How Do You Manage a Vehicle Accident Lawsuit?
Car accidents might be over in an instant, but the procedures that follow can seem never-ending. When you’ve never had to make a big insurance claim or file court paperwork before, trying to manage the whole process alone can leave you feeling stranded in another world.
The law isn’t always easy to understand on your own. Hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you work through the steps involved with a lawsuit. To give you a better understanding of what this entails, let’s look at how to navigate your way through a vehicle accident lawsuit.
What Should Drivers Do After a Car Accident?
The lead-up to a lawsuit starts the moment of an accident. Laying the right groundwork can ultimately have a profound impact—positively or negatively—so it’s important for drivers to know what they should (and shouldn’t) do.
Don’t Ditch the Evidence
The evidence surrounding a car accident doesn’t always last forever. Eyewitnesses sometimes forget important details. Nearby shops could delete useful security footage. Skid marks fade away over time. Even visiting the repair shop and getting damage repaired without taking photos first can make it harder to prove a claim. You should document everything about your case through photos and taking good notes.
Don’t Talk to the Insurance Company
If the negligent driver’s insurance company becomes involved after a car accident, it’s likely that an insurance adjuster will contact the victim. They’ll ask questions and take statements, but it’s rarely done in an effort to offer fair compensation. The insurance provider could work against the victim, using their words against them later to lower payouts or even deny a claim altogether.
Do Get Medical Attention
Seeing a doctor right after an accident can be crucial for a healthy recovery:
- Symptoms don’t always show up right away
- Minor injuries can turn severe
- A prompt visit can help connect injuries to a car accident
Do Track Everything
From medical expenses to doctor’s notes to missed time from work, it’s important to save everything that relates to a case. Insurance adjusters may try calling judgment into question, but a paper trail and doctor’s notes can strengthen a car accident claim.
Do Look Into Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
Serious injuries can be overwhelming, but there’s help available. Even if a driver has done everything right, it can still take an experienced personal injury attorney to know what to do next.
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“I went to another law firm and they turned me down…would not take my case. Myers Law Firm met with me, handled my case and would not back down from insurance company. Even when they had to file suit to protect me for my personal injury and property damage. I received a very fair settlement. Mr. Myers I appreciate you and your staff.”
“Mr. Lee-Thanks to you and Bessie for all of your help last year and most recently with the referral. I sold the house and the kids and I moved 8 days before Christmas. God is good, faithful and true.”
Does a Car Accident Victim Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
Not every car accident benefits from hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit, but passing on legal representation without talking over a case with an attorney could cost the victim in the end:
- Building a strong case takes a lot of time and experience, and going it alone can be risky
- It’s difficult to navigate all the legal requirements of filing a lawsuit and supporting a claim
- Insurance companies might try to take advantage of drivers by making low offers and applying high pressure
Evaluating a personal injury claim can be a complicated process, and victims could benefit from reaching out for legal help.
Preserving Evidence From a Crash
Drivers can start collecting evidence on their own, but an experienced attorney knows where to look and how the law helps:
- Official witness testimony. In-person questioning, or a sworn written account, can help uncover details that led to an accident. Making the process official through a deposition or an affidavit puts the process under oath.
- Anti-spoliation letter. Sometimes, obtaining evidence is out of a victim’s hands, but a written demand to preserve evidence can keep proof intact. If the defendant has car damage that supports a case, getting repairs after an anti-spoliation letter could result in consequences.
- Public Records Law. If there were traffic cameras on the scene, it’s not always obvious how to get the footage. Sometimes it’s also important to get the 911 call because these records may be destroyed after a certain period of time. Your attorney could file a request for access to some documents held by public agencies.
Understanding Contributory Negligence
North Carolina has a legal principle called contributory negligence that outlines who can get compensation after a car accident. If a driver shares any responsibility at all for a crash, the law says they aren’t entitled to any recovery for damages.
When 1% of blame is enough to stop a claim, working with an experienced attorney becomes crucial. A strong legal strategy might be the only way to show an insurance company or jury that the negligence falls entirely on one driver.
Navigating Deadlines in Personal Injury Cases
Though injuries can last a lifetime, the window for beginning a personal injury lawsuit does not. Victims in North Carolina generally have three years from the time of the car accident to bring a claim. This is called the statute of limitations.
Damages that stem from an easily identifiable cause, like a car accident, will often signal the start date of the statute of limitations. Drivers will be barred from compensation if they haven’t settled or filed a lawsuit before their statute of limitations expires.
It’s not always clear to a victim exactly when the clock beings to tick, but legal representation can help look at the evidence and offer guidance for legal strategy.
Decide Whether to Settle or File a Lawsuit
While it falls on the victim’s shoulders to build a strong argument for damages after a car accident, that doesn’t mean a claim will cover every cost. The other driver’s insurance company will usually make an initial offer that doesn’t come close to meeting the list of damages.
Victims need to understand what a personal injury claim can include after a car accident:
- Economic losses. Costs that can be tied to the car accident with a receipt generally fall into this category. Medical bills, accessibility upgrades, lost wages, and property damage can all stem from a car accident.
- Non-economic losses. Damages aren’t always as easy as showing bills. Physical pain, depression, lost happiness, and post-traumatic stress disorder can add up to a big piece of a car accident claim but might be harder to prove.
- Punitive damages. Reckless or malicious behaviors like drunk driving can lead to punishments for the defendant. These additional damages can also be included in the lawsuit.
Finding an accurate number for damages is an essential but complicated process that an experienced legal team can help work through. Your attorney will work through settlement negotiations to get the best offer that the insurance company is willing to make before you file a lawsuit.
What Does the Lawsuit Process Look Like?
When the evidence is in order and the legal requirements are met, it’s time to undergo a step-by-step process.
Evaluate the Insurance Offer
The insurance provider will decide on whether to make a settlement offer and for what amount. It will be up to the driver and their attorney to review the offer and decide if it adequately covers the cost of damages.
If amount isn’t fair, then it becomes time for a lawsuit.
File a Complaint With the Clerk’s Office
Drivers have to put together a formal complaint that includes specific allegations and file it at the clerk’s office. This action makes the victim the plaintiff, and the person they’re suing becomes the defendant. The clerk’s office will issue a summons, which the plaintiff will have to serve to the defendant along with the complaint.
The defendant has 30 days to respond, with one extension available for another 30 days. Their answer will include a number of defenses, most of which may not even be applicable, but it could also include counterclaims, which the plaintiff will need to answer.
Get Evidence on the Record
After everything is filed and answered, there’s a time for gathering information. This is called the discovery phase. This period is where the official witness testimonies from depositions take place. The plaintiff, the defendant, and other witnesses could all have to have their deposition taken. There are also written discovery requests that must be answered and documents that must be produced.
Go Through Mediation or Arbitration
North Carolina courts require personal injury cases to go through mediation or arbitration before they make it to trial. In both instances, a neutral third party tries to help the plaintiff and defendant come to an agreement:
- A professional mediator will attempt to work with both sides toward an agreement, but the process isn’t totally binding. Either party can leave the table, which will bring the case to trial.
- An arbitrator will hear both sides of the complaint, then make a decision. A court-ordered arbitration decision can be appealed which will bring the case to trial.
Resolve the Issue in Court
If a claim makes it all the way to trial without a settlement, the plaintiff will have to support their claim before a jury. The jury will weigh the plaintiff’s evidence against the defendant’s and come to a decision. There’s room to file an appeal if there’s an undesirable outcome, otherwise, the decision becomes final.
Myers Law Firm Can Help
If you’ve been in an accident and are trying to determine whether to file a lawsuit, contact Myers Law Firm. We’re ready to sit down and look over the details of your case and help you determine your next steps.
Our team has over 60 years of combined help serving the injured in North Carolina, and we’re here to support you. We know the process from beginning to end and fight tirelessly for victims throughout.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.