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Everything Your Lawyer Wants You To Know About Car Accident Lawsuits

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What Car Accident Attorneys Wish You Knew About Lawsuits

When you're in a car accident, you may be thinking about suing the person who hit you — or you may worry that the other driver might sue you. Understanding what happens during a car accident lawsuit is important to help you make smart choices during this unfamiliar experience. Take a look at the who, what, when, where and why of car accident lawsuits, so you know what to expect.

Who?

Who Will Be Involved?

If you file a car accident lawsuit, you become the plaintiff in the suit, and the other driver is the defendant. The first people involved in your suit are your insurance company and your attorney. Your attorney will communicate with the defendant's insurance company to try to settle the claim. If you can't reach a settlement, the defendant will engage an attorney, and possibly, one or both of your insurance companies will do so as well. As you prepare the lawsuit and go to court, witnesses to the accident and expert witnesses will also be involved.

What?

What to Expect From Your Lawyer

When you first meet with your attorney, they'll expect to hear all about the accident, including any injuries or damages. They'll want to know about your conversations with your insurance company, the other driver and any witnesses, and they'll want all the documents you have pertaining to the accident, including car repair estimates, police reports, photos, medical bills and correspondence with both insurance companies. They will then prepare your case and tell you about the possible outcomes. But one thing you can't expect: your attorney won't predict what size award you might receive or what the outcome of a trial might be.

What to Expect From Your Insurance Company

Your insurance company will step into action as soon as you report the accident to them. You can expect your insurance reps to walk you through the process of filing a claim, gather all the information needed, assess your claim thoroughly and help you reach a settlement with the other driver's insurance company. They'll also provide information to your attorney if you file a lawsuit.

What Materials You Should Collect and Prepare

Your attorney will ask you for documents to help support your claim and lawsuit, including:

  • Photos of the accident scene and damage

  • Medical bills

  • Explanation of benefits forms from your health insurance company

  • Any other bills you've accrued as a result of the accident (for example, maybe you had to hire someone to clean your home because your arm was broken)

  • Police reports

  • Any other incident reports

  • All insurance company information, including for the defendant

  • Any work information to support claims of lost pay or lost earning capacity, including pay stubs, W-2 forms and bonus information

  • Documentation of how your injuries have affected your life; consider keeping a journal listing all medical appointments and how you feel each day

  • All witness statements from the scene of the accident

  • All expert witness statements and documents

What Costs You Should Keep a Record of

To make a claim for all the damages and reimbursements you're entitled to, your attorney will want you to provide a full record of all the costs you've incurred as a result of the car accident. It's easy to forget some or fail to keep track. Here's a list of the costs you should keep a record of as you go through the process:

  • Over-the-counter medications

  • Prescription medications

  • Travel and hotel costs if your medical treatments require you to go out of town

  • All medical equipment rentals or purchases, including wheelchairs, bandages, crutches, slings and more

  • Rental car expenses

  • Parking fees (for medical treatment)

  • Mileage reimbursement (use the IRS mileage amounts)

  • Cost of any other transportation if you can't drive, including taxis, Uber/Lyft and buses

  • Costs of hiring people to do tasks you can't do because of your accident-related injuries

When?

When Will Your Statute of Limitations Expire?

The statute of limitations in personal injury cases varies from 1 to 6 years, depending on the state. Look for your state in this list to know how long you have to file a lawsuit in a car accident case.

  • 1 year: Louisiana and Tennessee

  • 2 years: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia

  • 3 years: Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin

  • 4 years: Florida, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming

  • 5 years: Missouri

  • 6 years: Maine and North Dakota

When to File Your Lawsuit (or Expect to Be Served)

You'll have to file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations for your state expires. However, the investigation of a car accident claim can take many months, so you should aim to file as soon as you can. Your attorney can help you make sure you meet all relevant deadlines.

When Will This Resolve?

It takes about a year in most cases for a car accident lawsuit to resolve. While filing the complaint happens quickly, it could take months to prepare to file, and then the defendant has a month or so to file a response. Discovery, which is the process of gathering information, can take several months, and no settlement offer is likely until discovery is complete. While a settlement can happen quickly, if the case goes to trial, it can take over a year (although the trial itself is unlikely to take more than a day or so). If the defendant decides to appeal the verdict, the appeals process could take another year. 

Where?

Settlements vs. Going to Trial

In most cases, your car accident claim will be settled, either through your insurance company or through settlement negotiations that your attorney will undertake. Settlement usually saves time and money when compared to going to trial. Your attorney can advise you on whether going to court is a good idea (or even necessary).

Why?

Why Does This Take the Time It Takes?

Your lawsuit may seem as if it's taking a long time because legal cases move deliberately and involve a lot of steps. If your case seems to be taking longer than usual, your case could be particularly complex. There may be difficulty proving who's liable for the accident. Your case could also take longer than usual if the compensation involved is very high. If you're still recovering from the accident, you may need to wait until your doctors have determined that you've reached the maximum improvement and recovery you're likely to reach before finishing the case.

Determining if the Accident Is Bad Enough to Require a Lawsuit

Your attorney has the experience to determine whether your car accident was bad enough to require a lawsuit. Usually, it's worth going to court (or seeking a settlement) if your attorney thinks the defendant's insurance company is not offering enough compensation for the damages you've suffered. If the insurance company won't raise their offer and your attorney thinks it's worth filing a lawsuit, that's generally the right course to take.

Interactions With Insurance Companies

Your first interaction with your insurance company should start immediately after your accident, as you'll want to get them involved in discussions of your claims. Once you've hired an attorney and filed a personal injury lawsuit, your attorney will lead the case.

Latent Medical Needs

Latent medical needs are injuries that may not make their presence known right after the accident. Concussions, torn ligaments, whiplash and other back and neck injuries may show symptoms days or even weeks after your accident. To protect yourself legally, don't refuse any medical attention at the accident, and don't sign anything saying you have no injuries.

The Pros of Letting Insurance Handle the Accident vs. a Lawsuit

Letting your insurance company handle an accident is often the easiest route. Your insurance company is used to dealing with the aftermath of accidents. If only your car was damaged in the accident, you may have no need to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit.

However, if your case is more complicated, you may want an attorney to step in to handle talking to witnesses, reviewing medical records and dealing with other investigative tasks. An attorney is better able to guide you through any legal ramifications of your accident, especially if there are questions about who was at fault. And if you were injured in the accident, an attorney is more likely to get you the compensation you deserve.

The Cons of Letting Insurance Handle the Accident vs. a Lawsuit

If you choose to rely on your insurance company, be aware that the company's first priority is its own bottom line, not your well-being. In some situations, they may refuse to pay out on your policy because of this priority. In addition, insurance reps don't always have the expertise to get you the compensation you're due if you were injured in an accident.

Hiring an attorney can be expensive, especially in larger cities. If you feel you need an attorney for your case, try to find one who will work on contingency, taking their pay out of your settlement.


Protect Yourself From a Car Accident Lawsuit

Nobody enjoys getting into an auto accident, but dealing with the aftermath can be even worse. If you’re at fault for the accident, the other party may have the right to sue you if you’ve caused serious injuries or property damage. The good news is that your insurance should cover the other person's vehicle repair and medical bills, but dealing with insurance companies can be stressful. This guide reviews what you can do following an accident to reduce your chances of being sued and mitigate any legal consequences.  

How Insurance Coverage Protects You From Lawsuits 

While auto insurance allows you to repair your own vehicle when you’re at fault for an accident, it also protects you when someone else is sent to the hospital with injuries. You’re able to select the amount of liability coverage you’d like when you’re enrolling in your insurance plan. It’s not a good idea to choose a policy that doesn’t have enough liability coverage because if someone chooses to file a lawsuit against you and wins, you could be personally liable for the damages. 

Liability coverage has provisions for property damage and bodily harm. It’s illegal in the United States to drive any vehicle without liability coverage, but the state minimum limits aren’t usually enough to protect you in the event of a serious accident. It’s important to understand how much coverage you have per individual who’s injured and your total liability coverage.  

Most insurance companies recommend having at least 100/300 liability coverage. This would provide up to $100,000 per individual injured and $300,000 per accident. 

What to Do While at the Scene of an Accident 

Whenever you’re involved in an accident, the first thing you should do is make sure everyone is safe and okay. Call 9-1-1 to report the incident, and have emergency services arrive if anyone’s hurt. You should share your contact and insurance information with the other party. Even if you believe you’re at fault for the accident, never say anything that could be interpreted as an admission of guilt.  

It’s important not to admit guilt before an investigation because the evidence could determine the other party shares some of the responsibility. If you apologize or give excuses for what happened, whatever you say can be used against you later. It’s also important to remain calm and not to become aggressive or antagonizing at the scene of the accident.  

Take down contact information from the other driver and any witnesses at the scene. Take pictures of your own vehicle and the other vehicle, so there’s evidence of what happened. Accident reconstruction experts can sometimes use these pictures to recreate the sequence of events leading to the collision.  

What Not to Do 

There are some things that you should never do following an accident. Never leave the scene of an accident because this is a crime, and you could serve jail time. Generally, you shouldn’t move any involved vehicles unless you’re instructed to do so by a police officer, fireman or paramedic. However, some states have laws instructing motorists to move minor accidents from traffic if possible. Don’t throw away any evidence or tamper with the scene because doing so could get you in serious legal trouble.  

What to Do When Speaking With the Police 

When the police arrive at the scene of the accident, they'll make sure that everyone involved in the accident is okay and then secure the scene. They'll ask you for your version of the events, and it’s important to leave your emotions out of it. Don’t lie or intentionally cover anything up, but don’t admit that you’re responsible for the accident either.  

While easier said than done, attempt to relax before speaking with the police. If you’re feeling anxious or emotional, it can make you lose focus on the facts and go off on tangents. When you’re focused on recounting what happened, you can avoid unintentionally saying anything that would make you appear guilty.  

It’s also important to avoid making any claims about what the other driver was doing at the time of the accident, whenever possible. Stick to what you were doing and what you saw, and let the police conduct an investigation to determine who was actually at fault. In some cases, the report may determine that both drivers contributed somehow.  

The police will ask you to diagram how the accident happened for the report, so try to make it as accurate as you can remember. Ask for the police officers’ names and badge numbers and a copy of the police report, so you can give it to your insurance company.  

How to Speak to Insurance Agents 

It’s important to begin a claim with your insurance company immediately, especially if it’s obvious that you’re at fault for the accident. Your insurance company can help insulate you from legal consequences by working with the other person involved in the accident and coming to a settlement. If the injured party seeks compensation and decides to take the matter to court, your insurance company should assist you throughout the legal process. 

When you’re communicating with your insurance company, be careful what you say. Insurance adjusters may be looking for specific information they can use to avoid paying out a claim. It may be a good idea to speak with a car accident lawyer on your own before speaking to any insurance agents — even your own.

Who Provides Compensation After a Ruling Against You? 

In most cases, your insurance coverage should be sufficient to cover any compensation you owe another person who you’ve harmed in an accident. For example, if you have $100,000 in liability coverage and a court rules that you owe the other party $75,000 in damages, your insurance policy will pay the claim. A plaintiff can only go after your assets if you don’t have enough insurance coverage to cover the value of the claim.  

When to Contact a Car Accident Attorney 

In many cases, your insurance company will provide you with legal counsel after an accident you’re responsible for. If the insurance company doesn’t provide this service, you need to retain outside representation. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you determine the best course of action and answer any questions you may have, including how to communicate with your insurance company, when to accept a settlement and how to understand your rights as a defendant.  


I Got Served in a Car Accident Lawsuit

Did you recently get served by a process server regarding a car accident?

Process servers are third-party messengers hired to deliver legal documents to defendants in lawsuits and individuals named in court proceedings. The serving of initial legal documents is often the first step taken when someone files a lawsuit or petitions a court for divorce or other family law matters. This article highlights the overall process of being served and advises on the steps to take if you're served with court papers.

What Are Some Things You Can Be Served For?

Process servers serve a wide range of court papers. Civil lawsuit complaints are legal documents that state the reasons why an individual is being sued along with specific case details. Court summons are court-ordered notices for individuals to appear in court, and a subpoena is a legal document stating an individual must appear in court to testify in a hearing or trial. Other types of legal documents commonly served by process servers include petitions for child support, debt collection letters, orders of protection and injunctions.

What Does It Mean to Be Served?

In legal terms, "to be served" means that important court documents are hand-delivered by third-party process servers to individuals named in lawsuits and other legal actions. People must be properly served before a judge can legally make permanent court orders or judgments. 

Do Process Servers Actually Say, "You've Been Served"?

Some process servers may actually say "you've been served" when serving legal documents, but in most cases, they simply advise the individual being served that they're representatives of the court and that they have important documents to serve. It is not a legal requirement to state "you've been served," and many process servers avoid using the phrase to keep communication professional and prevent situations from escalating. 

Can You Avoid Getting Served?

In some cases, individuals take various steps to avoid getting served, such as not answering the door or simply refusing to accept the documents when a process server shows up. However, avoiding legal document service only delays the process and won't prevent the legal proceedings from moving forward.

Can You Refuse Getting Served?

An individual can technically refuse to accept served documents, but this does not make the case go away. Process servers will generally attempt to serve the person again. If they refuse service on subsequent attempts, steps will usually be taken to have the papers served in another way. 

What Happens If a Person Cannot Be Served?

In situations where a person cannot be physically served, the plaintiff's attorney may file a court motion asking for the legal documents to be served by public notice. Also referred to as "service by publication," public notice documents can be posted in a designated area of the courthouse in which the initial lawsuit was filed or posted in a local newspaper.

Can You Be Served If You Are Not Present?

A person must be present to be legally served with court papers. If the individual refuses to take the papers but is otherwise present, a process server may have the option to leave the documents on the ground in front of the individual, also referred to as "drop service." However, certain states such as Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois do not allow drop service. 

What Should You Do Once You've Been Served?

Getting served can be a slightly jarring experience, especially when it's unexpected. The first thing to do after being served is to take some time to thoroughly look over the legal documentation to ensure you fully understand the matter at hand. If you're served a complaint for a lawsuit in which the plaintiff is seeking monetary damages, the next step is to determine whether you plan on fighting the case, settling the case or requesting a case dismissal. 

Once you've determined the course of action you plan to take, the third step is to decide if you want to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the case. An attorney can assist with filing responses and provide legal advice on the best ways to proceed and move toward the best possible outcome. If the case is simple or you plan to settle immediately, you may wish to represent yourself.

It's important to clarify that in situations where people are served with divorce papers or other types of legal documents such as a summons to appear or petitions for adoption, the actions taken will differ from fighting or settling a civil case. For example, if someone is served with a subpoena to appear as a witness in a court trial, they must simply show up to court on the scheduled date. When someone is served with divorce papers, custody hearing papers or an adoption petition, their first step may be to contact a divorce attorney or family law attorney. 

Do You Always Need a Lawyer When Served?

It's not always necessary to retain the services of an attorney when served with a complaint or legal petition. For example, in cases such as uncontested divorce or adoptions in which all parties agree, a respondent may opt to represent themselves. For complex matters such as financial lawsuits for personal injuries or cases in which the respondent requires assistance in filing a response or a countersuit, a professional attorney can help with everything from filing initial paperwork to negotiating a final settlement. 

How Do You Formally Respond When Served?

While specific court practices may vary slightly from state to state, most civil complaints come with attached forms in which respondents can record their answers. If an answer form is not provided, the respondent must request one from the court in which the lawsuit was filed. The paperwork should also state a time frame in which the respondent must answer the complaint to avoid losing the case by default. The time frame to respond to a civil complaint is generally 30 days, but respondents may be able to request additional time through plaintiffs' attorneys or directly through the courthouse. The following steps provide a breakdown on preparing and submitting a formal response.

Preparing a Written Answer

Formal written answers must always include the name of the court and the county in which the lawsuit was filed, the name and mailing address of the plaintiff, the respondent's legal name and address, the name of the judge handling the case and the court case number. The next step in preparing a written response is to address the complaint and agree or disagree with each statement. The paragraphs in the complaint should all be numbered, which makes it easier for the respondent to address each point.

If the summons or complaint is for a divorce case, the response process can vary from state to state, especially in no-fault states. Individuals served with divorce papers should consult with an attorney to determine how to move forward per their state's laws and requirements. 

Filing a Response With the Court

A formal response must be filed in the same courthouse in which the lawsuit was filed, and a respondent should also send a copy of their answer to the plaintiff or plaintiff's attorney when applicable. While some courts allow individuals to file documents through postal mail, it's important to note that this can slow down the process and put respondents at risk of losing by default if the court doesn't receive the response on time or the response gets lost during transit.

In situations where a response must be filed by mail, the respondent should send all documents via certified mail to show proof of the date the documents were mailed and the address or addresses of where the documents were mailed.

When filing an answer in person at the courthouse, the respondent should bring both their original response and a copy of the document. The court clerk will file and stamp both documents and retain the original for filing and return the stamped copy to the respondent to serve as a receipt of the transaction.

After the response is formally filed, the next step for the respondent is to wait for updates on the case from the court and/or the plaintiff's attorney. 

Is a Lawyer Automatically Assigned When You Get Served or Do You Need to Find Your Own Representation?

When a person is served with legal papers for a civil matter, they are not automatically assigned an attorney. If an individual prefers to secure legal representation once they're served with papers, they must find and hire their own attorney. The 30-day window that courts give respondents to file an answer is usually a good time period in which to consult with and/or retain the services of an attorney. 

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