Are you considering filing a lawsuit in the aftermath of a recent car accident that was someone else’s fault? If so, you likely have questions about the car accident lawsuit process and how your case might progress. Understanding the stages of a car accident lawsuit will help you know what to expect as you pursue your claims.
Pre-Lawsuit: Setting the Stage
Your car accident case has several steps to go through before you may file a lawsuit against the driver at fault for the crash. Here’s how it will begin.
First, you should consider hiring a car accident attorney to help you understand your legal options and handle the details of your car accident claim. Having an experienced attorney allows you to focus your time and energy on your medical treatment and recovery from serious injuries. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation to review your legal options. You can talk to multiple car accident attorneys to get a feel for the strength of your case and learn what you should expect.
Once you’ve decided on the auto accident attorney you want to represent you, you will likely sign a retainer agreement that governs the attorney-client relationship. After you sign the agreement, your car accident attorney can start developing your case.
An experienced attorney will begin by investigating the car crash to gather evidence to build your case. This evidence might include the following:
- Police accident report
- Accident scene photos and videos
- Driver cell phone records
- Surveillance/traffic camera footage
- Eyewitness testimony
- Event data recorder logs taken from the vehicles
- Weather records
- Vehicle maintenance records
- Post-accident vehicle inspections
- Insurance information
- Medical records
Your attorney may also work with accident reconstruction specialists to analyze the evidence, identify the negligent driver and other at-fault parties, determine the insurance policies that cover the accident, and prepare a compelling case to prove liability for your injuries and losses.
Negotiation with Insurance
Once your car accident lawyer has prepared your case, the lawyer may submit an insurance claim to the at-fault driver’s insurance company and seek to negotiate a fair settlement. Most car accident lawsuits end with a settlement rather than a trial. Insurance companies want to avoid the cost of litigation when a claimant has a solid legal case.
Filing the Lawsuit: Taking Formal Action
If the insurance adjuster refuses to make an adequate settlement offer, you may need to file a car accident lawsuit against the other driver and their insurance company to continue pursuing damages for the costs of your medical bills, lost wages, emotional trauma, and property damage. The litigation process in personal injury cases begins with the following steps.
You must file a complaint with the court to initiate a car accident lawsuit. The complaint identifies the parties in the case, lists your factual allegations, makes legal arguments to support your liability claim, and demands compensation or other relief. Once you file your complaint, you must serve a copy of the complaint, and the court summons upon the opposing party in the case. Typically, complaints must be delivered in person to the defendant by a sheriff or process server. However, you can request permission from the court to serve the defendant through alternative methods if you have difficulty completing in-person service.
Once the opposing party receives the complaint, they must file an answer in which they admit fault or deny each of the allegations in your complaint. The opposing party can also raise counterclaims against you.
After the parties file their initial pleadings, they proceed to the discovery stage. During the discovery process, the parties exchange evidence and information and depose witnesses to identify disputed factual issues for trial. Settlement negotiations may occur in car accident cases once both sides understand the strength of evidence, as revealed by the discovery process.
Pre-Trial Phase: Preparing for Battle
Once the parties have laid all evidence on the table, they proceed to the pre-trial phase of litigation.
A party may file various pre-trial motions with the court, such as motions to admit or exclude evidence or motions for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment argues that no factual issues remain in dispute, and the injured party deserves to be awarded compensation as a matter of law.
Parties may try to avoid trial by engaging in mediation, a type of formal negotiation where a third-party mediator helps parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases and suggests solutions for a settlement.
Expert Witness Engagement
Your car accident attorney may hire an accident reconstruction or engineering specialist to conduct an investigation of how the accident occurred and provide testimony on your behalf at trial.
Trial: Facing the Jury (If Necessary)
Assuming the parties have not opted for a bench trial before a judge, next comes the heart of the matter: the trial itself. The trial involves the following steps.
The trial begins with the jury selection process. In jury selection, the parties and the trial court ask questions of prospective jurors to determine whether a juror can render a fair and impartial verdict. The jury selection continues until the parties fill out the jury and select alternate jurors who can step in if the trial court excuses a juror in the middle of the trial.
The presentation of evidence begins with each side’s opening statements, during which they outline to the jury the basic details of the case as they see them and the evidence the parties expect to present at trial.
Each side can call witnesses to testify on their behalf. The opposing party can cross-examine each witness. Witness testimony also provides the foundation to introduce documents and other physical evidence to the jury.
Once the parties have presented their witnesses and evidence, they can make closing arguments to the jury to summarize their cases and argue why the evidence proves the jury should side with them.
After closing arguments, the jury (or judge, if the case did not involve a jury) will consider the parties’ evidence, make credibility determinations, and decide whether the plaintiff has met their burden of proof to show that the opposing party is more likely than not to have caused the car accident.
Post-Trial Resolution: Closing the Chapter
The post-trial process may involve one or more stages, including the following.
After hearing evidence, witness testimony, and the parties’ arguments, the jury will render a verdict deciding liability and damages in the case. The trial court will then convert the verdict into a judgment. A winning plaintiff can use the judgment to force the defendant to pay the compensation the jury or judge awarded.
If either party feels that errors occurred during litigation, they can file an appeal to get relief from the appeals court, such as a modified judgment, an overturned verdict and judgment, or a new trial.
Alternatively, the parties involved in the dispute may avoid the uncertainty and extended litigation of an appeal by settling the case in lieu of the plaintiff enforcing the judgment.
Get Legal Help from an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer in San Antonio
If you’ve been hurt in a San Antonio car accident, you deserve an experienced attorney to help you seek justice and maximum compensation. Attorney Troy A. Brookover is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Personal Injury Trial Law, reflecting his knowledge and experience in personal injury law. Contact our office today for a free, no-obligation consultation at (210) 226-2000. Learn more about our track record of success in car accident lawsuits and how we can assist you with pursuing compensation for your harm and losses.