According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 42,000 people died in car accidents on U.S. roadways in a year. Around 4.8 million people sustained serious injuries to warrant medical consultation due to car accidents. Several million vehicles sustained damage in these accidents.
The common way for individuals to obtain compensation for the medical expenses, property damage, wage loss, and emotional impacts they endured due to a car accident is by filing a claim against a relevant insurance policy. If the insurance provider fails to compensate the claim fairly, the claimant can file a lawsuit.
However, not everyone who sustains physical injuries or property damage in a car accident can file a lawsuit or even a claim. Here is a look at who can sue after a car accident and how a car accident lawyer can guide you.
Factors That Determine Your Eligibility to File a Lawsuit After an Accident
What causes most car accidents? Is there a large number of defective vehicles on the roadway? Is the weather to blame? Analysis from NHTSA reveals that 94 percent of motor vehicle accidents result from human errors, commonly referred to as negligence.
The types of negligence that frequently lead to car accidents include:
- Speeding motorists.
- Impaired or fatigued drivers.
- Improper passing.
- Failing to yield the right-of-way.
- Following other vehicles too closely.
After an accident, you generally could seek compensation by filing a personal injury or property damage claim against another driver’s liability insurance policy if another driver was liable for the accident. Liability refers to the legal responsibility that an at-fault driver has to compensate others injured or sustain property damage due to their negligence. To prove liability, you must be able to show certain features in your claim.
Those features include:
- Duty. All drivers who operate motor vehicles on public roadways owe a duty of care to other travelers to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to others. These reasonable actions include operating their vehicle safely and by local and state traffic laws, such as obeying the speed limit or yielding the right-of-way at a red light.
- Breach. You also must show that the driver’s duty was breached by actions contrary to avoiding causing harm to others. The common types of negligence listed above are all good examples of the type of driver behaviors that result in accidents.
- Harm. You must show that the harm you sustained in the accident resulted from the driver’s reckless or careless actions.
In addition to proving liability, you also must be able to prove that you sustained harm that resulted in expenses and psychological impact. The type of evidence used to show harm can include medical and car repair bills, the testimony of acquaintances who have noticed a change in your behavior or outlook since the accident, and information from your employer regarding the amount of time you missed from work or be forced to limit your work duties to accommodate the injury.
Fiiling a lawsuit isn’t the first course of action after an accident. You first must seek compensation by filing a claim against the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy. Only if the insurer fails to pay the claim outright or make a settlement offer that constitutes fair compensation for your injury would you file a lawsuit.
Why Most Lawsuits Never Make It to Court?
While discussions of suing people are common in modern society, many people are unaware of what a lawsuit is. A lawsuit is a legal complaint filed in civil court within a prescribed amount of time, known as the statute of limitations. Failing to file your complaint in court within the statute of limitations will almost always result in losing your right to use the civil court process to obtain compensation for your injury.
Unfortunately, allowing the statute of limitations to expire will also result in the at-fault party’s insurer denying the claim, as they are not required to compensate for expired claims.
Black’s Law Dictionary notes that around 95 percent of personal injury claims including car accident claims resolve via a pre-trial settlement. In much of this 95 percent, plaintiffs never even file lawsuits, as the insurer engages the claimant in a settlement agreement.
At the same time, others involve settlement agreements that resolve between when the plaintiff files the lawsuit and a judge or jury renders a decision on the case.
Why do both parties prefer settlements over lawsuits to resolve car accident claims?
- Due to court scheduling and the pre-trial discovery process, lawsuits generally take considerably longer to complete than a settlement agreement. During this time, the claimant is waiting for compensation, and the claims adjuster cannot close the claim.
- Settlement agreements allow both sides to have a say in the resolution of the claim. When a lawsuit goes to trial, the determinations of liability and fair compensation are left for a judge or jury to decide, and the court doesn’t have to follow the requests or wishes of either party to the claim.
- Trials tend to generate publicity, and the trial records are public information. Many at-fault parties and claimants wish to keep the details of the resolution of their claim private.
Helping You Determine Liability and Insurance Resources
One of the important early tasks of a car accident lawyer is to help you determine who was at fault for your accident. It is important to understand that fault isn’t always simple, and more than one party can be liable for compensating your injury.
For example, many states have dram shop laws that make it possible after an accident involving a drunk driver to seek compensation from the driver and the business establishment or social host who overserved the driver. Likewise, a small percentage of accidents involve manufacturing defects in one of the vehicles damaged in the accident, which can result in strict liability for the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer who supplied the vehicle for the driver to purchase. In these cases, a claim is likely filed against the at-fault party’s business liability policy.
Insurance policies almost always have policy limits, which refer to the maximum amount to be paid for a claim against the policy. The more insurance resources available to compensate the claim, the better opportunity they have of fully compensating their claim.
Communicating With the Claims Adjuster on Your Behalf
When the at-fault party’s insurance provider receives your claim, they will assign a claims adjuster to evaluate the claim and determine whether the claimant is owed compensation. If the claims adjuster verifies that the insured was liable, they will determine how much compensation is owed, based on the coverage provided by the policy and the monetary and psychological costs of your injury.
The claims adjuster will not fairly compensate claimants. Instead, they want to save the insurance company money by reducing payouts to claimants. This is the lens through which they will evaluate your claim and look for reasons to reduce the claim’s worth.
An attorney can protect the value of the claim by communicating with the claims adjuster on your behalf, ensuring that they have the information needed to evaluate the claim but are not able to ask for a ridiculous amount of documentation to delay the claims process or reduce the claim based on information that has nothing to do with the cause of the accident or the harm that was suffered. The attorney will also use this communication to negotiate a settlement that fairly compensates your claim without needing a trial.
Gathering Evidence and Documentation That Proves Your Claim
Car accident claimants must not only show evidence proving the liability of the at-fault party but also provide documentation that will justify the compensation they’re seeking.
Common evidence and documentation included in car accident claims are:
- The police report of the accident generally provides information about fault based on the officer’s interviews with those at the scene and evidence such as skid marks and damage to the vehicles.
- Statements from eyewitnesses who saw the accident occur or witnessed how your life was impacted by your injuries, as well as testimony from expert witnesses, such as medical professionals who can speak to the severity of your injury and the limitations that would likely result from such an injury.
- Video of the accident from neighboring surveillance cameras, doorbell cameras, or traffic camera footage.
- Documentation of your expenses, including medical bills as well as bills for household services that you had to hire someone to do because your injury prevented you from completing those tasks on your own, bills related to the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, and information about your wages and injury-related lost time from work.
Evidence and documentation-gathering are time-consuming processes that are typically overwhelming for people who do not have experience with legal processes. Your attorney’s legal team will help obtain the evidence and documents necessary to prove the claim.
Filing Your Lawsuit Before the Statute of Limitations Expires
A lawsuit can be filed if the at-fault party’s insurer refuses to pay the claim or settle with the claimant. As mentioned, the legal complaint must be filed in court before the statute of limitations expires. Your attorney is aware of this important deadline and will manage your case so that there is time to file a lawsuit if needed.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the discovery process begins. This process is when both sides of a legal dispute must share their evidence and witnesses with the other party’s legal counsel. This process also involves filing motions and attending pre-trial court hearings.
As the trial date approaches, your attorney will likely be busy with tasks such as jury selection. Understand that these activities do not mean that the at-fault party’s insurer can no longer make settlement offers, and such offers are often made while witnesses are being deposed. More information about the strength of the claimant’s case is coming to light via the discovery process.
Helping You Receive Your Compensation
Hire a personal injury attorney in New York to assist you with your claim is affordable, regardless of your financial status. This is because personal injury attorneys use a contingent fee billing method that allows their clients to wait until compensation has been received for the claim to pay their attorney.
After your claim, your attorney will receive your compensation and place the award in a trust. They will deduct their fee from that trust, which is a percentage of the total award. They will also help you settle any medical liens placed on the award by your healthcare provider before turning the remainder of the compensation over to you.