Who Pays When You Sue After a Car Accident?

In most cases, an insurance company represents a person, business, or entity that gets sued for damages after a car accident. If you reach a settlement agreement or if the court rules in your favor, it is likely an insurance company will cut you a check for the amount they owe. However, each case varies based on a variety of factors.

It can take time before you recover any money for your injuries. During settlement negotiations or a trial, you must pay your medical expenses. Therefore, it is best to contact your providers and let them know you are in the middle of a lawsuit. Some providers will put accounts on hold until a case resolves, or they will make a payment arrangement to avoid sending you to collections. Your lawyer can help you make these arrangements so you can continue to receive the treatments you need without worrying about making immediate payments.

Below we offer a broad overview of pursuing compensation after a car accident. First, we explore the parties you might name as a defendant in your car accident lawsuit, followed by a discussion of the types of damages for which you might receive compensation and an explanation of the payment process once you have signed an agreement or won your court case. To learn about your legal options in your matter, contact a car crash attorney today.

Potentially Liable Parties for Car Accidents

If you take legal action after a car accident, you will have to name at least one defendant who you believe is financially liable for losses you have incurred from the accident and your injuries. Some complex car accident claims require naming two or more defendants. Most of the time, you can expect the party or parties you name in a lawsuit to have auto insurance or another type of insurance coverage that could apply to your claim. The insurance carrier can act on behalf of their policyholder.

Regardless of whether an insurance company is involved in your claim, your attorney might advise you to name one or more of these parties as a defendant in a car accident lawsuit:

Another Driver

The most common defendants and financially liable parties in car accidents are other motorists. Negligent drivers who make poor choices behind the wheel cause car accidents. Drunk driving, drowsy driving, and distracted driving are a few examples of negligent driving behaviors that open a driver up to financial liability for damages after a car accident. If you file a claim against another insured driver, it could fall under their bodily injury liability (BIL) insurance coverage.

A Business

Several scenarios exist in which a business might be partially or wholly financially liable for a car accident.

Examples include:

  • A driver is operating a company vehicle when they cause a car accident.
  • A mechanic or auto repair shop does shoddy work that leads to a mechanical breakdown at a critical time, resulting in a car accident.
  • A driver causes an accident because of a medical emergency, potentially opening drug manufacturers or medical device manufacturers to financial liability.

Depending on the circumstances of the car accident, commercial auto insurance or commercial property insurance might pay benefits to a claimant if a business is held liable for a car accident.

Auto/Auto Part Manufacturers

Companies who build cars and car parts have a legal obligation to bring products to market that are safe for public use. However, sometimes vehicles and/or their parts have manufacturing or design defects that lead to dangerous conditions while driving and can lead to accidents. In other situations, auto manufactures fail to warn drivers about dangerous aspects of their vehicles. In either case, if a defective car or car part leads to a car accident, any party involved in the design, manufacture, or sale could be liable for damages from a car accident.

Government Entity

Towns, cities, counties, and states must maintain roads and highways in a safe condition so users do not have accidents. Roads in disrepair with potholes, sinkholes, and other defects can lead to dangerous accidents. Similarly, government entities must maintain traffic control devices that regulate intersections and other areas for motorists. Malfunctioning stoplights, for example, can lead to treacherous collisions. Finally, poor road designs can also lead to car accidents.

Depending on the exact circumstances of an accident, a government entity might be liable for damages after a car accident. Sometimes government entities have insurance, but typically, compensation for these types of car accident lawsuits comes right from city, state, or county funds.

Damages You Might Receive After a Car Accident

When you sue after a car accident, you could receive compensation for a wide range of economic and non-economic damages suffered due to your injuries. Economic damages refer to quantifiable costs related to the accident and your injuries. They can include:

Medical Expenses

Car wreck victims incur a wide range of costs for medical treatment. In addition to a ride in an ambulance and treatment in an emergency room, victims might need surgery, medication, and additional diagnostic scans and tests. Severe car accident injuries require hospitalization for days or weeks, potentially adding astronomical economic damages to a car accident claim.

Rehabilitation Costs

Most car accident victims need to undergo some rehabilitation as they heal. Those with minor injuries might only need physical therapy to help them regain lost function after an injury. Those with more severe car accident injuries typically need occupational therapy in addition to physical therapy, especially if they suffer permanent injuries. Finally, car accidents can be traumatic events that sometimes require mental health services to work through the emotional trauma.

Estimated Future Medical Treatment Costs

Severe car accidents sometimes cause injuries that require ongoing care and treatment, and some victims might need additional surgeries. Estimated future medical expenses can form a significant portion of economic damages for car accident victims. In the worst cases, car accident victims need around-the-clock care at home or in a long-term nursing care facility. Health insurance does not typically cover nursing home stays unless someone has purchased long-term care insurance. The expense of full-time care can bankrupt a car accident victim and their family if they do not sue for damages.

Lost Wages

Serious injuries require people to miss work for days, weeks, or months. Car accident victims typically use vacation time and sick pay, but this does not go very far with a severe injury. Lost income from a car accident creates massive economic hardship in some households. Even when children suffer accident injuries, parents need to take time away from work to care for them.

Lost Earning Capacity

In the most severe car accidents, victims sometimes suffer catastrophic injuries. A catastrophic injury is any injury or condition that prevents someone from returning to their job or seeking gainful employment in the future. Catastrophic car accident injuries lead to lost earning capacity because of a victim’s inability to work. Fortunately, not all car accident victims have to sue for future lost wages. However, it can make up a significant portion of a claim in some circumstances.

Non-economic damages refer to the ways your injuries have impacted your life. You cannot add receipts up to quantify them. Instead, lawyers, insurance adjusters, and courts estimate non-economic damages. The most common non-economic damages related to car accidents include:

Pain and Suffering

Car accident victims suffer physically and emotionally in the aftermath of an accident. More severe injuries typically result in more pain and suffering. For example, someone who suffers amputation from a car accident faces the physical pain of losing a limb and the emotional trauma of the loss. Many amputees also face phantom limb pain (PLP) for years after an accident. Lawyers and insurance companies evaluate the pain and suffering an accident victim has incurred and include it in the non-economic damages portion of a car accident claim.

Loss of Consortium

Physical injury from a car accident can impact marital relations. In legal terms, damage to a marriage due to accident injuries is referred to as loss of consortium. Sometimes car accident victims have physical limitations to intimacy from their injuries. Other times, psychological aspects might play a role. For example, a car accident victim who suffers a permanent scar in a highly visible location might be self-conscious and find intimacy difficult with their partner.

Diminished Quality of Life

Severe car accident injuries negatively impact the lives of many victims. Chronic pain from injury and permanent injuries make it difficult—sometimes impossible—for accident victims to enjoy their lives the way they did before a crash. While other damages focus on the ability for someone to work, diminished quality of life speaks to the loss of enjoyment that someone faces. Severe injuries can prevent people from engaging in physical activities they enjoy, make it difficult to travel, or negatively impact their lives in other ways. Those who undergo major life changes due to car accident injuries sometimes receive compensation for reduced quality of life.

The Car Accident Lawsuit Process

It may be unclear who to pursue a claim against after a car accident and how to calculate the damages the at-fault party should be responsible for. Some explanation about the context of the legal process of seeking compensation for damages might help. Below, we address the impact of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance on car accident lawsuits, followed by the administrative part of receiving compensation if you prevail in your claim. Speak with a personal injury attorney today to learn about your legal options and strategy.

PIP Insurance Reduces the Amount of Damages Car Accident Victims Receive

Many states, including New York and New Jersey, require that drivers who register a vehicle carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to comply with no-fault insurance laws. When an accident occurs, each person files an injury claim under their own PIP policy to cover medical expenses and lost wages up to their policy limit. Unfortunately, after a car accident that leads to severe injuries, it is common for policyholders to quickly meet or exceed their policy limit, making it necessary to sue to recover additional losses.

Also, PIP coverage does not pay benefits for non-economic damages like pain and suffering and loss of consortium. In most cases, you must meet a certain threshold to step outside the no-fault insurance system and sue the other driver. An experienced car accident lawyer can evaluate your case, help you exhaust all PIP insurance options, and try to get the ball rolling on a lawsuit, so you have the best chances of receiving full compensation for your car accident injuries.

Receiving Payment After Winning Your Case

If you prevail in your car accident claim, you can likely expect one of two different outcomes in most cases. The most common outcome is to reach a settlement agreement before going to court. Sometimes this requires a lawsuit, and other times, a lawyer can file an insurance claim with the other party and send a demand letter to initiate negotiations. Most car accidents settle before going to trial because litigation is expensive. Neither side wants to take on the extra costs or risks associated with letting a jury decide their fate.

Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

Car Accident Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

However, sometimes disputes over liability and the right amount of compensation force lawyers to take a car accident case to court. If your case goes to trial and the jury rules in your favor, it can award you compensation based on your claim. It can take some time before you receive any money from your case. Once you sign a settlement agreement or a court awards damages, the other party must pay accordingly. In most car accident claims, the insurance company will cut a check within a few weeks.

Typically, the insurance company sends the check to your attorney. Your lawyer will use the funds to pay any outstanding medical bills related to your injuries, deduct their attorney fees, and subtract other costs of representation. Finally, you will receive the balance of the funds from your lawyer. In rare cases where you have to directly sue someone (often an uninsured or underinsured driver), you might have to take further action to collect the money if they do not have the financial resources to pay the claim.

Contact a car accident attorney to get started.