Your Car Accident Injury Claim: Settle or Sue in Court?
If you've been injured in a car accident, you might think a lawsuit and trial will get you the best result, but settling your claim is usually the quickest and safest option.
Many people do not recognize how many car accident injury claims end in settlement. The fact is that the vast majority of injury lawsuits settle -- usually well before trial. Not to mention the fact that a large percentage of insurance claims are resolved through settlement without a lawsuit ever having been filed.
However, there are also advantages to going to court and letting a judge or jury decide your case. Each injury case is different and there are many factors to consider. In this article, we'll take a look at both options: settling your car accident injury claim and going through with a court trial.
Settle Before Filing a Lawsuit
Here's a brief overview of why you might want to pursue settlement before you file a lawsuit, and what your first steps might be.
Many people choose to settle a car accident claim before filing a lawsuit in court. Here are a few advantages to settling your case before going to court:
- receive compensation faster
- avoid high attorney’s fees
- avoid appearing at multiple court proceedings (hearings, depositions, trial), and
- avoid an unpredictable jury decision.
The core question to ask is whether the risk of losing at trial - and receiving zero compensation - outweighs the difference between the settlement offer and your estimate of the accident claim value.
Get Settlement Talks Started with a Demand Letter
A demand letter is the standard way of settling an injury claim before going to court.
There is much preparation and evidence-gathering that must be completed before drafting a demand letter. If you received medical treatment, you must request all your medical records from the provider. This step may take several months and many medical providers charge a fee for the records. If you missed work, you should also request your employment records -- showing your typical hours and salary before the injury, and any time missed as a result of the injury (including hours/days missed for doctor appointments). You’ll also want to gather any evidence of liability for the car accident.
When you finish gathering all medical and other records, draft a well-written and concise demand letter. It is important to list each important date and to write the letter in chronological order. You should describe the events surrounding the injury in sufficient detail (what happened, witnesses, other details) and provide the exact amount of money spent on medical treatment, if possible. Many lawyers also advise that you should enclose important medical records with your demand letter. After the demand letter is complete, mail it to the wrongdoer or his or her attorney or insurance company.
The next step is usually settlement talks. See our overview on these types of claims for tips on how to proceed and how to protect your case.
Going to Court
As mentioned above, it is almost always best to attempt to settle your accident claim before proceeding to court. However, settlement may not be possible or advisable in certain cases. There may have been no response to your demand letter, or the insurance company’s settlement offer may be unreasonable or too low. Or, you may feel like you've suffered an injustice of sorts, and you simply want your "day in court."
Steps in a Car Accident Court Case
First, you – or more likely, your lawyer - will file your lawsuit in court by drafting a formal legal complaint and submitting it to the appropriate court. You must also serve the complaint on the other driver using a process server or law enforcement officer. The other driver (defendant) will have a certain amount of time to answer the complaint, usually 20 days.
Next, you will participate in the discovery process. During discovery, you will request information from the defendant and he or she will request information from you. Information can be obtained by submitting written questions, called interrogatories, to the defendant. In addition, you can request that the defendant produce documents to you. Another way to obtain information is through a deposition. You can schedule a deposition and compel people to testify at a specific place and time. The testimony is recorded and may be used in court.
Trial is the last step of a car accident lawsuit. During a trial, a judge or jury will hear the evidence and decide your case. The preparation and representation at a trial can be very time-consuming and expensive.
You Can Still Settle
Throughout your court case and any time before a verdict is entered, you and your attorney can settle your case if you receive an acceptable offer. You do not give up your ability to settle if you file a lawsuit.