The last thing you want to happen when running errands or on your way to work is to have someone hit your car. A car accident can disrupt your day, and if you suffer injuries, it can derail your entire life for months or years. The good news is that if another driver hits your car, they are likely at fault, and their insurance should cover all of your losses. If their insurance fails to cover your losses, you can file a lawsuit.
Someone is at fault for a collision when they engaged in negligent, reckless, illegal, or otherwise prohibited behavior. Drivers have a responsibility to pay attention to their driving, stay sober and well-rested, and follow the rules of the road. You have important legal rights when this doesn’t happen and a driver causes an accident.
Below, learn more about common causes of collisions and the process of recovering compensation. If you have questions regarding your specific accident and options, reach out to a car accident lawyer near you for a free case evaluation.
Negligence and Liable Parties for Car Accidents
You can seek compensation for accident-related losses when there is an at-fault party. For example, if you are driving alone down the street, pick up your cell phone, and drive into a telephone pole, you’ll be filing a claim with your own insurance company to cover your costs, as no one else was at fault.
Alternatively, if you were driving down the street and another driver picked up their cell phone, stopped paying attention to the road, and hit your car, they are at fault and should be liable for your losses.
A lawsuit requires an accident that causes injuries that result in costs and damages. When this happens, a car accident attorney can review what happened to determine available compensation. Your car accident attorney will collect evidence, interview witnesses, and possibly even seek out expert opinions to recreate the accident and identify what happened and who is at fault.
Some causes of accidents make the driver liable by default, as when the driver violates a safety law. If they violate the law and cause an accident (which the law aimed to prevent), they are automatically negligent and liable for resulting harm.
For example, if a person was drunk driving when they hit your car, they are liable for your losses. Drunk driving accidents killed 10,142 people in a recent year in the U.S., and they claim the life of an American every 52 minutes. Every driver should know the risks – and illegality – of impaired driving, and they should face not only criminal consequences but also civil liability for injuries of accident victims.
When someone engages in distracted driving, they may or may not be automatically negligent. Most states have laws against texting or even holding a smartphone while driving. If a driver violated distracted driving laws and pays the fine, it determines their liability for your losses.
On the other hand, state laws do not expressly prohibit other distracting activities, such as caring for children, reaching across to the passenger side of the vehicle, watching your GPS, or eating and drinking. In this situation, the driver did not violate the law, but they still violated their duty to drive safely and maintain attention on the road. While it might require additional evidence to prove liability in this situation, your car accident lawyer knows how to do this.
Other conduct that can lead to liability for your collision includes:
- Aggressive driving
- Road rage
- Drowsy driving and falling asleep at the wheel
- Running red lights or stop signs
- Failing to yield the right of way
- Improper passing
Many of these behaviors violate traffic laws and might result in a conviction that serves as evidence in your claim.
Determining whether or not the other driver was drunk, distracted, or otherwise negligent when they hit you is something you might not know how to do. If the police report to the scene, they will ideally identify if one or more drivers violated the law. They can then issue citations or arrest the offending driver, and if the driver receives a conviction, your lawyer will not need additional evidence of liability. Your car accident attorney will collect the evidence you need to prove liability and obtain compensation.
You Will Generally Start with Insurance Claims
While you might imagine a lawsuit right out of the gate, most car accident cases begin by filing a claim with the insurance company of the at-fault party. Sometimes, your lawyer will file claims with more than one insurance company if multiple parties share liability.
Drivers must have liability insurance, so coverage exists for damage and injuries they cause. You might expect an insurance claim to be fairly easy, especially if liability for the collision is clear. However, there can be many obstacles along the way, as insurance companies do everything possible to limit payments to claimants.
Insurance companies are businesses first, and their priority is profit. They increase profits every time they minimize a claim settlement, so you can expect initial offers to be quite low. Adjusters start low, hoping a claimant will accept something, not knowing they can get much more. This game often hurts car accident victims even more, as it leaves them responsible for many of their losses.
In some instances, insurance companies deny rightful claims in hopes the claimant will not go through the appeals process or may be willing to accept a lesser settlement amount to speed the process along. Insurance companies are in no hurry to pay you, and ongoing delays save them money while preventing you from moving on from your accident.
While insurance companies can be difficult, you can help your outcome by hiring a car accident lawyer. Your attorney can negotiate the best possible settlement on your behalf with the insurance companies. They can present clear evidence to support your claim that the insurance company cannot rightfully deny. If they still deny a valid claim, your attorney might file a lawsuit for bad faith insurance conduct.
Do not negotiate directly with the insurance company, and do not accept a settlement offer from the insurance company without consulting with an attorney.
Trying to Resolve a Claim Directly with Insurance Companies
We refer to resolving your claim directly with the insurance company as settling. This is the fastest way to obtain compensation, but it never means you should accept a settlement for less than you deserve.
Insurance settlements are often possible, but they can take work by your car accident lawyer.
Your lawyer will:
- Determining which insurance claims you need to file
- Calculate your past and future losses to know how much compensation to demand
- Gather and present evidence to the insurer of liability and your losses
- Communicate with insurance adjusters and provide any requested information
Even after completing all of these steps, your attorney might receive an offer that fails to cover your losses. Your lawyer will discuss each settlement offer with you and advise whether you should accept it or fight for more. Your lawyer cannot accept a settlement offer on your behalf unless you agree to it, and it is your right to accept a lower offer against your attorney’s advice.
In most cases, however, a low settlement offer will lead to several rounds of negotiations between your lawyer and the insurance companies. These negotiations may or may not be successful. If your car accident attorney assembled evidence to substantiate your claim and damages fully, and the insurance company won’t settle for a fair amount, you may need to file suit.
Deciding to File a Lawsuit
A lawsuit is necessary when the insurance company won’t settle for a fair amount, or the policy limits won’t cover your full damages. In either case, your car accident lawyer will inform you when they recommend escalating the matter to civil court. You will ultimately decide whether or not you want to sue the driver who hit your car.
If you decide to move forward, you want a skilled car accident litigator by your side. Insurance defense lawyers defend against injury claims regularly, and they know how to challenge your claim. Without an experienced attorney working with you, the insurance company is at a significant advantage, and you are unlikely to recover the full amount you deserve. You might even lose your case altogether and walk away with nothing.
When moving forward with a civil suit, your priority is to have an experienced car accident lawyer who handles litigation. Some lawyers will push clients into insurance settlements to avoid filing a lawsuit and handling litigation. This is not the lawyer you want to handle your case. You want legal help from an attorney who will not hesitate to file a personal injury lawsuit if necessary to protect your rights.
The Lawsuit Process
There is no doubt that litigation is a complex process. Your attorney must comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Evidence, and other local court rules and procedures. They must ensure the defense complies and must take action if the defendant violates procedural requirements.
After your attorney prepares and files your complaint, which initiates the lawsuit, the defendant has a chance to respond. Defense attorneys will generally ask the court to dismiss the case, and your lawyer will need to properly respond to this request to keep your case alive.
If the case proceeds, your lawyer begins the discovery process, which allows each side to request and review evidence from the other side. Requests must use the proper forms, applications, and procedures to obtain all the evidence you need to proceed.
Your claim might head into pretrial mediation, where a third-party mediator reviews all the evidence and arguments. They will then try to facilitate a compromise between the parties to reach a settlement agreement. Even if your claim does not resolve in mediation, the attorneys can continue settlement negotiations out of court until the trial date. Most car accident claims settle during pretrial negotiations.
If pretrial settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, your case will proceed to trial. A trial might take place before a jury or judge, who will decide whether you deserve compensation and how much. While car accident trials are rare, they do happen, and you want a lawyer ready to represent you in court and achieve the outcome you deserve.
You Want a Car Accident Lawyer From the Start
When it comes time to hire a lawyer, choose an attorney with experience handling car accident claims and lawsuits. If you suffered an injury in a car accident, you want to look for a local personal injury attorney with a track record of success with car accident cases in the courts where your accident took place.
The time to begin looking for your car accident lawyer is as soon as possible after you have received emergency medical care. While your immediate physical health and safety are the priorities following a crash, protecting your legal rights should be the next step.
Right after you hire a car accident attorney, they can take over everything for you so you can focus on recovering from your injuries. This can immediately reduce stress and allow you to have peace of mind that your claim is in progress. Your lawyer can handle the entire insurance process and file a personal injury lawsuit if needed.
Even if you don’t know whether you can sue after someone hits your car, seek a free case evaluation. You have nothing to lose by exploring your rights, and the sooner you contact the right legal help, the sooner your claim might resolve.
Abels & Annes
100 N LaSalle St #1710
Chicago, IL 60602