What you should know if you are in an accident.
If you have been involved in a car accident, there are probably a lot of questions running through your mind. Who will pay my medical bills? Should I talk to the insurance company? How do I get my car fixed? Should I hire a lawyer? How do I find a lawyer if I do decide to hire one? The claims process following a car accident can feel overwhelming and confusing, and you may feel like any little misstep along the way can cause you to lose out on receiving compensation that are you are legally entitled to receive. Educating yourself about the process so that you can make important decisions in your case and potentially avoid costly mistakes is the first step in alleviating your stress. If you are reading this guide, you are well on your way to having a better understanding of this process.
To help you better understand car accident claims, this guide will go over the process chronologically. First, we will discuss the steps to take shortly after a car accident, including notifying police, getting emergency medical care, and notifying the appropriate insurance companies. This discussion will include identifying potential sources of insurance coverage, determining whether you need a lawyer, getting and paying for the necessary medical treatment, and getting your car repaired, or replaced in the event it was totaled. Second, we will discuss the settlement process, which will include a discussion of the different types of damages you are entitled to claim, the settlement demand process, and what happens in the event your case is settled. Last, we will conclude by discussing what happens if your case does not settle. This section will include an overview of the lawsuit process and what to expect in the event your case ends up in court.
What To Do After A Car Accident
A. The Immediate Aftermath - Car accidents are scary events. The sound of screeching brakes, the crushing sound of the impact, the sudden, unexpected jolt, the smell of burnt rubber. Your adrenaline will be pumping, but it is important to try to gain your composure and determine what immediate steps need to be taken. If you and your vehicle are in a position of danger, make sure you get out of harm’s way. Contact the police to make sure a police report is prepared, even if you think you only have minimal property damage. I have seen many times where drivers just exchange contact information and don’t call the police, expecting to “just handle it with the insurance companies.” A police report helps you document what happened and creates a record that can be used to refute later attempts by a driver or an insurance company to dispute what happened.
If you are injured in the accident, get immediate medical attention. Some people feel embarrassed to call for an ambulance, but if you are hurt, there is no shame in ensuring that you get the help you need. It is far better to make sure that you are ok than to allow your pride to potentially jeopardize your health. If you absolutely refuse to go by ambulance, have a friend or family member take you to the hospital if you are injured. Again, it is important to make sure that you are ok. Also, if you are injured but don’t go to the hospital, then the insurance company will use that to argue that you must not have been that hurt. This can really come back to haunt you if your injuries end up worsening and you have serious medical needs. Getting treatment right away will help you substantiate your injuries and create a written record that will make it more difficult for the insurance company to refute your injuries.
B. After the Dust Settles - After the police leave the scene and you get the emergency medical attention you need, there are some important steps to follow and things you show know.
C. Notify Insurance Companies - One of the first things you should do is notify any insurance companies that may provide coverage for any claims. Most insurance policies have a notice provision that requires that you provide them with timely notice of an accident. If they do not receive timely notice, they may attempt to deny coverage when you or somebody else seeks coverage under the policy. As a result, it is important that all potential source of insurance coverage be identified as soon as possible and that all insurance carriers be notified. In general, there are five types of insurance coverage that need to be looked at following an accident: (1) liability coverage, including bodily injury and property damage coverage; (2) uninsured motorist coverage; (3) medical payments coverage; (4) collision coverage; and (5) workers’ compensation coverage, if your accident took place while working.
- Liability Coverage - If the other driver was at fault, then his or her insurance will provide liability coverage for any bodily injury and property damage. The minimum required limits in Georgia are $25,000 per person/$50,000 per occurrence for bodily injury, and $25,000 for property damage. Liability insurance follows the car, so the insurance policy on the other car itself will be the first to provide coverage for the at-fault driver’s negligence. If the other driver was not the owner of the vehicle he or she was driving at the time of the wreck, then it is possible that the driver’s own personal insurance policy may provide coverage. In addition, if the driver was driving in the course and scope of his employment, then the employer’s insurance policy may provide coverage as well. It is very important to identify all potential sources of liability coverage, especially if there are significant bodily injuries or multiple injured parties.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage - Uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage applies if there is no liability insurance, or if the available liability coverage is not sufficient to pay all of your damages. There are several potential sources of UM coverage: (1) your own insurance policy; (2) the insurance policy for the vehicle you were in at the time of the wreck if you were in somebody else’s car; and (3) any insurance policies issued to any relatives who reside in your household. Identifying every potential source of UM coverage is important because you can stack multiple UM policies—that is, you can add up all the available UM policies and use them if necessary. It is important to remember that UM coverage applies even if you were not in a car at the time of the accident—for example, if you were hit by a car while a pedestrian. This is because UM coverage applies if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist, which, again, is one with no insurance or not enough insurance to cover all your damages. Uninsured motorist coverage is not required in Georgia, but it must be offered. The default rule is that the insured’s policy affords UM coverage equal to the limits of liability coverage. However, an insured can select lower limits, or it can reject UM coverage all together. There are two types of UM coverage: (1) add-on; and (2) difference-in-limits. As its name implies, add-on coverage is added on to whatever limits of liability coverage the at-fault driver has available. So, for example, if the negligent driver has $25,000 in available liability coverage, and you have $100,000 in add-on UM coverage, then you will have a total of $125,000 in available insurance for your case. Difference-in-limits coverage, on the other hand, is reduced by the amount of available liability coverage. In the previous example, you would only have $75,000 in UM coverage available ($100,000 minus the $25,000 liability coverage) for a total of $100,000 in available insurance. As stated earlier, it is important that you identify and notify all potential insurance carriers as soon as possible after an accident. This is particularly true for insurers that provide UM coverage. Many people are not familiar with the various source of UM coverage, so they frequently neglect to notify all the potential UM carriers. For example, most people don’t know that they can use their own UM policy, even if they were not in their own car at the time of the accident. Furthermore, most people do not know that they can use a resident relative’s UM policy. Identifying all sources of UM coverage is one of the most important reasons why you should consult with a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident.
- Medical Payments Coverage - I think of medical payments coverage, or “med pay” as it is commonly referred to, as health insurance for you in the event you are in a car accident. Med pay can be used to pay your medical bills in the event you are in an accident. This coverage applies regardless of who is at fault, and it may even apply if you or someone else who is classified as an insured is not in a car at the time of the accident (for example, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. who are struck by a car). Even if you have health insurance, med pay can be used as a primary source of payment for your medical bills until you reach the limits, or you can use it to pay your co-pays and deductibles. This will be discussed in more detail below in the section that discusses getting the necessary medical treatment.
- Collision Coverage - While the other driver is required to have liability coverage to pay your property damage, your own policy may have collision coverage, which will pay for your property damage if you are involved in a wreck. If the other driver is uninsured, then you may need to use your policy’s collision coverage for your property. There may also be times when it is best to use your own collision coverage even if the other driver is insured. This will be discussed in more detail below in the discussion on how to get your property damage claim handled.
- Worker’s Compensation - You may have a workers’ compensation claim if you were working for your employer at the time of the accident. In a workers’ compensation claim, you can receive payment for your medical bills and compensation to help cover some of your lost wages. It is important to remember that filing a workers’ compensation claim does not prohibit you from also seeking compensation from the at-fault driver and his or her insurance company, or, if necessary, any UM policies.
D. Dealing with Insurance Companies - One of the most common questions people have after a car accident is whether they should talk to the insurance company. The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors. As a general rule, you need to talk to your own insurance company. Your own insurance policy likely contains a cooperation clause that states you have a duty to cooperate with your insurer in its investigation of the claim. The insurance company for the other driver is a different story. You have no obligation to speak to them. While the insurance adjuster for the other driver may attempt to come across as friendly and act like he or she is on your side, don’t fall for it—it’s just an act. Their job is to minimize the amount of money they will pay on your claim, and to accomplish this goal they will do everything they can to question their insured’s liability for causing the accident and the amount of your damages. If the other insurance company wants to take a recorded statement from you, it would be wise to decline, at least until you have had the opportunity to consult with a lawyer.
Of course, if you are going it alone and not hiring a lawyer, you will probably have to talk to the other insurance company. If you don’t speak to them, you will probably have a hard time coordinating your car repairs and negotiating your settlement. If you do decide to talk to the other insurance company, just remember that whatever you say can and will be used against you, so be cautious!
E. Document Your Damages - Do your best to document your injuries. If your injuries are visible, like bumps, bruises, burns, or scars, take photographs. Try to keep a written record of how your pain and any other symptoms are progressing. Make a list of all medical providers you see and the dates of your visits. If you miss time from work, keep track of the dates and reasons for your absences—i.e. pain, doctor’s visits, etc.
F. Do You Need a Lawyer? - Whether you need a lawyer or not depends on a variety of factors. For example, if you were not injured, you probably do not need to hire one. If you received little or no medical care, you still may not need an attorney. However, it is always a good idea to at least consult with a personal injury attorney. Most attorneys, including myself, offer a free initial consultation, and a qualified attorney can advise you on the immediate steps you need to take to protect your interests.
If you did sustain any injuries in the accident, then you should strongly consider hiring a personal injury attorney. You should not have any up front costs if you hire an attorney because injury cases are almost always handled on contingency fee. This means that the lawyer gets paid a percentage of the money he or she gets for you, whether the money comes from a settlement or a jury verdict after a. Some people try to avoid hiring an attorney and will attempt to handle their injury claim on their own so they can avoid having to pay an attorney a portion of the money they receive. This type of reasoning is short sighted because the benefits of hiring a lawyer almost always far outweigh the cost. An attorney will likely be able to get you considerably more money than you could get on your own. In addition, an attorney will be able to navigate the claims process, notify the proper insurance companies, analyze the complicated issue of whether any health insurance or other benefits providers are entitled to be paid back, and negotiate any unpaid medical bills. At the end of the day, the chances are you will end up with a better result if you hire an attorney.
F. How to Choose an Attorney - Many people don’t personally know an attorney, much less one who specializes in personal injury cases. If you do decide to hire an attorney for your personal injury case, here are a few basic steps to follow and questions to ask to find the attorney who is right for you.
First, you should look for an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases. If you were charged with a crime, you wouldn’t want to hire a lawyer who specializes in real estate or divorces to represent you. Likewise, you wouldn’t want a criminal defense lawyer to represent you in a real estate transaction or a divorce. Personal injury cases are no different when it comes to needing a specialist. An attorney who specializes in injury cases is likely going to have a better understanding of how to properly handle your case and will get you a better result. I specialize in personal injury and wrongful death cases, and I have an in-depth understanding of how to handle these types of cases. As a result, I refer cases to specialists in other areas of law when someone calls me about a problem that is outside my area of expertise.
Second, ask any lawyers you are considering if they have handled a case like yours before. A personal injury attorney who only has experience with car wrecks may not be the best qualified to handle a case involving a defective product or medical malpractice, and vice versa. I have extensive experience in a variety of personal injury areas, including car and trucking accidents, medical malpractice, products liability, and premises liability. However, some personal injury attorneys do not have this type of a diverse background.
Third, what kinds of results has the lawyer obtained? Results are not only a good indication of whether a lawyer has been successful, but they can also be a good indication of the types of cases a lawyer has handled. A lawyer who can only claim small results either has not handled big cases or has not been successful doing so. If you have a significant case with large damages, you should hire a lawyer who has a track record of obtaining large results.
Fourth, will the lawyer return your calls? One of the most frequent complaints that clients have is that their lawyers don't return their calls. Try your best to find out if the lawyer will return your calls because good communication between the lawyer and client is vital to the success of your case. While we are on the subject of returning calls, a word of caution is in order about the personal injury firms that advertise a lot on the radio and TV. Many of those firms utilize paralegals and legal assistants to handle many aspects of their clients’ cases. The end result is that the case does not get a lot of attention from a lawyer. This means that when you call the law firm, you will likely have a difficult time actually speaking to a real lawyer, or if you do speak to one he or she will not be as familiar with your case.
Fifth, is the lawyer willing to go to court? While most cases settle, your lawyer must be willing to file a lawsuit and go to trial if necessary. You would be surprised how many lawyers do not even want to file a lawsuit, much less go to trial. A lawyer who is not willing and able to take your case to court will not get you the best possible result. I routinely file lawsuits and am willing to go as far as necessary to get my client the best possible result, even if it means taking the case to trial. Last but not least, are you comfortable entrusting the lawyer with your case? Your case is very important. You should make sure that you have trust and confidence in the lawyer who is going to be responsible for handling something that is so important.
G. Getting the Necessary Medical Treatment - It is important that you get medical treatment as soon as possible if you sustained any injuries. Failing to get timely medical treatment will not only prolong your injuries, but it will also allow the insurance company to later argue that you were not really hurt. They will argue that if you were hurt, then you would have sought treatment immediately. It is equally important that when you do get treatment that you always follow the doctor’s recommendations and that you not skip any appointments. Delays and gaps in treatment are two of the most common factors that can drive down a case’s value.
H. Paying for Your Medical Treatment - Making sure your medical bills are paid is an important part of getting the medical treatment you need. A common misunderstanding is that the other driver’s insurance company will pay your medical bills as they become due. While your medical expenses will be part of your claim against the negligent driver, his or her insurance company will not pay your medical bills as you incur them. Instead, they will pay them as part of the settlement at the end of the case. In the meantime while your claim is pending, your medical providers will likely want payment for any treatment they provide to you. As a result, you will need to identify other sources of payment for your medical bills to pay for your treatment as you receive it.
- Health Insurance: Make sure that any places where you receive treatment have your health insurance information. It is common for some hospitals not to bill health insurance and attempt to collect the full amount of the medical bill from a future settlement by way of a hospital lien. This will result in less money in your pocket at the end of the day than if you had health insurance pay the bill. Also, some health insurance companies may try to assert that they aren’t responsible for paying for your medical bills if someone else was at fault for the accident, but this is not true. If you have health insurance, it is responsible for paying your medical bills, and in most cases, it is best if it is used as the primary source of payment.
- Medical Payments Coverage: Medical payments coverage, or “med pay” as it commonly referred to, can provide very important financial benefits if you or your loved ones are injured a car accident. Med pay can be used to help pay the medical bills for you and anyone else who is in your car at the time of an accident. It is important to remember that med pay applies even if you were not at fault. If you already have health insurance to pay your medical bills, you can even use med pay to cover your co-pays and deductibles to reduce or eliminate your out-of-pocket medical expenses. In addition, med pay may even apply if you were not in a car at the time of the accident—for example, if you were on a bicycle or you were a pedestrian when you were hit by a car. If you don't know whether you have med pay, read your auto policy and make sure you have it. If you don't know how much med pay you should have, talk to your insurance agent to find out the level that is right for you. If you receive chiropractic treatment after an accident, med pay will probably be used to pay for your bills, as many chiropractors do not bill health insurance.
- Liens: If you do not have health insurance or med pay, some providers will treat on a lien. A lien is essentially an IOU where the provider bills for the services, but instead of requiring immediate payment, they accept payment for any medical expenses due at the conclusion of the case when you receive money for your case. Treating on a lien is a last resort, but in case where there is no health insurance or med pay, this is often the only option. In addition, many chiropractors do not accept health insurance. As a result, unless you have med pay, they will only treat you on a lien.
It is important to remember that even if someone else pays for your medical expenses, like health insurance or med pay, you are still entitled to claim those medical expenses from the negligent driver. In legal terms, this is what is known as the “collateral source rule.” Under the collateral source rule, the medical expenses the negligent party is responsible for paying is the amount the health care provider actually charged, and you get to claim the full amount, regardless of whether they have been paid.
Now, with that being said, it is important to point out that your health insurance company may contend that it is entitled to be reimbursed from any settlement for the medical bills it has paid. It is quite common for health insurers to assert reimbursement rights, but just because they assert those rights does not mean that they are actually entitled to be paid back. Whether a benefits provider such as a health insurance company has valid and enforceable reimbursement rights is beyond the scope of this guide as it requires a qualified attorney to examine the facts of the case, the language in the health insurance plan, and the pertinent law. Just be aware that this may be an issue.
I. Getting Your Car Fixed - There are a couple options here. Some people choose to use their own insurance company for their property damage claim if they have collision coverage under their auto policy. Your insurance company will then seek reimbursement (also known as subrogation) from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The downside of this option is you will likely be responsible for paying your deductible up front, but you will likely get it back. Most of the time your own insurance company will get it back for you when it pursues the subrogation claim against the liability insurance company.
Another option is to have the insurance company for the at-fault driver pay to fix it. Sometimes, the other insurance company may not be willing to pay for your property damage early in the process if its investigation into who caused the accident is still ongoing. Because you will need your car fixed or replaced as soon as possible, this may be a reason to get your own insurance company to handle the property damage claim up front. If the insurer for the at-fault driver does accept liability, then it will likely have a property damage adjuster do an appraisal and determine the cost of repairs. At that point, you will either get your car repaired or replaced if it is totaled. If your damaged car is not drivable and you need a rental car, the other driver’s insurance company should pay for your rental car.
A common question that my clients have is whether they can get compensation for the reduced value of their car. It is no secret that a car accident can reduce the value of a car. For this reason, Georgia law allows people to recover diminished value damages. These claims can be tricky though, and insurance companies are notorious for low-balling people on diminished value claims.
The Settlement Process
It is important that you not rush into the settlement process with the idea of trying to get a quick payout. Your goal should be to get maximum compensation for your injuries, not a quick settlement. As a general rule, you should be done receiving medical treatment and be back to work before attempting to settle your case. This is important because to properly evaluate your case the full extent of your damages needs to be known. The insurance company will want to know all the medical treatment you have received, the full amount of your medical bills, and the amount of your lost wages. Most of the time, this will not be known until you are done with your medical treatment and have reached maximum medical improvement.
Granted, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, you may have a case where it is apparent you are entitled to the available insurance policy limits before you are done treating for your injuries. This most commonly happens when someone is seriously injured and the limits of coverage are low. Or, you may have a case where the full extent of your injuries is already known and it is clear you will be receiving ongoing medical treatment and incurring future lost wages. In that scenario, it may be possible to obtain a favorable settlement before you are finished treating if your need for future medical care can be verified and documented.
Every case is different, and it is important that you consult with a qualified personal injury attorney to discuss the facts of your specific case. Just keep in mind that you do not want to settle your case before the full extent of your damages is known because you only get one shot at getting compensation for your injuries. Once your case is settled, you cannot go back and ask for more money, even if it turns out your injuries and damages are worse than you thought when you entered into the settlement.
A. What is Your Case Worth?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions that my clients have. There is almost never a clear-cut answer to this question because there is not a magic formula or calculator that can be used to determine a case’s value. Every case is different, and the value of a case depends on a variety of factors. Some of those factors include whether the other driver was clearly at fault or whether liability is in question, whether you share any blame for causing the accident, the amount of property damage to the cars, the amount of your medical expenses and lost wages, the nature and severity of your injuries, the extent of your pain and suffering, the amount of available insurance coverage, whether there are any aggravating factors in the accident, and the credibility or likability of the parties involved. Based on all of these factors, as well as any others that may be unique to your case, an experienced personal injury attorney can generally come up with a range for the settlement value of your case and determine how to approach settlement discussions with that range in mind. To evaluate a case’s value, it is important to understand the types of damages you are entitled to claim. Broadly speaking, damages fall into three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
- Economic Damages - Economic damages, also known as special damages, are the economic losses you sustained because of the accident. The most common types of economic damages are medical expenses and lost wages. As stated earlier, under the collateral source rule, you are entitled to claim the full amount that your medical provider bills, regardless of whether they have been paid by health insurance or some other source. This is important to remember because many people believe they can only claim the bills they actually pay out of their own pocket, such as their portion of the co-pay and deductible. Likewise, you still get to claim lost wages if you miss time from work but still receive payment for your missed time. For example, you may receive payment from using accrued leave time, a disability policy, or workers’ compensation coverage if the accident occurred while you were working. In this scenario, the collateral source rule allows you to claim the missed time from work as lost wages. You may have additional out-of-pocket expenses you are entitled to claim. For example, you may have to make frequent trips for medical treatments. Or you may have to pay someone to perform tasks you normally performed, such as household chores, going to the grocery store, or doing yard work. It is important to keep an accurate record of any out-of-pocket expenses, including any documentation, such as receipts, that show what you paid.
- Non-Economic Damages - Non-economic damages are also referred to as general damages. This category of damages includes things like pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, diminished capacity to labor, and bodily disfigurement. These damages are the most frequent source of disagreement in settlement discussions because there is no clear mathematical formula for determining them. Under Georgia law, the standard is the “enlightened conscience of a fair and impartial jury.” Because nobody knows for a sure what a jury will do in a given case, the amount of non-economic damages an injured person is entitled to receive can be a hotly contested issue. Although no two cases are the same, insurance companies and personal injury attorneys will frequently use past verdicts and settlements that are similar to your own to help determine the value of these damages.
- Punitive - Punitive damages are awarded where there are aggravating circumstances that justify an award of damages to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant. They are only appropriate when there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care that would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences. In car accident cases, punitive damages are most common when the driver was drunk, under the influence of drugs, or texting at the time of the accident. Some insurance policies will exclude punitive damages.
B. The Settlement Demand Process - Initiating settlement discussions generally involves your attorney sending a settlement demand package. This package will include a letter from you explaining the facts of liability and damages. It will conclude by asking for a specific amount. As stated above, the value of a case depends on a variety of factors, and your attorney will consult with you about the appropriate amount to demand.
The demand package will also include documentation to support the statements made in the demand letter. This documentation should generally include the accident report, any photographs from the accident scene or the cars involved, photographs of your injuries, medical records and bills, documentation supporting your lost wage claim, and receipts for any other out-of-pocket expenses.
C. The Negotiation Process - Settlement demands sent to the liability insurer will normally give a 30-day deadline to accept them, while demands to uninsured motorist carriers will give a 60- day deadline. These deadlines are found in Georgia statutes that state the amount of time insurers should be given to evaluate settlement demands. After the insurance company receives the demand and evaluate the case, it will either accept the demand or respond with a counteroffer. If a counteroffer is made, your attorney will let you know and will discuss how to respond. Unless the counteroffer is so low that it is clear a settlement will not be reached, you will normally respond with a lower demand amount. There may be several counter offers and responses before the insurance company offers its top dollar. At that point, you can either accept the insurance company’s highest offer or you can file a lawsuit.
D. What Happens if Your Case Settles - If your case settles, then the insurance company will send your attorney the settlement check and release documents. This can take anywhere from several days to a few weeks. Your attorney will then deposit the check into his or her Trust Account when it is received. Once the check clears, your attorney will write a check to their law firm for the attorney’s fees and expenses. If there are any pending liens, such as hospital liens or health insurance liens, then the attorney will issue payment for those liens after discussing them with you. After the attorney’s fees and expenses are paid and the pending liens are resolved, you will then receive your settlement check.
Before receiving your check, you will be required to sign the release documents, which will release the at-fault party and his or her insurer from all liability for the case. If the settlement is with a liability insurer and you will still be pursuing coverage under an uninsured motorist policy, you will need to sign a limited liability release. The limited liability release has to have very specific language in it to preserve your ability to pursue uninsured motorist coverage.
The Lawsuit Process
If the insurance company is not willing to offer a settlement that is acceptable to you, there is no way to make them offer more money. When a settlement cannot be reached, the only option is to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. It is important to remember that just because you file a lawsuit does not mean your case is automatically going to go to trial. A settlement can be reached at any point after a lawsuit is filed.
A. The Complaint and Answer - The complaint is the document that initiates the lawsuit process. The person bringing the case is the plaintiff. The defendants are the parties who are responsible for your injuries. The complaint contains allegations regarding the accident, describes what the defendants did wrong, and alleges that the defendants’ negligence caused you injuries. The defendant’s insurance company is not actually named as a party to the case, although it provides a defense to the defendant in accordance with the terms of the insurance policy.
The complaint is normally filed in the county where the defendant resides. There is a filing fee that must be paid to file the complaint. After the complaint is filed, it is then served on the defendant by a sheriff’s deputy or process server. If you have a case where uninsured motorist coverage may be needed, then your UM carrier must be served with the complaint as well. The UM insurer will then assign a defense attorney that will respond to the complaint on behalf of the company.
Once the defendant is served with the complaint, it is required to file an answer to the complaint within 30 days (assuming the case is filed in a Georgia state court; the deadlines in federal court are different). The answer responds to the allegations in the complaint and admits or denies each allegation. The answer will also raise any defenses that the defendant may have.
B. The Discovery Process - After the answer is filed, the discovery process begins. The discovery period is generally six months from the date the answer is filed, though parties to a case frequently agree to extensions if this time period is not sufficient. Discovery is essentially the process in which each side learns about the claims and defenses in the case. This is accomplished using a variety of discovery tools. The most common are written interrogatories, requests to produce documents, and depositions.
Interrogatories are written questions that ask about a variety of topics. The interrogatories that will be sent to you will likely ask about your general background (education, work history, etc.), facts regarding the accident, injuries you sustained and treatment received, and your prior medical history. Likewise, the interrogatories that your attorney will send to the defendant will also ask about the accident, the defendant’s background, and the basis for any of the defenses raised in the answer. Requests for production of documents ask for various documents listed in the request. The most common documents that will be requested from you will be any medical records and bills related to the injuries you sustained, and any evidence you may have related to the accident. The requests sent to the defendant will also ask for any documentation and evidence regarding the accident and any defenses.
The depositions are when the parties’ attorneys question witnesses, under oath, before a court reporter. It may also be videotaped. Your deposition will likely be taken, as will the defendant’s. Depositions of witnesses and treating physicians may be taken as well. Your attorney should meet with you in advance of your deposition to explain the process to you and to prepare you for it.
C. Trial - At some point after discovery concludes, your case will appear on a trial calendar if it has still not settled. When that will happen depends on the court where the case is filed because every court is different. Just because your case appears on the trial calendar does not mean it will actually go to trial on the scheduled date. There will likely be other cases on the calendar as well, and they are normally listed in order of how long they have pending, with older cases listed ahead of newer ones. Some cases can go to trial within a year or two of being filed, while some cases may take 3 to 4 years, or even longer, to go to trial. Every case is different.
If your case proceeds to trial, you will likely have a jury decide your case. The trial begins with opening statements from both the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff will then present evidence. After the plaintiff’s case closes, the defendant may put up evidence. Once the evidence is concluded, the parties submit their closing arguments to the jury. After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the law they are to apply in reaching their decision. When the judge finishes instructing the jury, the jurors will return to the jury room to begin their deliberations. During the deliberations, the jury will decide whether the defendant is liable and the amount of any damages the defendant is responsible for causing. Once the jury reaches its decision, it will return to the court to announce its decision. After the jury returns its verdict, the court will enter a judgment on the verdict. At that point, the parties can either agree to let the judgment stand, or they may try to appeal it. They may also try to negotiate a settlement to avoid any subsequent appeals.
That, in a nutshell, is an overview of the process for a car accident claim. I hope that you have learned a lot of valuable information after reading this guide, and hopefully you are now better equipped to make the important decisions necessary for your case. While you are likely more knowledgeable about car accident claims after reading this booklet, you should remember that this it is not a substitute for the advice you can receive from an experienced personal injury attorney about your own unique case. Again, every case is different, and if you were involved in a car accident you should consult with a qualified personal injury attorney. My office is always interested in meeting with new clients. If you want to call us about your case, we can be reached at (404) 596-8044, or you can email me directly at email@example.com.
Disclaimer - This guide is provided for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in it is legal advice, nor is it intended to be. You should consult an attorney for individualized advice regarding your own unique situation. No attorney-client relationship is formed between my law firm, Brogdon Champion, LLC, and you by reading this guide. If you would like to discuss your case, you can call me for a free consultation at (404) 596-8044 or you can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.