Car accident claims rarely go to court in the sense of a full-blown trial. However, it’s common for experienced car accident lawyers to file those claims in court as a step in the process of seeking compensation for a crash victim’s losses. There are also situations where you will need an attorney to take your claim to court to get the compensation you need. That’s why it’s critical to have a skilled car accident lawyer on your side after you get hurt in a crash — someone prepared to get you results no matter what direction your case takes.
Here’s an overview of the car accident claim process, why most claims don’t go to trial, and how an experienced attorney can handle your claim and get you money for the harm you’ve suffered.
Overview of Your Rights to Car Accident Compensation
As the victim of a car accident, you generally have the right to receive compensation for your losses from anyone whose wrongful decisions or actions harmed you. Other parties — notably, insurance companies— may also have a legal obligation to pay for your losses.
Your rights usually entitle you to payment for your:
- Medical expenses in treating car accident injuries
- Costs of repairing or replacing your damaged vehicle or other personal property
- Out-of-pocket costs of living with or adapting to your injuries
- Past and future lost income and job benefits due to your injuries
- Physical pain and emotional distress
- Inconvenience and diminished quality of life
- Scarring and disfigurement, if any
The amount you may receive for your losses can depend on the severity of your injuries, the disruption of your life, the skill of your lawyer, and the financial resources the at-fault party and others have available with which to pay you.
What Is the Car Accident Claim Process?
Typically, obtaining compensation for a car accident involves legal action where you demand payment from the parties who owe you money for your losses. Lawyers refer to that action as a car accident claim. Car accident claims take various forms.
For example, a lawyer can pursue a car accident claim for you by:
- Sending an informal demand to the at-fault party or that party’s insurer requesting payment;
- Submitting a first-party claim to your insurance company or a third-party claim to an at-fault party’s insurer; or
- Filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party or an insurance company in court.
Often, car accident claims involve taking several of these actions at once or in sequence. Lawyers decide which steps to take based on the unique facts of the case in front of them. What’s appropriate for one car accident claim might not make sense for another.
Regardless of which steps a lawyer chooses, the goal of a car accident claim is to obtain maximum payment for a crash victim as quickly and efficiently as possible. Virtually every claim involves three fundamental stages:
- An initial demand for payment sent to an at-fault party, insurance company, or their representative;
- A period of investigation of the facts and negotiation with the other side; and
- Resolving the claim through mutual agreement (a settlement) or a court decision.
The duration of these three stages varies widely. Some claims take just a month or two to resolve. Others can last a year or more. Numerous factors affect the timing of a claim, including the availability of evidence, the degree of a dispute over key questions like liability or damages, and the parties’ priorities.
Most car accident claims get resolved through a settlement. In the typical settlement, the car accident victim receives a payment from the at-fault party or an insurance company (or both) and, in return, agrees to release them from future liability and terminate any pending lawsuit. Not all car accident claims end this way, though, and even those that do frequently involve at least some activity in court before the parties reach an agreement.
What Are the Potential Roles of a Court in a Car Accident Claim?
Your car accident claim only has value if it is legally enforceable — that is, if push came to shove, your lawyer could prove an at-fault party’s or insurance company’s liability for your losses in a courtroom trial. As mentioned, a lawyer rarely needs to do that because most car accident claims settle long before they see the inside of a courtroom. But having the ability to present a winning case at trial constitutes an essential condition of all car accident claims. In that sense, courts play a role in all car accident cases.
That doesn’t mean courts get actively involved in every car accident claim. Skilled lawyers can often resolve a car accident claim for an injured client without firing a single shot in court. Their ability and willingness to go to court are often enough to convince the other side to come to the table and talk settlement.
In many other car accident cases, however, a court does play at least some active role. Here are four ways courts can participate in resolving a car accident claim.
Case Investigation (a.k.a. Discovery)
Filing a car accident lawsuit triggers a process through which the court oversees the litigation and resolution of an injured party’s claim. One of the earliest stages of that process involves a period of court-supervised case investigation called discovery. During this stage of a lawsuit, the parties must disclose information to each other and, if requested, give interviews to the opposing party’s lawyers under oath (known as depositions). The purpose of discovery is to ensure that both sides have the opportunity to gather evidence and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s positions.
Courts usually set a schedule for discovery and then mostly leave the particulars to the parties’ lawyers to figure out. When necessary, however, a court can step in and resolve disputes that arise or order the parties to take actions that further the goal of full disclosure.
Dispositive Motion Practice
The parties to a car accident lawsuit can ask a court in writing to decide the case without the need for a trial. This is known as dispositive motion practice — the written request (a motion) asks the court to dispose of the case (hence, dispositive).
Either side can file a dispositive motion and can generally do so either before discovery starts or after discovery ends.
A court that receives a dispositive motion must rule on it. The court may hold a hearing on the motion, which is a courtroom proceeding where lawyers for the parties present their arguments for or against a motion. Then, the court will decide the motion. A decision could grant the request of the party asking for the court to resolve the case in their favor, deny it, or take a middle-ground position that limits the scope of the case going forward.
Courts generally have the authority to order the parties in a car accident lawsuit to mediate their dispute before heading to trial. Mediation is when a neutral third party (not the judge overseeing the case) works with the parties and their lawyers to facilitate settlement discussions. Mediation aims to achieve a mutual resolution of a case and thereby save everyone, including the court, the time, effort, and expense of a trial.
Mediation is a non-binding process. A court can force the parties to participate in it, but the mediator has no power to force them to settle their dispute. A car accident lawsuit can only settle if both parties agree. Even lawyers cannot settle a car accident claim without their client’s permission.
Any car accident lawsuit could end up in a trial. It’s unlikely, but it can happen when the parties fail to settle their dispute or convince the court to resolve it through dispositive motions. In a trial, lawyers for each party present evidence to a judge or jury. Evidence can consist of witness testimony, documents, and physical objects. Then the lawyers make arguments for why their side should prevail.
After both sides have had a full opportunity to present their cases, the judge or jury decides whether the injured party has proven liability and, if so, how much money the at-fault party or insurer should pay as monetary damages. This decision constitutes the judgment of the court.
Why Do You Need an Experienced Car Accident Trial Lawyer?
If you or someone you love recently suffered injuries or losses in a car accident, you need a skilled car accident trial lawyer to ensure you receive the most compensation possible. Hiring just any lawyer who claims to take car accident cases won’t do. Get a lawyer with vast experience handling car accident cases in court.
Why? Because at the beginning of a car accident case, it’s often difficult (if not impossible) to predict with certainty whether the case will settle or end up in court. It’s usually a good bet that a car accident claim will settle, but that’s no guarantee. The worst thing that can happen if your case needs to go to trial is to have a lawyer who isn’t prepared to win in the courtroom.
If the at-fault party or an insurance company thinks you need to settle at all costs, they’ll undervalue your claim, and you’ll have little chance of receiving the compensation you need to pay your expenses and rebuild your life.
The right car accident lawyer for your case has:
- Years of experience handling car accident claims
- An established track record of winning cases like yours through settlement, by dispositive motion, and at trial
- The respect and admiration of former clients
- The staffing and resources to handle any twist and turn your case takes
A lawyer should also be willing to meet with you for free to give you an initial consultation or second opinion about your rights. If they take your case, they’ll agree to represent you on a contingent fee basis, meaning that you’ll pay nothing upfront or out-of-pocket and bear no financial risk. Lawyers who work on contingency get paid when they win for you, not before.
Connect With a Lawyer Right Away
Don’t wait to seek the advice of an experienced car accident lawyer after you get hurt in a crash. Time isn’t on your side. Regardless of whether your case will go to court, a skilled lawyer might need to take immediate action on your behalf to ensure that your rights stay protected and that you receive the most compensation possible for your injuries.
Several factors weigh in favor of speaking to a lawyer as soon as possible.
- First, your car accident claim is strongest when a lawyer has ample time and opportunity to investigate the evidence and build arguments in your favor. The longer you wait to speak with an attorney, the greater the risk that evidence will go missing, get deleted, or become harder to find.
- Second, you may face tight deadlines for pursuing a case. Every car accident claim comes with an expiration date for taking legal action — called the statute of limitations — and you could lose your right to payment if you miss it.
- Third, having a lawyer in your corner gives you access to an experienced, knowledgeable professional who can advise you on making important decisions that could affect your future. Most car accident victims can benefit from having that kind of seasoned guidance available.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer Today
Car accident cases don’t go to trial often, but when they do, you need a lawyer who has what it takes to get you results. Act now to protect your rights no matter what direction your car accident claim takes. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney today for a free consultation about your rights to compensation in the wake of a car accident.