5 Things You Need to Know About Car Accident Lawsuits
Many car accident victims receive compensation for medical bills, property damage, and other expenses without stepping into a courtroom by negotiating a settlement with the insurance company. Sometimes, however, negotiations break down because disputes over who’s at fault or questions about the victim’s injuries arise.
That’s when it might be time to talk to a car accident attorney and consider filing a lawsuit. Before you sign up for a consultation, here are five things you need to know about car accident lawsuits.
#1: You Could Still Settle
Filing a car accident lawsuit doesn’t rule out a settlement. Both parties can continue negotiating even after an accident victim files a legal complaint. The case can settle during discovery, jury selection, or at any point in the legal process.
Some insurance companies don’t take an injury claim seriously until the other party files a lawsuit. Being willing to take your case to court is often enough to compel an insurer to offer the compensation you deserve.
Why some car accident cases go to court
Car accident insurance claims become personal injury lawsuits mostly because the insurer doesn’t want to pay what the victim is asking. Insurance companies always try to settle as cheaply as possible. However, if you have extensive injuries and higher-than-average damages, the insurer might take its chances at trial rather than pay a large settlement.
Questions about liability
Car accident cases also go to court if the insurance company disagrees with who’s at fault. In a no-fault car accident state like Florida or Michigan, establishing liability for a minor accident isn’t an issue. Injured drivers in those states have their medical treatment and lost pay covered by their own personal injury protection, regardless of fault.
However, in an at-fault state like Illinois, the driver who caused the crash—and the victim’s injuries—is financially responsible via his or her auto insurer. When an insurance company asserts that its policyholder isn’t to blame, but the other driver disagrees, a car accident lawsuit isn’t far behind.
#2: You Have a Limited Time to File a Lawsuit
Each state has a statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing a car accident lawsuit. The shortest deadline is one year, but some states have a time limit of four years.
No matter what the statute of limitations is for your state, certain conditions apply:
- The deadline starts on the date of the accident.
- The court allows few exceptions to extend the statute of limitations.
- The statute of limitations for property damage or wrongful death might differ from that of bodily injuries.
Should you file a lawsuit right away?
Most personal injury lawsuits begin as insurance claims, including car accident cases. It’s only when the parties disagree on the amount and other issues that a lawsuit begins.
An accident victim has the right to seek damages from a negligent driver, and filing a lawsuit is one way of pursuing compensation. However, most car accident lawyers advise that you at least try to settle with the insurance company first. Going to court is a time-consuming and costly process for all parties, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll recover more from a jury than you would receive in a settlement.
#3: Prepare an Insurance Claim Like You’re Going to Court
Because the path to a car accident lawsuit typically starts with an insurance claim, gather as much evidence and documentation as possible. A detailed claim reduces the number of back-and-forth questions and gives the accident victim an advantage if a lawsuit must later be filed.
What your insurance claim should include
An auto accident insurance claim should include copies of all of the following if available (always keep the originals):
- All receipts, bills, and invoices for medical care, car repairs, and accident-related expenses;
- Medical documentation that shows the nature, extent, and severity of injuries, such as X-rays, MRI scans, and a written evaluation by a licensed medical practitioner;
- Photos or videos of the accident site, debris, skid marks, damaged vehicle, and injuries, if possible;
- Crash or police reports;
- Witness statements if there were any witnesses;
- Pay stubs or timesheets that show lost wages; and
- The actual insurance claim form is complete and error-free.
#4: The Burden of Proof Is On the Plaintiff
As the plaintiff, it’s up to the accident victim to show how the other driver acted recklessly or with negligence. The plaintiff must show the insurer that the injuries and damages occurred through no fault of his or her own.
Some states allow injured victims to pursue compensation even if they played a minor role in the crash. However, any recovered compensation is reduced according to the driver’s percentage of fault. Insurance companies know this and often try to blame the victim for all or part of the accident.
Burden of proof in a car accident lawsuit
Car accident lawsuits are civil proceedings. The burden of proof in a civil trial is not as stringent as in a criminal proceeding. The prosecution in a robbery trial, for example, must prove that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a car accident lawsuit, you must show a preponderance of the evidence. The burden of proof is a greater than 50-percent chance that your claim is accurate. You can also call this the reasonable person’s test. When presented with the facts of your accident, a reasonable person would reach the same conclusion.
#5: Always Ask For a Jury Trial
Most civil lawsuits give the option of a bench trial (with only a judge) or a jury trial. You’ll want to choose a jury (with a judge presiding) to hear your car accident case.
Jurors are more likely to understand your frustration with an insurance company that refuses to pay what you deserve for your physical and emotional injuries. Most jurors drive cars, and some might have been in an accident similar to your situation. A sympathetic jury could award you more in compensatory damages and add punitive damages for accidents caused by gross negligence.
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Don’t try your own case
Plaintiffs who try to represent themselves in a car accident lawsuit (known as “pro se”) face significant disadvantages, such as:
- The court holds pro se individuals to the same standards as an attorney, so don’t expect the judge to teach you courtroom etiquette or legal basics.
- A plaintiff’s lack of legal training and knowledge could alienate the jury and jeopardize the case.
- A plaintiff might still be recovering from injuries or taking certain types of medication, which can make navigating the process more difficult.
Final Thoughts on Car Accident Lawsuits
Most car accidents are resolved without legal action. Yet, car accident lawsuits occur when the parties cannot agree on liability or how much the case is worth. Either way, having an experienced car accident lawyer to help you with your claim increases your chance of reaching a fair settlement.
Car accident lawyers deal with insurance companies regularly. They have the knowledge and resources to investigate the accident, compile evidence, obtain medical documentation, and file a detailed claim. Additionally, a seasoned car accident attorney is also a skilled negotiator who works to get you top dollar for your injuries and damages.
If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident, talk to an attorney. Most personal injury firms offer free consultations, so search Lawrina’s legal resources to find a car accident lawyer near you.