What Happens in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

June 18, 2024 | David Abels
What Happens in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

A car accident lawsuit involves informing the defendant(s) of the suit, negotiating a settlement, and proceeding to trial if no settlement arises. If your case goes to trial, your attorney must conduct discovery (exchanging information with the defense), lead any necessary depositions, and argue your case in front of a jury.

Most car accident cases settle before a trial happens. However, you must never assume your case will settle or go to trial. Simply hire a qualified car accident lawyer and allow them to fight for the compensation you deserve.

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First, Consider the Value of a Car Accident Lawyer

Car Accident Lawsuit

Your next steps are critical if you have been in a car accident. Hiring a lawyer may be your next course of action because:

  • A lawyer will immediately take over your case, enabling you to focus on your recovery
  • A lawyer will protect you from insurers and anyone else who may be trying to deprive you of compensation
  • Hiring a lawyer will allow you to file a lawsuit without delay if you need to
  • A lawyer offers plenty, including legal knowledge, experience, financial support, and more

An attorney will advise you on all case-related decisions, including whether to file a car accident lawsuit.

Waiting to Hire Your Lawyer Is Not Wise

If you are going to hire a lawyer, retain them as soon as possible because:

  • Your case likely has a filing deadline (For example, in Illinois, you usually have two years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit)
  • Your lawyer needs to gather all evidence that can benefit your case and may not have long before certain evidence becomes unavailable
  • Your lawyer may need to file a motion to produce, which may compel liable parties to produce valuable evidence
  • The sooner you retain your lawyer, the sooner you can focus on recovery without distraction

Law firms are always ready to field your call and start your case, so there is no reason to wait any longer to hire your car accident attorney.

The Claims Process Comes Before a Car Accident Lawsuit

Before you face a car accident lawsuit, you will likely seek fair compensation from insurers. This may include your own insurance provider and those covering at-fault parties.

The claims process generally requires the following:

  • Notifying your insurance provider of the accident (you may have done this already)
  • Giving one or more recorded statements about the accident (it is always wise to have a lawyer advise you before giving a statement)
  • Addressing any claim denial or other bad-faith tactics
  • Reviewing initial settlement offers from insurers

It may be difficult to secure a fair settlement from insurers without a lawyer’s help because:

  • You may not know how to calculate the cost of your losses
  • Without knowing the cost of your losses, you can’t accurately determine if settlement offers are fair
  • You may have no experience negotiating with insurers (or anyone else)
  • Even if you do negotiate yourself, you may not have the leverage of bringing a lawsuit

When you hire an effective car accident lawyer to handle your claim (and any subsequent lawsuit), you eliminate these concerns and problems.

Steps Your Lawyer Will Take to Build Your Claim

Your lawyer’s first objective may be to secure fair compensation through an insurance claim. They will likely build your claim by:

Using Evidence to Establish Fault

Fault is important in determining whose insurer pays for accident-related losses. Fault will also be critically important in determining who to sue for damages.

Your lawyer will establish fault using all relevant evidence, which may include:

  • One or more eyewitness accounts of the car accident
  • Footage from security cameras, traffic cameras, or other video sources
  • Expert testimony about who is at fault for the accident

Evidence varies from case to case. Your lawyer and their investigative team will immediately seek evidence to improve your case’s odds of succeeding.

Detailing Your Losses

Your car accident attorney will secure proof of all covered losses, including medical expenses and vehicle repair costs.

Calculating the Financial Value of Your Claim

Insurance companies will determine the value of your covered losses, but your lawyer won’t merely rely on their valuation. Instead, your attorney will rely on their own experts (such as doctors and automotive technicians) to determine how much compensation you deserve.

Negotiating with Insurance Companies

Settlement negotiations may begin once the insurance company extends an offer (or your lawyer issues a demand letter). Your attorney will:

  • Arrange negotiations with insurance representatives
  • Present their documentation of your losses and an explanation of how they calculated your claim value
  • Engage in good-faith negotiations with insurance representatives—and, hopefully, insurers will show the same good faith

Your car accident attorney will have an advantage. They will know that if insurance companies don’t extend a fair offer, your lawyer can file a lawsuit. This may increase the likelihood that insurance companies will offer you the money you deserve.

Evaluating the Best Offer(s) You Receive

Your lawyer will contact you when insurance companies offer a settlement or take any other action that affects your claim. They will review the facts of your claim and may even advise you, but you will decide whether to accept a settlement or proceed with a lawsuit.

How You Will Decide Whether to File a Lawsuit

Your decision to file a lawsuit may center upon a single question: Are insurance companies offering enough compensation to cover my current and future losses?

If not, you may choose to file a lawsuit. If you sue the party or parties who caused the accident, their insurance provider will defend the at-fault party during legal proceedings. Your case may end up becoming a lawsuit if:

  • The at-fault motorist did not have adequate insurance coverage
  • One or more insurance companies blame you for the accident (perhaps denying your claim or providing only partial payment as a consequence)
  • Insurance coverage limits are lower than the cost of your losses
  • Other circumstances lead you to take legal action

Rely on your lawyer to answer your questions, explain the pros and cons of filing a lawsuit, and help you make a sound decision.

If Your Case Goes to Trial, Your Lawyer Will Fight for a Fair Award

Filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean your case will go to trial. Your attorney will maintain the option of negotiating a settlement, but it will be up to the liable parties to meet their demands.

Your legal team will oversee the sequence that unfolds with car accident lawsuits, including:

  • Informing the courts, defendant, and insurance company of the lawsuit
  • Awaiting a response from the insurance company (if no response comes, your lawyer may seek a default judgment in your favor)
  • Discovery, which can include in-person question and answer sessions (depositions), written questions (interrogatories), and the exchange of various case-related materials 
  • Mediation, which is when a third party oversees settlement negotiations, assisting in helping parties reach a settlement agreement

A trial will be next if mediation or non-mediation settlement negotiations are unsuccessful. Your lawyer will make the case that a jury should award you fair compensation, with the defendant(s) named in the lawsuit being responsible for the award.

Aspects of a car accident trial include:

  • Questioning witnesses (including experts) presented by your lawyer
  • Cross-examining witnesses present by the defense
  • Submitting evidence 
  • Casting doubt upon the evidence presented by the defense
  • Making opening and closing arguments
  • Lodging objections and filing motions

Your lawyer will have a detailed plan for succeeding at trial. However, trials are unpredictable and chaotic by nature. Having an experienced lawyer leading your case may prove immensely valuable.

Recoverable Damages for a Car Accident Victim 

Compensatory Damages

Whether they are negotiating directly with an insurer or arguing in front of a jury, your attorney will be fighting for fair compensation for your damages. The more serious your accident-related injuries are, the more compensation your lawyer is likely to seek.

Some recoverable damages common to car accident cases are:

Costly Medical Bills

Medical bill” is often associated with “expensive." This is particularly true when someone seeks medical care due to a car accident. You may be seeking treatment for severe injuries, and may need:

  • Ambulance transport
  • Care in the emergency department
  • One or more medical images (like X-rays)
  • One or more nights in the hospital
  • Surgery
  • Specialist visits
  • A host of other medical services

The more medical services you need, and the more complex those medical services are, the more your healthcare costs are likely to be. However, even brief or minor interactions with the healthcare system can lead to high costs.

Pain and Suffering

Many motor vehicle accident victims fail to realize they can seek compensation for certain non-economic damages, with pain and suffering being the most common. Pain and suffering can include harm like:

  • Acute pain from injuries
  • Chronic pain
  • Emotional anguish
  • Psychological distress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Lost quality of life

PTSD can be a particularly difficult condition that is associated with auto collisions. Your lawyer will ensure you see a qualified mental health professional. That care provider can issue diagnoses and help your lawyer understand the nature and cost of your pain and suffering.

Expenses for Mental Health Treatment

Pain and suffering do not always go away on their own. You may need to see a counselor or therapist, take medication, and undergo other types of treatment.

Your car accident lawyer will include all accident-related costs in their settlement demands, including mental health treatment expenses.

The Cost of Disabling Injuries

Disabling injuries tend to be more expensive than most ailments, and their non-economic cost is also immense. Added challenges that disabled car accident victims face are:

  • The loss of physical abilities
  • Changes in your ability to think
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Long-term pain
  • The cost of making changes to your residence, such as adding ramps
  • The cost of purchasing a vehicle that accommodates your disability
  • The cost of medical equipment
  • Long-term loss of income and earning power

You do not have to be disabled to deserve a large financial recovery. However, a disability is always relevant in a car accident lawsuit.

Property Expenses

Your lawyer will include vehicle repair or replacement costs in your case. They will also include the cost of replacing other damaged property, like cell phones and clothing.

If you need a temporary vehicle or ridesharing services while your vehicle is being repaired or replaced, your lawyer will include transportation expenses in your case.

A Wrongful Death

Losing a loved one suddenly causes pain that nobody should have to experience. Your primary focus should be on navigating your grief and being with loved ones. Hiring a wrongful death lawyer will ensure you don’t have to divide your attention between your case and your recovery.

A lawyer will seek compensation for funeral costs, lost financial support, loss of consortium (like a spouse’s companionship), and the many other damages that result from a wrongful death.

Questions Frequently Asked by Car Accident Victims

As you consider hiring a lawyer, you may have several questions, including:

Can I Afford to Hire an Attorney?

Yes, you can afford to hire a car accident lawyer. A contingency fee structure is fairly standard among personal injury attorneys, and this structure means:

  • You don’t have to pay a car accident attorney from your own pocket
  • The lawyer receives a percentage of your financial recovery
  • The attorney only receives payment for their services if you receive a financial recovery

There is no financial risk in hiring a lawyer.

What Is the Best Way to Find My Car Accident Attorney?

You can find a lawyer through online research, recommendations from trusted friends and family, or local advertisements.

What Are Free Consultations?

Free consultations are usually phone calls with law firms. This is your chance to ask the firm questions and hear its pitch for leading your case.

Hire Your Car Accident Lawyer Today

Do not wait to hire your attorney, as your case is time-sensitive in several ways. The sooner you hire your personal injury lawyer, the sooner they can begin fighting for your financial recovery.

David Abels Author Image

David Abels

Partner

David Abels has carved a niche for himself in the personal injury law sector, dedicating a substantial part of his career since 1997 to representing victims of various accidents. With a law practice that spans over two decades, his expertise has been consistently recognized within the legal community.

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