going to trial. Depositions are less formal to the extent that those being deposed typically must answer all questions under oath, even if a lawyer objects to the question.
On a general level, depositions serve as fact-finding information sessions. They are often peaceful events. However, emotions sometimes play into a case, especially if lawyers dispute facts surrounding the car accident. A court reporter also attends a deposition, records all questions and answers, and prepares a transcript for the plaintiff and defendant(s). The final transcript is seldom admissible in court. Yet, if the witness cannot testify at trial or change their testimony in court, a lawyer can introduce the deposition as evidence.
Information About Car Accident Depositions
If you are scheduled to give a deposition, you might be nervous and unsure about what to expect. You want to answer the questions correctly and ensure your answers match the statements you gave law enforcement after the car accident. You can expect your lawyer to prepare you for your deposition, so you know the types of questions you will likely have to answer under oath. Answering truthfully but not offering more information than necessary is key.
Common information that people must provide in a car accident deposition includes:
You need to verify your identity during a deposition. This is done by providing personal information, including your full name, street address, and other facts like your email, phone number, and place of employment. You might also be asked if you’ve been involved in previous car accident claims in recent years.
Prior Health Status
The defendant’s legal team typically questions car accident victims to learn about any preexisting conditions they had before the accident. They use this information to avoid financial liability by downplaying injuries. If you have a preexisting condition, the other side will argue that your pain and suffering exist because of your condition instead of the injuries you sustained in the car accident. You should notify your lawyer about any prior health issues, so they can prepare to fight the insurance company on this matter.
Facts About the Car Crash
During your deposition, the defense will want to learn about all the facts related to the car accident, including the time leading up to the accident and how the accident occurred from your perspective.
Your lawyer will discuss this portion of your testimony with you so that the details you share during your deposition match the official accident report you filed with law enforcement. It’s best to answer questions about the accident as honestly as possible. If you don’t remember a specific fact or detail, it’s best not to make up an answer. It’s okay that you do not remember.
Information About Your Injuries
The outcome of your car accident case partially lies with your injuries. If the other party is liable for damages, the amount you can recover hinges on the economic and noneconomic losses you’ve incurred because of your injuries. Severe injuries translate to a higher value claim and a bigger payout, so questions about your injuries are another large part of your deposition.
You, and other relevant parties who get deposed, need to provide a detailed account of your injuries, details about the treatment plan you received from your doctor, and the extent to which you followed your treatment plan. The other side will look for ways to avoid financial liability.
For example, they might argue that your injuries are worse because you didn’t follow your treatment plan. Answers to questions during this part of the deposition sometimes lead to lawyers calling upon medical experts to speak about your injuries and treatment.
How Your Injuries Have Impacted Your Life
Car accidents that lead to injuries are often traumatic and life-changing events. Mental anguish and financial burden often accompany the physical pain of injury. You can expect to answer questions about your life after the car accident at your deposition.
These questions focus on your quality of life and allow you to share your experiences with the other side; some might be specific, and others might be broad, giving you a chance to provide specific examples.
Topics covered in the questions and answers about how injuries have affected someone’s life include:
- Events and activities you’ve missed out on since the accident.
- Everyday tasks that you can or cannot perform since the accident.
- Feelings about scars or other permanent injuries.
- Ways your injuries have impacted your marital, parental, and other social relationships.
- Your ability to return to work.
- Stress resulting from massive medical bills and the inability to work, including any financial hardship such as foreclosure, eviction, repossession, etc.
- Trauma stemming from the accident impacts your ability to drive or ride in a vehicle.
Reviewing Deposition Transcripts in a Car Accident Case
Once the court reporter prepares the final transcript from a deposition, each party receives a copy. Attorneys carefully review the deposition transcript to look for mistakes or inconsistencies. You can expect your lawyer to review the transcript with you, allowing you to highlight any errors you notice.
Sometimes reviewing the deposition reveals holes in the case. In these situations, a lawyer might schedule one or more additional depositions to gather more information from additional witnesses. After reviewing the deposition transcripts from your car accident case, your lawyer should be able to give you a rough idea of how a judge or jury might react to the testimonies.
Requests for Additional Medical Exams
Immediately after your car accident, you probably went to the nearest emergency room to seek treatment. Repeated medical treatment likely involves your primary physician and maybe a specialist or two. After deposition, the other side often wants more information about a plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant’s insurance company will likely ask for a medical exam in car accident cases.
The idea is to get an independent medical examination from an unbiased doctor. However, insurance carriers like to send people to a doctor of their choosing who will downplay injuries or try to find other causes for the injuries. If you have to undergo another medical exam, your attorney might request more information from your doctor to support your claim.
Additional Settlement Negotiations
Once someone contacts a lawyer after a car accident, filing a lawsuit is not typically the first step. In most cases, a car accident victim’s lawyer sends a demand letter to the other party’s insurance company to recover damages.
The demand letter might initiate an insurance claim if the car accident victim has not filed one already. In most cases, the demand letter is the starting point for settlement negotiations. When settlement negotiations don’t lead to an agreement, bringing a lawsuit is the next step.
After a deposition, both sides have a deeper understanding of the circumstances surrounding the accident, liability, and the scope of injuries. This new viewpoint often brings both parties back to the table to negotiate a settlement. Going to trial is expensive, so both sides have a reason to come to a fair agreement.
After discovery, including depositions, negotiations may continue in your case. It’s also likely your lawyer will successfully negotiate a settlement because most traffic accident cases settle, sometimes hours before trial. Of course, you must agree to the settlement. Your lawyer will guide you on the right decision, but the choice is yours.
If your case settles, you must sign documents and agree that you will not seek further compensation for the same event or injuries. The other party, most likely the insurance company, will issue a check within a few weeks. In most cases, auto insurance providers send the settlement check to the plaintiff’s lawyer.
In most cases, the lawyer deducts attorney fees and other costs of representation from the settlement amount, pays any unpaid medical bills, and gives the remainder to the client. Most car accident victims do not see any settlement money for at least a month after they sign the necessary documents.
Going to Trial: When Settlement Negotiations Fail
Sometimes settlement negotiations still fail after deposition in a car accident case. After weeks or months of continued negotiation, your lawyer or the other side might withdraw from negotiations and decide to go to trial. This does not occur often and typically results from major disputes over liability. If your case goes to trial, you and the defendant will testify in court.
Your lawyer might also call for medical experts, accident reconstruction experts, eyewitnesses, and other witnesses to support your claim to testify. Lawyers on both sides will refute or verify testimony with transcripts from your deposition and other depositions.
Once both sides have presented their arguments to the court, a judge or jury will decide. If you win your car accident lawsuit, the court will award you compensation for damages related to the accident and your injuries. Receiving payment for court-awarded damages works the same as receiving payment for a settlement. The defendant, more specifically, their insurance company, will send payment within a few weeks. Expect your lawyer to deduct fees and other costs, pay unpaid medical expenses, and send any balance your way.
Let an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Help
Insurance companies love telling people they do not need an attorney to deal with car accident claims. However, this is not typically the best strategy for car accident victims. Car accident lawyers understand the law and how to apply it to a particular case to get the best outcome for their clients.
It’s always best to let a car accident attorney help you through the claims process and protect your rights, especially when bringing a lawsuit is necessary. Your attorney can prepare you for a deposition, depose others to support your claim, and prepare your case for trial if settlement negotiations don’t go well after a deposition. Let an experienced car accident attorney handle the details of your car accident claim while you focus on healing from your injuries.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
Don’t wait to get legal advice after getting hurt in a car accident. You may have limited time to take action before your rights to compensation begin to expire.
To learn more about your potential car accident claim, contact a skilled personal injury attorney in Myrtle Beach, SC today for a free case evaluation.