Whenever you make an important decision, you want to know what you are getting into. It is no different when you are hurt in a car accident and need to pursue your right to compensation against the negligent driver who caused your injuries. You need to understand how much compensation you could receive, what will happen in your case, and how long it will take to resolve. Here, we will be discussing the steps in your car accident case after you hire your attorney.
The Stages in Your Car Accident Case
Car accident cases are a type of personal injury case. These cases generally go through a serious of stages before they are settled out of court or decided through a trial. Most car accident cases will settle out of court, but often an attorney must file a civil complaint and take steps to get a case ready for trial before this can happen. You can expect some or all of these steps to occur after you meet with your attorney:
- Demand letter. Your attorney’s first steps will be to investigate the accident and obtain important documents like the police report, medical bills, lost wages documentation, and your medical records. He will need this information to understand your case better and to attach to the demand letter he sends to the insurance adjuster for the negligent driver. Your attorney may wait to write the adjuster the demand letter. This may surprise you, but it could be a calculated strategy. Your attorney wants to wait until your medical treatment is completed or you have a final diagnosis to be certain his settlement proposal includes all of your medical expenses and your wages—something that is often not known for months or longer after your accident.
- Negotiations. Once a demand letter is sent, the adjuster and your attorney will most likely go through a period of negotiation to try to settle your case. The adjuster will rarely agree to a settlement right away and could try to deny liability or your right to the compensation you claimed is owed. This negotiation process could be through correspondence, emails, telephone conversations, or a combination of these forms of communication. Your attorney may need to gather additional information to use to counter the adjuster’s arguments. This process may result in your case being settled without the need to file a lawsuit.
- Complaint. If negotiations are not going well or are taking too long, your attorney will start litigation on your behalf. In a civil lawsuit, your case begins when you—also known as the plaintiff—file a complaint or lawsuit against the negligent driver, who is referred to as the defendant, in court.
- Service of process. After the complaint is filed, the court will return a copy of it to your attorney with a summons, which is a court document ordering the defendant to answer your complaint. Your attorney will arrange to have a process server serve the defendant with the summons and complaint personally. Once he is served with the complaint, the defendant will provide a copy to his insurance company who will hire an attorney to defend him.
- Answer. The defendant will usually have a few weeks to file an answer with the court and provide your attorney with a copy of it. In his answer, the defendant will answer each claim in your complaint—usually by denying them. He may also raise defenses to your complaint called affirmative defenses as to why he has no or less liability, such as that you were partially at fault in causing the accident.
- Discovery. Discovery is the process during which you and the attorneys for the defendant learn important information about each other’s cases. Written questions called interrogatories may be sent to you, the defendant, and third parties. During your deposition, the defendant’s attorney will ask you questions and a court reporter will take down your answers and prepare a written document that can later be used in court hearings. The discovery process can be invaluable to your attorney in determining the strength of your case and the amount of compensation you can reasonably expect.
- Further negotiations. At various stages of the litigation process when your attorney believes it would be productive, he will engage in further settlement negotiations with the defendant’s attorney. At some point prior to trial, your attorney will most likely be able to negotiate a settlement for you.
- Pre-trial proceedings. The court will schedule a pre-trial hearing where the attorneys set dates in your case with the judge or his clerk, like the deadlines to complete discovery, to file motions in your case, and for your trial date. Motions could be filed and argued at court hearings if parties are not cooperating in the discovery process or the defendant files a motion to dismiss your case. In some courts, mediation or a settlement conference with the judge may be scheduled to try to settle your case without the need to go to trial.
- Trial. Some cases cannot be settled. If your case is one of these, your case will be decided by a judge or jury at your trial. This is your day in court where you get to tell your story, present your witnesses, and present written evidence that proves your case. The defendant will also have the opportunity to present his defenses, and your attorney and the defendant’s attorney will be able to cross-examine each other’s witnesses. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury will make a decision about whether you are entitled to any compensation and the amount you should receive.
Now that you understand the process of resolving your case, you need to retain an experienced car accident attorney to help you navigate the process. Check out my Testimonials and then call me at 888-795-6261 to schedule a free consultation.