Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit

All anyone wants after a car accident is a reasonable settlement offer to move on. However, when insurance company negotiations have failed and settling is no longer an option, filing a car accident lawsuit is the best choice. Here’s what you need to know about filing a car accident lawsuit.

In a car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) is attempting to retrieve money from the defendant (the person sued). A lawsuit is a formal legal action occurring in the civil court system. A victim should not confuse a lawsuit with a car accident insurance claim. In an insurance claim, negotiations are only between the individual in the car accident and their auto insurance company’s adjuster.

Steps to File a Car Accident Lawsuit

Step 1: File a Complaint

When a plaintiff files a complaint with the court, the process for filing a car accident lawsuit has begun. A complaint refers to the initial document or pleading a plaintiff submitted against a defendant. The complaint is in writing and typically contains all parties involved in the case, facts supporting the allegations, and lays out and supports every element of the case.

The court typically refers to each claim as a “cause of action.” For example, in a typical car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff may bring separate cases of action for negligence, pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The complaint will also ask for specific compensation in certain dollar amounts for damages incurred.

Step 2: Serve the Complaint on the Defendant

Once the court clerk creates the file for the case, they will “serve” them with a copy of the complaint and a summons to inform the defendant of the lawsuit. The summons requires the defendant to answer the case within a specified time. Special rules and procedures apply for who may serve the complaint, when and how the defendant receives the service varies by state, but the plaintiff typically has around thirty days to serve the defendant. If the plaintiff cannot locate the defendant, the state can extend the deadline.

Step 3: Defendant Files an Answer

After the defendant receives the complaint, the defendant must file an “Answer” or response to the complaint. In the “Answer”, the defendant will admit or deny the factual allegations made in the complaint. In addition, the defendant can also set forth any legal defenses.

Related: How to File a Car Accident Claim With Nationwide

Step 4: Discovery

In the discovery process, both parties exchange documents, evidence relevant to the case, and information likely to lead to undiscovered evidence. Discovery provides an opportunity for both sides to see all the facts to get a better understanding of how to proceed with the case. Typically, the process includes interrogatories (written questions), requests for the production of documents, and dispositions (oral statements made under oath).

In addition, deposition is another way to collect information during the discovery process. During the investigation stage, the court can contact eyewitnesses or experts for a better understanding of the car accident. The court can possibly call upon eyewitnesses and experts for a deposition testimony to testify at a specific place and time. The court has these testimonies taken under oath, recorded, and used in the case.

Step 5: Trial

After discovery, each side will have all the necessary information to present the case in court. The trial usually proceeds with both sides making opening statements, the plaintiff presenting evidence, the defendant cross-examining the plaintiff’s witnesses, the defendant presenting evidence, the plaintiff cross-examining the defendant’s witnesses, and lastly, closing statements.

Once closing statements conclude, the judge or jury will deliberate and reach a conclusion in favor of the plaintiff or defendant. If the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff, the court orders the defendant to pay damages in certain dollar amounts.

Related: How to Get a CHP Accident Report

FAQs About How to File Car Accident Lawsuits

Does the plaintiff have to hire an attorney to file a lawsuit?

The plaintiff does not legally have to hire an attorney in order to file a lawsuit. However, hiring an attorney can make this complex process much easier.

How long does a car accident lawsuit typically take?

A car accident lawsuit can last from weeks to one year. Different factors influence how long the lawsuit takes to resolve. Factors include the severity of the accident, the number of parties involved, negotiations with the insurance company, and many more.

How long does a plaintiff have to file a car accident lawsuit?

The statute of limitations for filing a car accident lawsuit varies from state to state. An individual should visit their state website for more information.

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