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.

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  • Many people don't know 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 most insurance claims are settled without a lawsuit ever having been filed.

    But there are some 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 or jury 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.

    Advantages

    Potential advantages of settling your case before going to court, include:

    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 value of your car accident claim.

    Get Settlement Talks Started with a Demand Letter

    A demand letter is the standard way of settling an injury claim before going to court.

    You have to prepare and gather evidence before you draft a demand letter. If you received medical treatment, you must request all your medical records from the provider. This step can 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 time off 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's important to include each significant 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 say that you should include important medical records with your demand letter. After the demand letter is complete, mail it to the person who harmed you and that person's insurance company.

    The next step is usually settlement talks. Learn more about personal injury insurance claims after a car accident.

    Going to Court

    It's typically best to try to settle your accident claim before going to court. However, settlement might not be possible or advisable in certain cases. You might not get a response to your demand letter, or the insurance company's settlement offer may be unreasonable or too low. Or, you might feel like you've suffered an injustice and 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 turn documents over 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. Preparing for trial and litigating a case 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 don't give up your ability to settle if you file a lawsuit.

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