How does a car accident case move forward?
After a car accident, you and your family face several new challenges. Your physical and emotional recovery may be a full-time job. Your family may scramble to help you, pay the bills, and take care of chores and tasks you used to do for them.
During all this hard work, filing a lawsuit may feel overwhelming. An experienced car accident injury lawyer understands how tough this time can be. That’s why successful accident lawyers are dedicated to helping their clients through each stage of the car accident lawsuit process.
Choosing an attorney: Questions to consider
Your car accident lawyer will be by your side throughout the process. Since you may work with your lawyer for months or even years to settle all the issues related to your accident, it’s important to choose the right attorney for you.
When talking to an attorney you may wish to hire consider questions like:
- Does this lawyer explain things in a way that makes sense to me? Do they encourage me to ask questions if I don’t understand something?
- Is the lawyer realistic about my case at this stage? Do they point out where they need to learn more information before they can give a full answer to my questions?
- Do I know how I can reach my lawyer if something comes up?
- Does the lawyer’s payment agreement make sense to me? Can I explain how my lawyer will be paid?
Often, car accident lawyers offer consultations so you can explore these questions. A consultation is typically free, and it is always confidential. Use the consultation time to help a lawyer understand your case, ask your questions, and decide whether you want to continue working with this attorney.
Researching your car accident case
Once you and your lawyer decide to work together, your lawyer will research your case. You can help your lawyer kick-start the research process by providing copies of:
- Medical records,
- Any bills or receipts you have related to your injuries or costs,
- Releases for medical or other information,
- Any other information your lawyer asks for.
Your lawyer will also talk to the insurance companies involved in the case. If other parties, like another driver, are involved, your lawyer may speak to their attorneys as well.
During these conversations, an insurance company may make a settlement offer. Your lawyer will inform you about any settlement offers and provide advice. With this advice, you can decide whether or not to take a settlement.
Filing a claim and preparing for trial
Not every car accident case has a settlement offer – and not all offers are fair. If a settlement can’t be reached before trial, your lawyer may file a lawsuit.
The first document filed in a car accident case is known as a “complaint.” The complaint explains how you were injured, lays out allegations against the person you believe to be responsible, and describes the compensation you seek.
The complaint is then served on the defendant (the party who injured you). Once the defendant has the complaint, they have a limited amount of time to respond. This response is known as an “answer.”
After the complaint and answer are filed, the case moves into the “discovery” phase. During discovery, the parties exchange information. They try to sort out issues on which they agree from issues that need to be negotiated or tried before the court.
Common tools used during the discovery process include:
- Interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions that seek written answers.
- Requests for documents. A request for documents asks one side to produce documents it has, like copies of medical records, insurance policies, and other information related to the accident.
- Depositions. In a deposition, a party gives testimony under oath, which is usually recorded.
The parties may also file pretrial motions during this time. A motion asks the court to perform a specific action. For example, a motion in limine asks the court to decide that a certain piece of evidence may not be brought up at trial. A motion for summary judgment asks the court to rule in favor of one side or the other as a matter of law. A judge may ask for a hearing on a motion in order to better understand each side’s arguments before making a decision.
Seeking a settlement without going to trial
Most car accident cases do not go to trial. Instead, the parties may negotiate a settlement, either on their own or in mediation.
Mediation involves each party, their lawyers, and a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party, usually one with special training and experience in car accident claims. The mediator’s job is to help the parties reach an agreement.
If the parties cannot settle the case even with a mediator’s help, the case continues moving forward toward trial.
Going to trial
A courtroom trial may involve a jury (a jury trial), or it may be held before a judge alone (a bench trial). Your lawyer can explain each option and why one may be better for your case than the other.
A car accident injury trial usually has six phases:
- A jury is selected.
- The trial begins with each side making an opening statement.
- Each side presents evidence and witness testimony to present their side.
- At the end, each lawyer makes a closing statement to sum up their side of the case.
- The jury receives instructions about the decision they are to make.
- The jury enters the jury room to deliberate, then returns a verdict.
If the case is a bench trial, no jury is chosen. Instead, the judge listens to the opening and closing statements and the evidence presented, then gives a verdict.
If the judge or jury gives a verdict in your favor, the other side may choose to appeal. An appeal asks a higher court to reconsider the verdict.
Even if an appeal is not filed, you may face a waiting period before any compensation awarded to you is available. Your lawyer can provide information about how those funds are handled before they reach you.
Car accident cases are not always straightforward. Insurance companies and other parties involved in the crash may attempt to delay or set up roadblocks. An experienced attorney can fight for the compensation you deserve, so you can focus on healing.