According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes cost Americans approximately $340 billion in damages every year. In individual car accident lawsuits, plaintiffs seek an average of $20,235 per claim to cover their economic and non-economic losses (according to The Insurance Information Institute). With so much at stake, deciding who is financially liable for a car accident and for how much is crucial.
It is worth noting that although most car accident cases settle outside of court, a court hearing may be necessary if the parties cannot agree on a fair settlement. When a car accident case makes it to court, many parties must be summoned for the judge and jury to gather information on the accident. You may find yourself summoned to court for a variety of reasons, but you must be aware of your role in the proceedings and what to do if you are sued for damages.
Does a Court Summons Mean I Am Being Sued for a Car Accident?
If you’ve received a car accident court summons, you might be afraid that the summons is proof you are being sued. However, there are many other reasons an individual may receive a car accident court summons. If you know what to look for on your car accident summons, you can find out why you are being called to court and what to do next.
Witness of the Car Accident
You will be asked to testify during court proceedings if you have been summoned as a witness. You still need to respond to the court summons even if you believe you don't have valuable information. If you feel you are at risk of incriminating yourself during your testimony, it is important to consult with a lawyer before taking the stand.
A jury duty summons is compulsory and cannot be avoided. If you are unsure whether you are being summoned as a juror for a car accident court case, you can look at the summons to see what part you will take in proceedings as long as the length of your jury service.
Involved Third Party
Car accidents sometimes involve multiple parties, complicating the question of liability and/or fault. Therefore, you may be summoned to court not because you are necessarily at fault for the accident but because you had firsthand involvement at the scene of the crash. However, it is important to clarify if you are being summoned as a third-party defendant. In this case, you should hire legal representation before testifying.
I’m a Defendant in a Car Accident Lawsuit
While you may be summoned to act as jury member or witness in a car accident court case, it is also possible that you have received a summons because you are being sued. Finding yourself in this position may leave you with many questions about what will happen next. It is in your best interest to consult with a qualified car accident attorney to ensure your rights are protected.
How long do I have to file an answer to my summons?
There should be a required response date clearly stated on your summons. Generally, a court summons in California should be answered within thirty days of receipt. Failure to answer the summons before the deadline could result in a default judgment against the defendant and penalties or fines for witnesses or jurors.
What if I don’t have car insurance?
If you are not insured and are found responsible for a car accident, you will have to pay for the victim’s damages out of pocket. The total cost of economic and non-economic damages in a typical car crash varies, but you are likely looking at thousands of dollars in victim compensation. Penalties for driving uninsured vary from state to state, so you will need to research your state’s laws to determine your next steps.
Can my insurance company respond to my court summons for me?
In most cases, your insurance company can file your claim and respond to your court summons. After an accident, be sure to contact your car insurance company (whether you were at fault for the collision or not) to be advised on the next steps.
Do I need a lawyer to file an answer to my court summons?
It is not a requirement to have a lawyer file your answer to a court summons. To avoid any uncertainty, contact an attorney for assistance in filing your answer. Among the many benefits of hiring quality representation is the assurance that all legal documentation (including course summons responses) will be filed quickly and accurately.
Can I represent myself in a car accident lawsuit?
Defendants in personal injury lawsuits have the right to represent themselves in court or settlement negotiations. However, the reality is that a qualified injury attorney can protect your best interests and ensure you are not taken advantage of due to your lack of legal expertise. Statistically, defendants who are not represented by an experienced accident attorney are more likely to be found at fault and more likely to pay out high settlements.
What can they take if I lose my car accident lawsuit?
If uninsured or underinsured, you may be faced with tens of thousands of dollars in debt to cover the costs of the victim’s injuries. Failure to pay these damages could result in the seizure of your assets. Your attorney may suggest filing for bankruptcy as an option.
What happens if I can’t pay for my car accident lawsuit?
In some cases, if you are unable to pay for the victim’s damages, your license may be suspended for years. Additionally, failure to pay will result in an impacted credit score. It is important to make sure you are adequately insured before an accident occurs to avoid a situation where you will be forced to pay thousands of dollars.
What Happens If I Don’t Show Up to Court?
If you are summoned to court, you must be present to fulfill your role in the case. Failure to show up in court as a summoned witness could result in your being found in contempt of court. Additionally, failure to show up for jury duty could result in fines or other penalties, depending on your state.
If you are the defendant in the case, failure to show up to court means that you will have no opportunity to share your side of the story. The judges and jury will be forced to decide your case without this key information. In most cases, failure to show up to court results in a default judgment against the defendant.
Will My Car Insurance Cover My Court and Legal Fees?
Most car insurance policies will cover their client’s legal fees to ensure they are represented in the event of a lawsuit. This only applies, however, if their client is sued– if you are looking to sue someone for your injuries, you will need to find your own representation. If you are found to be at fault for someone else’s injuries, your car insurance policy will generally include both bodily injury and property damage liability. While all of the above is true of most car insurance policies, carefully review your auto policy to make sure you are covered in the event of a lawsuit.
Legal Resources for Defendants in Car Accident Lawsuits
Defendants have the same right as plaintiffs to access legal resources. As a defendant in a lawsuit, it is important to know your rights and potential resources that could help you navigate court proceedings. The following resources can help defendants in car accident court cases prepare for their court summons.
American Bar Association
If you are a defendant in a car accident case and you cannot afford a quality attorney, there may be free or lost-cost legal options in your area. The American Bar Association’s findlegalhelp.org page connects low-income individuals with potential attorneys in their area. In some cases, they can connect defendants with attorneys willing to represent their case pro-bono. Additionally, the ABA provides links to additional resources for each state. You can contact the ABA Service Center Hotline at 800-285-221 or email email@example.com for help.
California Courts Self-Help Guide
While a quality attorney can help you navigate the specifics of your case, it can be helpful to do some research of your own before scheduling a consultation. The self-help services offered by the California Courts are completely free for both victims and accused defendants. These services include free consultations with court attorneys, facilitations during settlement negotiations, and advice from small claims advisors. Additionally, you can use the self-help services’ homepage to look up information regarding your jury service or to look for a court case or citation.
California Pro Bono
There are many organizations that allow legal professionals to volunteer their time to provide legal advice and help to defendants navigating a summons to court. California Pro Bono is an organization that allows retired attorneys and law students to offer their legal services pro bono (and not just in California). These professionals provide legal assistance and help to low-income individuals who are being sued. If you are looking for representation, contact California Pro Bono at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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