If another driver’s negligence caused a car accident that injured you, you can pursue a legal claim against that driver to recover compensation for your injuries. Although most successful car accident claims end in settlements, you may need to file a car accident lawsuit to recover financial compensation from the at-fault driver and their insurer.
Litigation involves a long, complicated process. You may feel anxiety waiting to recover compensation for your injuries as your car accident lawsuit progresses.
A car accident attorney is an invaluable ally during this complicated process. They can alleviate this stress, handle litigation for you, explain what to expect at each step of your car accident lawsuit. Your attorney will advise you of your legal options and provide the information you need to make the best decisions for your interests. Your lawyer will also prepare your case and advocate on your behalf in court and at trial.
Steps You Should Take After Getting Into a Car Accident
You can take several steps to protect your rights before you start pursuing a lawsuit to recover compensation for car accident injuries. If you called police to the scene, they should have taken a report and called emergency services for those who needed medical care. You also likely exchanged insurance information and contact details with the other driver.
Other things you need to do after a car crash to put yourself in the best position for a car accident lawsuit include:
- Take photos/videos of the accident scene, including accident damage, visible injuries you suffered, skid marks, visual obstructions, and traffic signs/signals. If you didn’t do this at the time of the crash, don’t worry. Your attorney can handle that for you.
- If you didn’t see a doctor after the crash, do so as soon as you can so your doctor can diagnose injuries you suffered in the crash.
- Notify your car insurance company about the accident.
- Follow your doctor’s treatment plan and instructions.
- Keep bills, invoices, and receipts of expenses.
- Gather your pay stubs/income statements if you miss time from work due to your injuries.
- Keep a journal of your recovery to document the pain and physical difficulties you experience.
Finally, contact a car accident lawyer to investigate the crash, prepare your legal case, and pursue your car accident lawsuit.
The Steps of the Car Accident Litigation Process
A car accident injury claim may involve multiple steps, depending on the outcome of the claim. When pursuing a car accident lawsuit, you can expect to go through some of the following steps:
Hiring a Lawyer
You can give yourself the best chance of maximizing your financial recovery by hiring a car accident lawyer to handle your case. An attorney will have experience investigating car crashes, evaluating legal options, and negotiating with insurance companies to recover the compensation you need. Having a lawyer to handle the details of your car accident case also frees you to focus your time and energy on your medical treatment and injury rehabilitation.
Your car accident lawyer can investigate the crash to secure evidence for your case.
The investigation may include:
- Photographing the scene of the accident, preferably as soon as possible after the crash
- Taking eyewitness statements
- Securing copies of surveillance/traffic camera footage of the collision
- Requesting copies of the police accident report
- Gathering post-accident car inspection/repair reports
- Obtaining drivers’ cell phone records
In some car accident claims, attorneys may also retain experts to review evidence and records and provide opinion testimony.
Experts commonly hired for car accident cases include:
- Accident reconstruction experts who provide a narrative description or illustrated depiction of what happened in the accident to identify the party or parties at fault
- Engineering experts who examine vehicles after the accident for evidence of inadequate maintenance or design/manufacturing defects that contributed to causing the crash
- Medical experts who explain how the accident caused a crash victim’s injuries and the accident victim’s prognosis
- Vocational experts who can describe how physical disabilities affect the accident victim’s ability to work or perform daily activities
- Financial experts who can calculate future expenses and losses
Your attorney can also help gather documentation to support your injury and compensation claims, including police accident reports, medical records, bills, invoices, receipts, and pay stubs/income statements.
Drafting and Filing Insurance Claims and Demand Letters
After collecting evidence of fault and documentation to support your compensation claim, your car accident lawyer can draft insurance claims and demand letters to send to the at-fault driver, their insurer, and other liable parties.
Formal insurance claims or demand letters will describe the evidence supporting your claim, document your injuries and losses, and demand compensation from the at-fault party or insurance company. If the insurance company rejects your initial demand, your attorney and the insurer may begin negotiating a settlement of your case.
Initial Settlement Negotiations
When you or the insurance company rejects the initial settlement offer, you may trade counteroffers as part of the settlement negotiation process. Your attorney and the insurance company may informally negotiate a settlement. However, if negotiations reach an impasse, you and the insurer may try a more formal negotiation process, such as mediation.
Filing the Complaint
Your lawyer must file a lawsuit to continue your car accident claim if you cannot settle with the liable parties and insurers before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Typically, you will file your lawsuit in the same judicial district where the car accident occurred.
A case begins with the filing of a complaint with the court. The complaint describes what happened in the accident and your allegations against the at-fault driver and requests relief from the court, usually financial compensation.
After filing your complaint, your attorney must serve a copy of the complaint and summons on the opposing party or parties to notify them of the lawsuit. The at-fault driver and other defendants can respond to your complaint by filing an answer in which they admit or deny each allegation of the complaint.
Once the parties file their pleadings, they proceed to discovery. In discovery, the parties exchange information and evidence and depose witnesses to narrow the issues in dispute for trial. Discovery can include interrogatories (which request information from the opposing party), requests for documents in the opposing party’s possession, custody, or control, depositions of fact and expert witnesses, and requests for admission of facts.
Parties in a car accident lawsuit may also file motions:
- To admit or exclude evidence or expert reports or testimony
- To compel discovery
- To dismiss the case for procedural errors or lack of jurisdiction
- For summary judgment—In a summary judgment motion, the moving party argues that no genuine disputes of material fact remain and the undisputed facts entitle them to judgment as a matter of law
If the parties cannot settle the case, the car accident lawsuit will reach trial. The trial starts with jury selection if the parties choose a jury trial. In jury selection, the parties question prospective jurors to determine whether they have conflicts of interest, biases, or other circumstances that make them unsuitable to sit on the jury.
After selecting the jury, the parties will make opening arguments to describe each side’s theory of the case and discuss the evidence the parties expect to present during the trial.
Following the opening statements, each side will present evidence and witnesses and may cross-examine the opposing party’s evidence. After the close of evidence, the parties may present closing statements to summarize the evidence and argue how it supports their theory.
The jury (or the judge in a bench trial) will then deliberate and reach a verdict deciding the issues on trial, such as liability for the accident or the damages you incurred.
Post-trial Motions and Appeal
After the trial or verdict, parties can file post-trial motions, such as:
- Motion for a new trial. Argues that errors during the trial affected the outcome, requiring the court to hold a brand new trial
- Motion for a directed verdict or judgment notwithstanding the verdict. These motions request that the trial court decide the case for the moving party because the evidence presented at trial weighs overwhelmingly in their favor
- Motion to amend or vacate the judgment. A motion to amend or vacate raises challenges to the calculation of damages or the award of relief in the judgment
Either party can file an appeal if dissatisfied with the verdict or judgment. An appeal requires a party to demonstrate that an error or errors during the trial court proceedings affected the outcome.
If the appellate court agrees that serious errors occurred, it may:
- Order a new trial
- Order a new trial on limited issues such as liability or damages
- Return the case to the trial court to amend the judgment
- Remand the case with instructions for the trial court to grant judgment for the other party or to dismiss the case
Proving Fault in a Car Accident Lawsuit
Winning a car accident lawsuit requires proving the other driver caused the crash.
Evidence frequently used to establish liability in car accident claims includes:
- Police accident reports
- Accident scene photos and videos
- Surveillance, traffic camera, or dashcam footage
- Car event data recorder (“black box”) logs
- Drivers’ cell phone records
- Drug/alcohol test results
- Eyewitness testimony
- Post-accident vehicle inspections
- Car maintenance records
- Medical records from your treatment
- Accident reconstruction/engineering reports
Don’t Forget the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations imposes a deadline on filing suit. Florida’s statute of limitations requires you to sue the at-fault driver or other liable parties within four years of the car accident. Filing suit after the statutory period expires on your car accident claim risks letting the trial court dismiss your case.
However, you must also send notice of your car accident claim to the appropriate government agency before you can file a lawsuit if your car accident case involves a state or local government vehicle. In most cases, you must send notice of your claim a year or more before the expiration of the statute of limitations. A car accident lawyer can keep track of the deadlines in your case to ensure the timely filing of your legal claims.
Understanding the Litigation Process Can Help Remove the Anxiety and Stress of Your Car Accident Claim
Car accident litigation can seem complex and confusing if you have never pursued an injury claim. Knowing what to expect in a car accident lawsuit can help you avoid the anxiety and stress of waiting to recover compensation for injuries sustained in a crash.
A personal injury lawyer can help prepare you for each stage of the claims process and can handle the details of preparing your case. An attorney could ensure you can pursue every opportunity to recover compensation for your accident losses.