If you filed a car accident claim and the liable driver’s insurance company fails to offer a fair settlement, you may want to consider initiating a civil lawsuit. To do this, you begin by filing a complaint with the court and serving the defendant notice of the complaint. From there, you await the defendant’s answer, and if they refuse to settle, you move to the discovery phase and then to trial.
Differences Between a Claim and a Lawsuit
Because a “settlement” can occur in both a car insurance claim and a car accident lawsuit, sometimes the two processes get confused. The purpose of each is to get compensated for damages sustained in a car accident, but a lawsuit may involve going to trial.
Filing a Claim
Any time you are involved in a car accident, you should notify your car insurance company if you want to get reimbursed for the damage done to your vehicle; that is called making a car insurance claim.
In this process, you negotiate with the insurance company’s adjuster regarding how much money they will pay in order to return your vehicle to the working order it was in before you were involved in the accident.
There is a chance that your policy or that of the liable driver also covers medical expenses, and this is something we can explore when we take a look at your case. Depending on the severity of your injuries, the available coverage may not be enough to address your losses, especially if you require long-term care.
Filing a Lawsuit
A lawsuit, on the other hand, is a legal action; more specifically, a car accident lawsuit occurs in civil court, where a plaintiff (i.e., the person that filed the lawsuit) tries to get a money judgment from the defendant (i.e., the person they are suing).
That process happens after you take a number of steps; only then will you be able to have your case heard in a formal court of law.
Steps of a Lawsuit
A lawsuit usually occurs after negotiations with insurers fail to result in a fair settlement offer. Sometimes, when insurers see that you have filed a lawsuit, they return to the negotiation table because they want to avoid litigation and court fees.
When you do proceed with legal action, there are five basic steps that guide the process.
File a Complaint
In most states, a lawsuit begins when a person (the “plaintiff”) files a complaint or petition (it is called different things in different states) with the court; this document details what happened at the event in question, the damages that the plaintiff claims were made to their car, and the reason for bringing the case to court. Once that document gets filed with the court, the lawsuit begins.
Serve the Defendant
Serving the other person (the “defendant” is the one responding to the filed documents) means that you are providing them notice that they are being sued and for what. Any time you get named in a lawsuit, you have the right to know what you are being accused of and why it is being brought up in court.
Knowing this, you have the right to defend yourself and hire an attorney if you so desire. Although car accident lawsuits are civil (not criminal) in nature, you still have the legal right to defend yourself.
“Serving” (i.e., notifying) the defendant means giving them a copy of the filed legal document, plus an additional document called a “summons.” Special rules dictate who can serve the document and how they should serve it, and those rules can vary from place to place. The filing party usually has 30 days in which to have the defendant served, but rules take into account extenuating circumstances, such as difficult-to-find defendants.
The Defendant Files an Answer
This document, also filed with the court, serves as a response to the complaints. The defendant can admit to anything or deny everything listed in the complaint, refuting it with their own side of the story or explaining why they were justified–that is, any legal defenses they may have for their actions.
Both sides of the lawsuit are legally obligated to share relevant information related to the case; the exchanging of that information is called discovery. That way, each side has an equally fair opportunity to plan their case, and each side gets to examine the evidence for themselves and formulate their own arguments in support of their side. This process usually includes requests for documentation plus interrogatories and depositions (written and oral responses).
Once each side has provided all of the information they have to the other party, they get to argue their case in court; this is called a trial, and it usually goes as follows:
- Each side will make its opening statements.
- The plaintiff will present the evidence, which may include documents, as well as an individual or multiple individuals’ oral testimony.
- The defendant will cross-examine the other side’s witnesses, then present its defense.
- The plaintiff will cross-examine the other side’s witnesses.
- Each side will make its closing statements.
- The judge or jury (in a “bench trial,” there will be no jury) will consider all evidence and arguments before reaching a verdict. A judgment will be entered, and if the judge/jury rules in the plaintiff’s favor, the defendant will pay the damages, as legally ordered.
Things to Remember
Although a car accident lawsuit usually follows the procedures outlined above, it can take some additional or alternate routes, such as motions and appeals. Additionally:
- The plaintiff does not need to hire an attorney in order to file a lawsuit, but having legal representation can take the weight of the legal process off your shoulders.
- Some states with “no-fault” car insurance only allow drivers to file car accident lawsuits when their specific situations meet the criteria, which may include a minimum dollar amount of damage, for example.
- Because of the hassle, plus the time and money committed to lawsuits of any kind, most car accident cases reach a settlement even before ever reaching a trial.
Every lawsuit is unique, but our Atlanta car accident lawyers can keep you apprised of the progress of your case every step of the way. We afford each of our clients the personalized attention their cases deserve.
Proving Negligence in a Lawsuit
Whenever you file a lawsuit, your injury lawyer will have to gather the necessary evidence to prove the liable party acted negligently. Proving negligence involves demonstrating four elements.
Duty of Care
The other driver must have owed you a duty of care. All motorists must follow traffic laws and act in a way that affords other motorists and pedestrians a reasonable amount of safety.
Breach of Duty
The defendant must have breached their duty of care in some way. Examples can include breaking a traffic law, such as failing to yield the right of way or abiding by the speed limit.
The defendant’s breach of duty must have caused or contributed to the accident. Your lawyer will work to tie their negligence to your accident.
The accident that resulted from the defendant’s negligence must have caused you real losses, such as injuries, vehicle damage, and pain and suffering. These losses usually result in financial damages.
Deadlines for Filing a Lawsuit
Every state imposes deadlines for taking legal action in civil court. These deadlines are known as statutes of limitation, and they usually begin counting down from the date of your accident. According to O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33, you have two years to file a lawsuit. If you miss these deadlines, you can lose your right to seek compensation in court.
It is important to note that negotiations with insurance companies often take longer than expected, so you should take action as soon as possible. A lawyer with our firm can help you abide by these deadlines.
Affording a Lawyer
Some victims forgo filing a lawsuit because they fear they cannot afford legal representation. If you work with a lawyer from our firm, you will not have to worry about this.
We take cases on a contingency basis, meaning we do not charge any up-front fees to begin your case, and we only get paid if we win. This allows us to get started on your case immediately. When you work with us, you can discover your options for legal action and pursue compensation without any financial risk.
Bader Scott Injury Lawyers Can File Your Lawsuit
You should not have to stress over filing a lawsuit when you are healing from your injuries. Our car accident lawsuit attorneys at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers in Atlanta can take care of this process for you.
If you have questions about your legal options or the value of your potential case, we can address your concerns during a free, no-obligation consultation. We can explain how our injury lawyers can handle your case from beginning to end. Call (404) 888-8888 as soon as possible.