Did you recently get hurt in a car accident? Are you wondering whether you’ll have to go to court? If so, you’re not alone. While most car accident claims settle out of court, certain cases ultimately go to trial. And when you’re already feeling overwhelmed by mounting medical expenses and other crash-related losses, a lengthy court battle is probably the last thing you want.
But how likely is it that your car accident claim could go to trial? Continue reading to learn more about why some car accident claims go to court, how to prepare yourself if you file a lawsuit, and what a car accident lawyer can do to help you pursue the best outcome possible.
Car Accident Claim Facts and Statistics
Determining how frequently car accident claims go to court in the United States is challenging for several reasons. For one, the U.S. has no centralized system to track car accident insurance claims or lawsuits. Additionally, many car accident claims settle out of court, and there aren’t always records of these out-of-court settlements.
However, a recent report from researchers at Stanford Law School indicates that:
- On average, more than 6 million police-reported car accidents occur annually nationwide. Roughly 4.6 million Americans suffer non-fatal injuries in these accidents, and approximately 35,000 more die each year.
- Of all crash victims who suffer injuries in U.S. auto accidents, roughly half file claims against third parties to seek compensation.
- Car accident claims account for more than half of all civil liability lawsuits, almost two-thirds of all personal injury claims, and three-quarters of all claim payouts.
- Individuals who get hurt in auto accidents are significantly more likely to seek compensation than most other injury victims.
- Roughly half of all car crash victims make formal or informal attempts to collect money from other parties. But among non-work-accident and non-auto-accident victims, only three in 100 file liability claims.
- Among all individuals who file compensation claims after car accidents, roughly 50 percent hire legal representation, and only a small proportion (11 percent) proceed to file lawsuits.
- Approximately three to six percent of car accident victims who do not drop or settle their lawsuits ultimately proceed to trial.
- The average car accident lawsuit trial lasts about 5.4 days, much less than the 9.5-day average for personal injury trials in general.
- Plaintiffs who go to trial for car accident lawsuits have “abnormally high” win rates, with 60 percent winning at trial, considerably higher than the 50 percent win rate for plaintiffs in other personal injury lawsuits.
- Whether a car accident victim files an insurance claim or a lawsuit, they have a good shot at getting compensation. One study found that nearly 75 percent of auto accident claimants recover at least some third-party compensation.
- In the 75 largest counties in the U.S., plaintiffs with successful car accident lawsuits received awards averaging roughly $16,000 for their losses.
Differences Between Car Accident Insurance Claims and Lawsuits
Filing an insurance claim and filing a personal injury lawsuit are two different methods for achieving the same goal after a car accident: pursuing compensation for your injuries and other crash-related losses.
Here are some key differences between car accident insurance claims and lawsuits:
- Which parties participate. When you file a first-party insurance claim with your provider, only you and your insurance company are part of the claim. When you file a third-party insurance claim with another provider, only you, the policyholder, and their insurance company participate. In a car accident lawsuit, however, only you and the party you are suing for the accident participate.
- How long it takes to resolve. Most insurance claims settle far more quickly than it takes to reach a trial verdict. Insurance companies prefer to settle accident claims as soon as possible, but a car accident lawsuit can take months or even years to make it through the court system.
- The burden of proof. When you file a car accident insurance claim, you must prove that you are eligible for compensation because of injuries or other losses you suffered in the crash. In a lawsuit, your attorney must prove that the other party was at fault for your losses and that you deserve compensation from them.
- The compensation available. In an insurance claim, you can demand money up to the applicable policy limit, and you might have to pay out-of-pocket if your costs exceed the limit. In a car accident lawsuit, you can seek compensation for the total value of your losses, although the liable party may not have the money or assets to pay your verdict award in full.
What to Expect If Your Car Accident Claim Goes to Court
Here’s a general outline of what you can expect if you and your lawyer end up taking your car accident claim to court:
- The pleading phase. Once you determine that you cannot get the full compensation you deserve from an insurance claim, your attorney can help you begin your lawsuit by preparing and filing a complaint in court. The complaint will include your accusations against the other party and the amount of compensation you believe the other party owes you. After filing the complaint, the other party can respond by filing an answer with the court.
- The discovery phase. After you file your complaint and the other party has a chance to respond, you can proceed to the discovery phase. During discovery, both parties exchange information and evidence about the case. Your attorney will handle most of the work in discovery, but they might ask you for supporting information, documentation, or testimony.
- The deposition phase. In some cases, you might need to give a deposition, which is a sworn statement you make under oath. During a deposition, the other party’s lawyer might ask you questions about the accident, your injuries, and your related losses. If a deposition is necessary, your lawyer can help you prepare for the deposition and navigate the process. An attorney can also object to specific questions that might be irrelevant or inappropriate.
- The mediation phase. Your lawyer might continue trying to settle your case even as they prepare for trial, and a standard method of alternative dispute resolution is mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process in which a neutral third party acts as a mediator to help both parties reach a settlement.
- Proceeding to trial. If the other side still refuses to agree to a reasonable settlement after mediation or other dispute resolution efforts, your case might be one of the few that proceeds to trial. At trial, your lawyer will represent you, present evidence on your behalf, and argue your case before the court. You might need to testify during the trial, in which case your attorney can support and prepare you, just like they would for a deposition.
- Awaiting a verdict. After the court hears all evidence and arguments from both sides, the judge or jury will consider the available facts and render a legally binding judgment for both parties. If the court decides that the other party is liable for your losses, it will order the other party to pay an appropriate sum in the verdict.
- The appeals process. If either party decides the verdict is unfair, their attorney might file an appeal. An appeal is a formal request asking a higher court to review and reverse or amend a lower court’s decision. If your case goes through to appeal, it could add months or years to the process.
The Role of a Lawyer in a Car Accident Claim
Hiring an experienced lawyer after a car accident is always a smart idea.
An attorney can help you in a car accident claim by:
- Providing legal advice. Your first interaction with your car accident lawyer will likely be during an initial consultation session. During your consultation, your attorney can review the specifics of your situation, determine whether you have a case, answer your legal questions, and advise you on your next course of action.
- Conducting investigations. Once you choose to hire a lawyer, they can begin investigating your car accident case. Your attorney might visit the crash scene to look for physical evidence, take photos, and interview witnesses. They can use this information to determine who is liable for your crash injuries.
- Communicating with others. Your lawyer will communicate on your behalf with other parties, insurance companies, and attorneys participating in the case. That way, you don’t have to worry about being constantly available or watching what you say to avoid damaging your case.
- Filing claim paperwork. If any insurance policies apply to your situation, your lawyer can prepare, complete, and file insurance claim paperwork for you. This includes collecting and presenting documentation and other evidence that supports your car accident claim.
- Negotiating settlements. Once your attorney files your insurance claim, the settlement negotiation process can begin in earnest. During this stage, your lawyer will negotiate aggressively with the insurance company on your behalf, demanding money for your injuries, medical expenses, lost income, and more.
- Preparing for litigation. If the other party or their insurance company refuses to take your claim seriously, your attorney can begin preparing your case for trial. In many cases, defendants and their insurance companies are suddenly more eager to settle when someone mentions a lawsuit.
- Filing motions in court. After your lawyer prepares and files your initial complaint, they may file various motions during your car accident lawsuit. For instance, your attorney might file a motion for summary judgment, a motion to compel discovery, or a motion to exclude evidence.
- Representing you at trial. If you do not settle through negotiation or mediation, your lawyer will prepare you for and represent you during the trial. Before the trial, an attorney can help select a jury, present evidence during discovery, and conduct depositions. During the trial, they can argue in your favor, cross-examine witnesses, and object in court as necessary. They can also prepare and represent you in the event of an appeal.
If you have questions about your car accident claim, contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who can review your case and explain your legal options.