Car accidents are an unfortunate but common occurrence. Some smaller accidents are able to be sorted out by the insurance companies, but in some instances, you may need to file a lawsuit. This can be a complex process with rules and guidelines that you may not be aware of. Regardless of whether you reach a settlement or go to court, it is always good to know exactly what you need to do, when it needs to be done, and what your rights are along the way.
Deciding to File a Car Accident Lawsuit
Oftentimes, a lawsuit is not even necessary after a car accident. It is more common for these types of claims to be settled out of court than to ever go to trial. Most people prefer to avoid going to court as it can add unwanted time, hassle, and costs as well as introduce the potential of losing in court or not getting fully compensated for any injuries and property damage. However, there are circumstances where the different sides are unable to come to an agreement over things like evidence and liability and are left with no other option but to bring the matter to trial.
Most states are considered at-fault states, meaning that whoever is responsible for causing the accident is the one who is responsible for paying for damages. There are twelve states that are considered no-fault states, meaning that the parties involved are responsible for their own damages regardless of who actually caused the accident.
In at-fault states such as California, the insurance company of the at-fault party may be reluctant to pay the injured party fair compensation. It is common for insurance companies to offer quick settlements for far lower than needed or deserved. While settling out of court may be the best option, it is not advisable to just automatically take the first offer given. It can be beneficial to consult with an attorney to be sure that you are receiving the best outcome to recover any damages incurred.
Unfortunately, if you are injured in a car accident and the insurance company denies liability or refuses to offer a fair settlement, it may be necessary to take the matter to court.
Should You Settle or Sue?
The main thing to figure out when determining if you should sue is how much your car accident claim is worth. After totaling all of the losses and damages incurred from the car accident and calculating any future costs, you and your lawyer may determine what a fair settlement would be. If the insurance company does not want to pay a fair amount and cannot be negotiated with, then it may be necessary to file a lawsuit.
The question becomes how big of a gap does their have to be between what is determined to be fair and what the insurance company is offering? The idea of fair compensation is not usually an exact number, but more of a range from the lowest to highest reasonable amount. Intangible non-economic damages such as pain and suffering can cause some flexibility in the numbers.
The insurance company may give you a settlement offer that is at or right below the minimum of the range, but still a fair outcome. In these instances, it may be worth it to take the settlement rather than spend the extra money going to court at the risk of not getting anything. These decisions are best made with your lawyer’s guidance.
Proving Negligence in a Car Accident Lawsuit
When it comes to proving liability in a car accident case, there are four key elements:
- Establishing that the defendant owed a duty of care – All drivers are responsible for ensuring the safety of those around them.
- Establishing that the defendant breached that duty of care – A driver may cause an accident by violating a traffic law.
- Establishing the consequences of the accident – There must be proof that the accident directly resulted in some kind of damages.
- Establishing proof of cause – There must be proof that the damages were directly caused by the accident that was directly caused by the other driver’s negligence.
Car Accident Lawsuit Process
Not every personal injury claim is automatically a lawsuit. The parties involved will often come together and go over the details of the situation and provide everyone with a full understanding of the facts. At this point, the parties will agree whether a settlement can be reached or if the matter needs to be taken to court.
After a car accident, the most important priorities are medical treatment and gathering evidence. It is important to gather and preserve any relevant evidence as soon as possible. Photos, video, and eyewitness accounts can be vital in establishing exactly what happened and proving fault.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
After the initial immediate medical needs have been handled, the next important thing to do is to call a car accident lawyer. Regardless of how you may decide to move forward, seeking legal advice for your situation can be beneficial. Accident attorneys can help guide you in the right direction for your situation, whether to accept a settlement, and how to win a car accident lawsuit.
There are many different types of evidence that can be helpful for a claim after a car accident. Photos of the property damage and injuries, nearby security footage of the accident itself, medical records, police reports, and witness statements all can be collected and used to prove what happened. Medical bills, mechanic receipts, and pay stubs can also be used to prove the economic damages.
Car Accident Documentation
If you hire a lawyer, they can help you gather and put together all the evidence from the crash and use that evidence to show what happened and how the accident occurred, prove the other party’s liability, and illustrate the damages and losses you suffered as a result.
Medical records and accident scene photos can be used to show the severity of the crash itself. Expert witnesses can be found such as police, doctors, and mechanics who can help explain the intricacies of what happened and the severity of the consequences.
After the attorneys and the insurance company have conducted their own investigations into the accident, they will begin to negotiate with each other to try and come to an agreement on a fair amount of compensation to settle on without going to court.
These negotiations can be trying and stressful, which is one of the reasons why it is in your best interest to have a skilled car accident attorney handle the process for you. If a fair settlement cannot be reached, your attorney can help you bring the matter to court.
File Car Accident Lawsuit
Unfortunately, sometimes it is not possible for both parties to agree to a settlement amount and the injured party may need to file a lawsuit via formal legal complaint submitted to the court and served to the person they are suing. The defendant then has a specific time frame in which to respond. The actual filing of the proper documents is something that an attorney can do for you. There are many steps in a car accident lawsuit, and a good accident lawyer can help you through each one.
Discovery is the part of litigation where the respective sides collect information from each other. They request and exchange documents and evidence relevant to the claims being made or refuted. These can include photos, medical records, police reports, repair shop receipts, and anything else related to the accident. This is also the time that the respective parties would submit specific questions to each other in the form of an itemized list known as interrogatories. These questions would have to be answered under oath within a specific time frame.
Car Accident Lawsuit Deposition
Depositions are another form of discovery. This is when the attorney sits down with someone who has relevant information related to the case. During the deposition, the attorney asks any questions they have about the accident. People who may be called in for a deposition can include the people who were in the cars, eyewitnesses, the police who responded to the scene, paramedics and doctors who provided treatment, and anyone they have reason to believe could provide useful information.
Car Accident Police Reports
When the police respond to the scene of a car accident, they will draft a report of the incident. This report will provide the details of what happened, all information they are abler to collect, any evidence found, and statements provided by those involved as well as statements and contact information from any witnesses.
The report taken and filed by the police is a key piece of evidence that is used to help determine liability and assess damages. It is often one of the first pieces of evidence collected and is useful throughout the entire proceedings.
It is advised when speaking to the police at the scene of an accident to be aware that you may not know whether or not you are injured or what the extent of the damage is. If you are involved in an accident and do not immediately feel pain or detect injuries, it is better to saw that you are unsure if you are injured rather than claim that you are not. If you tell the police you’re fine, and then detect injuries later on, your claim will contradict the police report.
Car Accident Settlement Negotiations
There is no specific point in time as to when a settlement must be reached. The parties involved can decide to settle at any time. Generally, with car accident lawsuits, settlements are reached after the discovery phase. When all of the evidence is shared and laid out, it may become obvious that one side has a definite advantage and that everyone would be better off settling rather than dragging the matter out in court.
Sometimes, if a settlement cannot be reached, in order to avoid going to court, one party may file a motion for summary judgement. This means that they claim the evidence and the law are completely on their side and that there is no way that they would lose if the matter went to trial. A judge would review and make the final decision.
Another way to attempt to reach a settlement and avoid a trial is through mediation. During this process, an impartial mediator would be brought in to help both parties negotiate and find a settlement agreement that feels fair for everyone.
Car Accident Lawsuit & Trial
If none of this is successful, the matter will go to trial. While many car accident cases may only spend a few days in court, there is no telling how long any specific case may go on for. Sometimes these types of cases are determined by a bench trial, which is when the final decision is made by a judge, and sometimes they are determined by a jury trial.
Even if the matter is taken to court, the parties involved may still decide to reach a settlement before the final decision is made.
There is also the option to appeal a trial outcome that does not end in your favor. The appeal process can be time consuming, stressful, and expensive. Sometimes, if a party sees that the trial is not going their way, they may threaten to appeal in order to convince the other party to agree to a settlement.
How Long Will a Car Accident Lawsuit Last?
There is no set estimate for how long a car accident lawsuit can take. Some may be resolved in months, while others may not be resolved for years. There are multiple factors that contribute to the time frame of the claims process. The time in which a car accident lawsuit can last can depend on the strategy used by both parties as well as the likelihood of both parties coming to a settlement agreement.
Car Accident Lawsuit Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the time frame in which you have to file a claim. A lawsuit for injuries sustained in a car accident is considered a personal injury case. According to California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is two years from the date the injury occurred. However, there are some instances that may allow for exceptions.
The insurance companies have their own time limits regarding when you have to report an accident and file a claim with them and may vary from company to company.
Damages You Can Recover in a Car Accident Lawsuit
There are many different types of damages that a person might claim after a car accident, such as:
- Emotional Distress
- Loss of consortium
- Lost wages/earning potential
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Punitive damages
Contact Mesriani Law Group If You Have Been in a Car Accident
Getting into an auto accident can be a stressful ordeal. Dealing with injuries, property damage, insurance companies, and all the intricacies of filing a claim is difficult enough without the added complication and stress of going to court. Hiring an accident lawyer can be beneficial on many levels, guiding you in how to file a car accident claim and giving you someone to handle the details so that you can focus on healing. Our law firm has personal injury attorneys who are experienced, hardworking, and dedicated to getting you the compensation you deserve. If you have been injured in a car accident, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.
Filing a Car Accident FAQs
How long do most car accident settlements take?
Depending on the details of the situation, it could take several months to over a year for the parties involved in a car accident claim to reach a settlement. Simple cases with straightforward facts and obvious liability may take less time if everyone is in agreement. More complicated cases where there is dispute over liability and evidence may drag on much longer.
Do I need to attend court for a car accident?
Most of the time, car accident claims are settled out of court. Often, the amount of money that would be spent on litigation is much higher than the amount that the claim is actually worth. Given the time, expense, and stress of a trial, most parties find that it is in everyone’s best interest to negotiate a fair amount that everyone can agree to without having to step foot in a courtroom. Unfortunately, there are occasions where an agreement cannot be reached, and it may become necessary to take things further.
How much can someone sue for a car accident in California?
There are many details and variables attached to every car accident case that can affect the ultimate outcome. Things like severity of the injuries, extent of the property damage, impact of pain and suffering, and the negotiating skills of the attorney can all contribute to the amount of compensation a person may be awarded. Some cases may result in twenty thousand dollars while there have been cases that resulted in over a million dollars. Each situation is unique, and this makes it difficult to pin down a general average.
How to win a car accident lawsuit?
The best way to win a car accident lawsuit is to hire an experienced car accident lawyer who knows how to navigate a car accident claim. They will ensure that you have the best chances at recovering any damages incurred from your car accident. A qualified car accident lawyer will help a car accident victim collect evidence, start a claim, negotiate a settlement, and win when the claim goes to trial.