If you’ve been the victim of a car accident, you know that the damages usually go beyond needing a few auto repairs. You may sustain injuries that take weeks or even months to recover from, which can impact your career, family, and other obligations. You may even experience psychological or emotional damage. The stress of the accident and its aftermath can leave you wondering whether you should file a car accident lawsuit to pursue adequate compensation for your losses.
One reason you might take legal action is that insurance companies don’t always recoup the losses you’ve suffered in a car accident. If your employer is unable or unwilling to provide sick pay while you heal from injuries sustained in the accident, loss of earnings combined with costly medical bills can add up to a sum beyond what insurance companies are willing to pay.
If you’re considering filing a lawsuit, there are a few things you should know before you get started. We’ve put together a list of five steps you can take to determine whether you want to file a car accident lawsuit and how to jump into the process:
Step One: Decide If Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit Is the Best Option
There are some occasions where insurance companies do adequately compensate the victims of car accidents. Unfortunately, these instances tend to be few and far between.
Many states follow a policy that says if you are injured in a car accident, you can only issue a claim against another driver’s insurance company if you can prove that he or she was at fault for the accident. This can be a long, drawn-out process, and your claim may still be denied. Not to mention, the other driver may not have auto insurance at all, leaving you to foot the bill.
But even if you live in a no-fault state like New York and you can submit a claim to your own insurance company, you’re not guaranteed settlement. In other words, there are instances in which filing a car accident lawsuit may be your best option to ensure you receive sufficient compensation for your losses.
These preliminary stages are a good time to start keeping track of everything that could support your case, including photos taken at the time of the accident, testimonies provided by witnesses, and relevant dates and times.
Step Two: File a Complaint
The next step for you as the plaintiff is to file a complaint. In some states this is referred to as a petition. This complaint documents everything that occurred at the time of the accident and outlines the damages you’ve sustained, whether physical, emotional, or monetary.
It’s important to file your complaint as close to the date of the accident as possible so as to avoid the statute of limitations. This usually occurs between 12 and 24 months. So if you don’t take action within this window, you could lose your right to sue.
An auto accident lawyer in New York can be especially helpful in this stage of filing a complaint. They can build your case around what you can prove with your documentation and outline the legal basis for a car accident lawsuit.
Step Three: Serve the Complaint to the Defendant
The defendant (the person responsible for the accident) has the right to know about the charges made against them and be given the opportunity to mount their legal defense. The process of informing the defendant of the charges made against them is called “serving” them the complaint.
The defendant is given a copy of the complaint made against them and given a “summons” to appear in court at an allotted date.
The defendant may at this point make counterclaims if they feel the allegations made against them are inaccurate or false. The defendant can also file a range of preliminary actions (called motions) which may affect your case. Some of these motions are as listed:
- Motion for change of judge or venue.
- Motion for removal from state court to federal court (this usually occurs when the case is a matter of federal law or the defendant is from another state).
- Motion to dismiss. The defendant may dispute the facts of the case, make a case that no relief is warranted or that the suit was brought after the statute of limitations had expired.
Unless the motion to dismiss is granted, your case will continue in the legal process.
Step Four: Discovery
The next step (and the last before going to trial) is the period of discovery. This is where the plaintiff and the defendant exchange any information that is relevant to the case. In most cases this will include statements and depositions made by persons close to the case, such as witnesses, doctors, and emergency responders.
Discovery allows both sides to see all the facts pertinent to the case so that they (and their legal counsel) can plan their legal strategy, building evidence and arguments to support their claims.
If there is evidence to support it, post-discovery resolutions can be made between the plaintiff and the defendant. This might include a motion for summary judgment, where the judge can decide the outcome of the case without taking it to trail.
Step Five: Trial
Now that you and the defendant have prepared your cases and gathered your evidence, and there has been no success in settling up to this point, all that remains is to go to trial.
Here, you and the defendant will present evidence and cross-examine each other’s witnesses. A judge will then weigh all the evidence and make a ruling that will determine whether or not you are entitled to compensation.
There are two kinds of trial, a bench trial (where the decision is made by a judge alone) and a jury trial. In a jury trial, the judge still maintains the right to decide which laws apply to the case, but the jury makes the final decision.
The majority of car accident lawsuits do not make it to trial. In order to avoid the expenses and potential consequences of a trial, the defendant will likely attempt to settle outside of court. Your legal counsel can advise you on whether or not to accept a settlement outside of court, but ultimately you are the one who determines whether or not to move forward with a lawsuit.
Why It’s Important to Call a Personal Injury Attorney
While filing a car accident lawsuit on your own is perfectly legal, it is rarely advisable. Insurance companies can be aggressive when it comes to denying claimants a sum that reflects their loss. And unless you have a watertight case, defense attorneys can exploit even the slightest vulnerability and leave you out of pocket.
It’s wise, therefore, to talk to a personal-injury lawyer before filing a claim. They can advise you on the best way to proceed, including how to file the claim, how to document evidence, and what to expect if your case goes to trial.
A personal injury attorney can help you to build the strongest possible case. They can bring their understanding of state and federal law to bear on the circumstances of your accident and ensure the most equitable outcome for you.
If you’d like to speak to our experienced personal-injury attorneys, fill out our free online case evaluation or call us at (844) 860-0949. All case evaluations are confidential, and you are under no obligation to pursue a case.