A car accident can be a life-altering event, leaving you with physical pain, emotional distress, and financial burdens. While it may seem overwhelming, pursuing a car accident lawsuit can be essential to getting the compensation you need and deserve to help you recover.
Navigating the complex legal process, however, often raises numerous questions. Below, you’ll learn about the stages involved in a car accident lawsuit, from the moment you decide to seek legal action to the potential resolution of your claim, offering you valuable insight and guidance on what to expect along the way. It’s almost always in your best interest to consult a car accident lawyer before making any decisions.
How Do I File a Claim?
Once you and your lawyer have decided to pursue legal action after a car accident, the first step is filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party.
To file a claim, your attorney must submit a complaint to the appropriate court, outlining the critical details of the accident, including:
- The date, time, and location of the accident
- The negligent actions of the other driver that caused the collision
- A statement of the injuries and damages (both economic and non-economic) you have sustained
- The amount of compensation you are seeking
Filing a complaint in court officially begins the legal process and notifies the other party that you are seeking damages for your losses. Your attorney will file your claim, handle communication with insurance companies and the other party, and strongly advocate on your behalf to maximize the compensation you receive.
What Is the Discovery Process?
After you file your complaint and serve it to the defendant, you will enter the discovery phase. This is when both parties gather and exchange relevant evidence to build their case. Your lawyer will work to obtain police reports, medical records, insurance documentation, and other critical evidence to support your claim. They will also likely depose the other driver, questioning them under oath about the details surrounding the accident. Any statements made can be used during the trial. The discovery process can be lengthy, so patience and trust in your legal counsel are important.
With the guidance of an attorney and by adhering to the proper procedures throughout the filing and discovery stages, your case will progress smoothly to the best possible outcome. Staying connected with your lawyer will help you better understand your rights and get the compensation you deserve.
How Do Settlement Negotiations Work?
Once the initial legal proceedings have concluded, your lawyer will enter into settlement negotiations with the defendant’s insurance carrier or legal representatives. Settlement offers are usually made when it is evident which party is clearly at fault, with most personal injury claims resolving through settlement rather than trial.
Settling your claim means reaching an agreement where you accept compensation from the defendant in exchange for dropping your lawsuit. This allows the defendant to avoid the time and expense of going to court. Settlements are often reached through mediation, where a neutral mediator helps facilitate discussions between both parties to find common ground.
Your lawyer’s experience and skill in negotiating settlements are critical, as initial offers may be inadequate. They will work to maximize your compensation while balancing the risks of proceeding to trial.
While settlement may seem appealing, you must carefully consider any offers with your attorney. Taking the settlement means forfeiting your right to pursue further legal action. You must be confident the settlement will fully and fairly compensate you for all losses before agreeing to it.
Your lawyer can evaluate liability, the severity of your injuries, total medical expenses, lost income, and long-term impairment of life activities to advise you on a reasonable settlement range. Once you accept an offer, the defendant will issue payment to conclude your claim.
A settlement requires compromise by both sides, but by relying on your attorney’s counsel, you can get the compensation you need to move forward. Recovering from a car accident is difficult enough without the added stress of a lengthy trial. Allow your lawyer to advocate on your behalf to find a solution that suits your best interests.
Going to Trial
If settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, your case will proceed to trial. A trial allows both parties to present their full arguments and evidence before an impartial jury that will determine liability and damages.
If you go to trial, you may receive no compensation. It also requires significant time and financial investment. Your lawyer can advise you on whether accepting a settlement or proceeding to trial is in your best interest based on the details of your case.
If the trial moves forward, it typically follows these main stages:
- Jury selection: A jury is chosen from a pool of candidates to hear and decide your case. Your lawyer and the defendant’s attorney will interview and select jurors.
- Opening statements: Both parties present their initial arguments to the jury, outlining their position and key evidence. Your attorney will state the facts of your accident and injuries and argue why the defendant should be found liable.
- Presentation of evidence: All evidence from discovery is presented to the jury, including documents, medical records, photos, police reports, and witness testimony. Both your lawyer and the defendant’s attorney will also cross-examine witnesses.
- Closing arguments: In final statements to the jury, each party restates its case and evidence. Your lawyer emphasizes why the jury should find in your favor and award maximum damages.
- Jury deliberation and verdict: The jury reviews all evidence and arguments before coming to a decision. Their decision, or verdict, will determine liability and damages.
- Judgment: The judge will review the jury’s verdict and enter a final judgment. If awarded damages, the court will specify the amount and method of payment from the defendant.
Going to trial always carries uncertainty, but with an experienced trial lawyer advocating for you, the likelihood of success is much higher. Although a lengthy and complex process, going to trial may be the only option to get the outcome you deserve.
Your lawyer will thoughtfully prepare your case and argument to maximize your compensation when a trial is necessary. With their dedication and experience, justice can be served.
Verdict and Judgment
After the trial, the jury will deliberate and return a verdict, determining liability and awarding damages if they find the defendant at fault. If the verdict is in your favor, the court will review the decision and enter a judgment specifying the amount the defendant must pay.
The judgment will consider various types of damages, including the following:
- Economic damages: Compensation for out-of-pocket losses, such as medical bills, lost income, rehabilitation, transportation, and other injury-related costs
- Non-economic damages: Compensation for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional trauma, or disfigurement due to injuries
- Punitive damages: Rarely awarded, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for especially negligent or reckless acts. Punitive damages are capped in many states
Once the judgment has been entered, the defendant is legally obligated to provide payment in a single lump sum or, more often, through a structured settlement. A structured settlement provides tax-free periodic payments throughout your lifetime to cover ongoing medical costs. Your lawyer can advise you on the benefits of accepting a structured settlement versus a lump sum.
Unfortunately, collecting damages is not always straightforward, as many defendants do not have adequate insurance or assets to satisfy the judgment. Your attorney may employ aggressive collection methods, such as asset searches, lien or levy placement, or wage garnishment. Though frustrating, your lawyer will work diligently to enforce the judgment and get you the compensation the court awarded you.
Filing or Fighting an Appeal
After a verdict and judgment have been entered, either party has the right to file an appeal if they believe legal errors were made that affected the trial’s outcome. Appealing a decision means requesting a higher court review the trial proceedings to determine if you have followed the proper laws and procedures. The appeals court can overturn or modify the original verdict if it finds errors.
The appeals process has several potential stages, starting with an appeal to an intermediate appellate court. The losing party can then appeal the intermediate court’s ruling to the highest state court, called the supreme court. In rare circumstances, a party may appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. However, the Supreme Court declines to hear most appeals.
Appeals can be a lengthy process. Pending a ruling, the original judgment remains unenforced. If the appeals court overturns the verdict, the case may need to be retried. Your attorney would then repeat the full lawsuit process, presenting arguments and evidence again.
Seeking an appeal is always risky, as there is no guarantee a court will find errors in the original trial. If the court finds no legal mistakes or the appeal simply disputes the verdict, the appeals court will affirm the judgment. The appealing party would be back where they started, having wasted time and resources. However, when the court finds significant errors that obstruct a fair trial, going through the appeals process is necessary to correct unjust results.
If the defendant appeals the decision, your attorney will continue advocating for your interests before the appeals court. They must submit written briefs detailing why the verdict was proper according to the evidence and law. The parties may present oral arguments in some appeals. Your lawyer will prepare to try your case again from the start if required.
How Do I Collect Damages?
You have followed through with a trial, judgment has been entered in your favor, and appeals have failed, but you have yet to receive compensation from the defendant to recover your losses. Sadly, the legal process does not always end with payment of damages, and you must often pursue collection of the judgment debt.
After the court finalizes a judgment, it publishes an order requiring the liable party to pay the specified damages.
However, if the defendant refuses or cannot pay, the responsibility falls upon you as the plaintiff to collect payment through enforcement procedures:
- Wage garnishment: The court can order the defendant’s employer to deduct a portion of income to satisfy the judgment. However, earnings can only be garnished up to a certain percentage.
- Bank levy: Your lawyer can compel the defendant’s bank to turn over funds from their account in the amount owed. An account levy continues until the judgment is paid in full.
- Property lien: Placing a lien on the defendant’s property prevents them from selling or refinancing until the judgment is satisfied. The property can eventually be foreclosed and sold, with proceeds going towards payment of damages.
- Asset seizure: As a last resort, physical assets such as vehicles, equipment, or other valuables may be seized and sold through a court order to collect payment.
- Installment payments: If other methods are not possible, the court may allow the defendant to pay the judgment in installments over time, subject to court supervision and interest charges. Failure to comply can still result in other enforcement actions.
Collection of a judgment debt is often a difficult and tedious process, requiring patience and persistence. Your attorney has the experience and knowledge to navigate the procedural requirements while aggressively pursuing all available means to get your payment. With their help, you can work to mitigate delays and avoid becoming entangled in court enforcement for an extended period.
After the emotional turmoil and time spent pursuing your claim in court, collection troubles can seem an unfair final blow. As always, your lawyer is there to advocate on your behalf until justice is fully served and you receive compensation. They have made it their duty to enforce the court’s judgment in your favor and provide the resolution you deserve. With their dedicated counsel throughout this entire process, you can find closure knowing accountability and restitution were hard-fought and won.
Pay Attention to Your State’s Statute of Limitations
For most civil lawsuits, including car accident claims, there are time limits for pursuing legal action, known as statutes of limitations. These laws place deadlines on filing a complaint in court to prevent parties from pursuing stale claims after evidence has deteriorated or been lost and memories have faded.
The specific time limits for filing a car accident lawsuit depend on the severity of the injuries and the laws of the state where the accident occurred. However, most are within one to six years.
It is critical you understand the statute of limitations for your potential claim and file before the deadline expires. Failure to comply with time limits will result in you losing your right to recover compensation, no matter the strength of your case. The clock typically begins ticking on the date of the accident, so communicating with an attorney as early as possible is essential.
The complexity surrounding statutes of limitations highlights the importance of consulting with a lawyer soon after any accident causing harm. They can evaluate the details of your incident, determine applicable time limits, and file a complaint before the deadline to preserve your right to recover damages. While you focus on treatment and recovery, your attorney works to protect you legally by initiating the claims process as an essential first step.
Your Lawyer Is Your Number One Advocate
After experiencing a serious car accident, you may face a long road to recovery, both physically and emotionally. It is natural to feel overwhelmed in the aftermath and uncertain of the next steps. However, by choosing to pursue a lawsuit, you are taking control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation. With the help of a skilled car accident lawyer, you have the best chance of obtaining justice and the closure you need to move on from trauma.
While no amount of compensation can undo the accident that caused your injuries, receiving judgment in your favor acknowledges the wrong that was done. Your personal injury attorney will work to hold the negligent party responsible and get you funds to pay medical bills, make up for lost income, assist with rehabilitation, and provide financial security again. The impact and hardships resulting from a serious car accident deserve restitution. With a lawyer you trust fighting to make that restitution a reality, justice has a chance to be served.