Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Vehicle Injury & Car Accident Process
Getting into a car accident, or any other type of vehicle accident, is a scary and possibly traumatizing experience. It is also the most common type of personal injury case. Once the shock wears off, many people often wonder if they have legal recourse. While most people are familiar with the general idea of a lawsuit, there are some unknown aspects of the litigation process to understand, especially when it comes to vehicle injury.
Below we have highlighted the significant areas to know about before beginning your vehicle injury lawsuit. It is important to understand that each step can be crucial to the outcome of your case.
Step 1 - At The Car Accident Scene
Some crucial stages take place right after a car accident. Immediately after the accident, it helps to take pictures of the vehicles, provide police with their description of the accident, and take down any potential witness names. Next, make sure to seek treatment for your vehicle injuries as this not only treats your injuries but also begins to establish your case against the defendant. Lastly, you should inform your insurance company there has been an accident.
Step 2 - Insurance Companies and Car Accidents
A common question asked by both defendants and plaintiffs is, “what is the insurance companies role in accident litigation?” Shortly after the accident, the defendant’s insurance company will likely reach out to you in an attempt to settle your claim for a small amount of money. It is important to refuse the offer because it cuts off your ability to sue them. Once you begin litigation, the defendant’s insurance company becomes the primary defendant and will be the one paying the final amount to the plaintiff for any vehicle injury and/or damage.
If the plaintiff is out of work or has suffered significant medical bills/costs, several protections are available. First, most states have no-fault insurance or personal injury protection (PIP) programs in place. No-fault requires the injured party’s insurance company to cover costs up to a certain threshold. Under personal injury protection plans, the insurance company reimburses the injured party for damages and expenses, typically with no maximum limit.
There are times the defendant does not have enough coverage to pay for all your damages–from vehicle injury to actual vehicle damages. For example, if your injuries are worth $100,000 but the defendant is only insured up to $50,000. Don’t worry; your insurance coverage may have the solution to this issue. Insurance companies offer their insureds the option to have Supplemental Underinsured Motorist coverage. If you elected for this option, your insurance company would cover the extra $50,000 in the above example, with some exceptions.
Step 3 - Litigation of a Car Accident Case
Once you have made it past the initial stages, it is smart to consult with a personal injury attorney who specializes in vehicle injury cases. It can be challenging to choose one because there are so many. There are big firms, small firms, sole practitioners, and the dreaded settlement mills. Please do your homework before settling on an attorney and make sure it’s the right fit for you. As shown below, the plaintiff and the defendant will have a limited role in the litigation aspect. Each person’s presence may be required as few as once or twice throughout the whole process.
Step 4 - The Discovery Stage
Once the lawsuit is filed, and the initial papers are served, the case will move into the discovery stage. During this time, your attorney will receive requests for information from the other side. Many times, your attorney will be contacting you to collect the information required to respond. You will also have to attend a deposition, where the other side will ask you questions about the accident and the vehicle injury, or injuries, you incurred as a result.
Step 5 - Settlement or Trial
Once the discovery process is over, then the sides will truly begin negotiating. This process can be over quickly or be a long, drawn-out process. Remember, your attorney is required to advise you of any offer the defense makes. If you cannot reach a mutually-agreed upon settlement, the sides will move forward to court-assisted settlement discussions involving mediation or settlement conferences with the court. If these options fail, then the court will order an arbitration or have a trial.
Determining who's at fault in a Car Accident Case
The primary way to prove liability is for a plaintiff to prove the defendant was negligent. In ordinary terms, you must verify that the other driver caused the accident and the accident caused your vehicle injuries. Keep in mind that the defendant is allowed to show if and how your actions contributed to the accident. This is called contributory negligence, and it is measured by a percentage, which reduces your damages in accordance with the percentage.
2. Reckless or Wanton conduct
Reckless or wanton conduct involves behavior so out of control, it exhibits a disregard for others’ safety.
3. Intentional conduct
Car accidents, and vehicle injuries, rarely involve intentional conduct but it does occur in a drunk driving accident.
4. Statutory conduct
Statutory conduct is when the defendant breaks the law, and that violation causes the accident and/or vehicle injury.
Damages Arising from a Vehicle Accident
Damages arising from an accident include minor injuries (such as bumps and bruises), scratches, serious injury, property damage, and even wrongful death. Typically, a plaintiff will need to show that their injuries are severe, and they can not recover from their injuries. In the event of a death, the decedent’s estate brings a wrongful death suit. Lastly, a plaintiff can recover from the defendant for the amount of property damage sustained in the accident.
Collecting Money for Personal Injuries
The ability to collect for injuries will depend on the types of injuries sustained. The majority of states will have a threshold that the plaintiff must clear to prove the vehicle injuries are severe. The most common injuries in which plaintiffs recover damages are brain injuries, neck and back injuries, facial injuries such as lacerations, and soft tissue injuries. The more difficult injuries to prove are psychological and emotional because it is difficult to ascertain the car accident caused these injuries.
Aviation Accidents and Personal Injuries
While aviation accidents are not as frequent, their impact can be much greater than a vehicle accident. Proving fault for a plane crash is typically difficult due to the complex systems involved. The most common causes of action for an aviation lawsuit arise under the following circumstances: pilot or crew member error, mechanical failure, inclement weather, or intentional harm. Many times, these issues involve a third parties negligence such as a manufacturer of a defective part or a third party responsible for maintaining equipment. Either way, the course of a lawsuit involving an aviation accident is very similar to that of a vehicle accident.
A lawsuit involving a vehicle or aviation accident will be an emotional and exhausting process. With this in mind, don’t just pick the first vehicle injury attorney you meet. You and your attorney must work well together. A great personal injury attorney will not only guide you through the legal aspect but also be there for you when things may become too emotional for you to handle. Many attorneys in personal injury, especially when it comes to vehicle injury, recognize they are not only their clients’ lawyer but also their therapist. This can be one of the most challenging times of your life; it is important you have an attorney you can lean on.