Starting a car accident lawsuit can be a difficult and stressful process for most people. It has multiple stages that can be lengthy, time consuming and expensive.
In this article we’ll guide you through the 7 main stages of a lawsuit you need to know from start to finish. These stages are:
Your first priority will be assessing the damage to you and your vehicle and filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. If for some reason their insurance company denies the claim or your expenses exceed their policy limits, your only choice may be to file a lawsuit.
Once you’ve decided legal action is necessary, your personal injury lawyer will file a lawsuit. Suits that are related to car personal injuries are civil lawsuits, which are also known as personal injury or tort cases. A lawsuit begins when a complaint petition is filed with the local court.
The complaint your lawyer files will explain the allegations you (the plaintiff) are making against the other driver who is referred to as the defendant. It will also detail the compensation that you are requesting. It may also spell out the legal theory or precedents that you will be citing in your case.
At this point, your lawyer will locate the defendant and serve the complaint to them. This basically means that a copy of the complaint will be hand-delivered to the defendant. In most cases a process server is used.
It is now the other driver’s turn to respond. Almost all car insurance policies require the policyholder to notify the insurance company if they are being sued after a collision.
Once the defendant has been served the complaint they have a set amount of time to respond to the lawsuit. The response can either admit guilt and offer a settlement or deny the allegations.
In some cases they may also make a counterclaim, which indicates that they believe you also contributed to the incident and are responsible for your own injuries and expenses.
If counterclaims are part of the response you will have a set amount of time to respond to the counterclaims.
The next stage in your lawsuit are the preliminary motions. These are essentially a “trial before a trial” hearings in front of the judge to discuss the details of your lawsuit.
It’s important to know about them because it is very possible that the defendant (and their lawyers) will make preliminary motions that can affect your case.
Here are just a few of the more common preliminary motions in lawsuits:
If the pretrial motion to dismiss (if the defendant asks for one) is unsuccessful the judge will now set a trial date.
It’s also possible that the judge will request that you enter into mediation and try to resolve the case without a trial. In mediation, both parties meet with a neutral third-party who attempts to bring both you and the defendant do it a mutually agreeable outcome.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the process of discovery begins for both you and the defendant.
During discovery, lawyers in the case will research and investigate the facts as they relate to your case. They will interview witnesses, take depositions, and examine all other documents (such as police reports).
All documents and evidence gathered during the discovery process must be shared with the other party’s lawyer.
All of the research and documents collected will be used as evidence during the trial. It should be noted that the discovery process can take a very long time and in some cases the trial date may be set back due to a lengthy discovery.
During the discovery process it is possible that either you or the defendant will ask the judge for a summary judgment.
If your lawyer believes that the evidence you have collected proves your point and supports your request for compensation, your lawyer will file a motion for summary judgment. This motion asks the judge to decide the case without a trial based on evidence collected during discovery.
On the other hand, if the defendant's lawyer believes that the evidence gathered during the discovery process shows that you could not possibly win if the case goes to trial, they will ask for a summary judgment in their favor, which will essentially dismiss the case.
Regardless of who files a motion for summary judgment, they must also include all evidence that supports your request as well as a memo from your attorney explaining the legal theories that support your request. The judge can either grant the motion or deny it. If your motion for summary judgment is denied, your next step is trial.
Most people think they receive a settlement check at the end of the lawsuit process. However, that’s not true.
You can actually receive an offer during any point in the lawsuit process. In some cases, the defendant will put the offer forward before the discovery process starts.
In many cases, if the evidence gathered during the discovery process is ambiguous or does not completely prove liability, taking this payment offer may be your best option.
If you agree on the amount and accept the defendant’s offer you will be required to relinquish all future claims against the defendant which arise may because of this incident. This is handled by signing a full liability release. At this point, the case will be dismissed.
Most cases that involve an insurance company will end in a settlement.
At this point in your lawsuit, if a settlement or summary judgment has not been reached, the trial will begin. There are 2 types of trials: a bench trial and a jury trial.
A bench trial simply means that only a judge will hear the evidence and will decide the case.
If you have a jury trial, the jury will decide the facts of the case and if the defendant is liable. They will also determine what type of compensation you will be awarded.
It is important to remember that a settlement can be reached even during the trial phase.
Once the trial is concluded, either party can decide to appeal the decision. The appeals process can drag on for months or even years.
Once all possible appeals have been exhausted, the defendant will be required to pay the damages awarded during the original trial or the appeals process.
The length of your trial will vary depending on the complexity of your case but expect to be in court for several days.
Starting a car accident lawsuit can be really stressful and lengthy process.
If you have been in a injured and are considering a filing a lawsuit, keep these tips in mind:
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