Anatomy of a Car Accident Lawsuit
For as many car accidents as we see every day in Southern California, the fact is most people will make it through their lives without having a single car accident that results in a lawsuit. But as a personal injury attorney in Claremont, California who regularly represents victims of car accidents, I can tell you that, when a serious car accident does happen, bringing a lawsuit to recover the damages you are owed is often the best way to pursue a full recovery. Below is the anatomy of a typical car accident lawsuit in California.
Avoid Accepting any Payouts or Making Admissions Until You Retain a Lawyer
Savvy defendants, especially ones who may be corporate employers of drivers who were on the job, may try to do everything they can to avoid you bringing a lawsuit for your full recovery. This often takes one of two strategies (and sometimes both): 1) getting you to accept a quick payout for your injuries, in the hopes it will prevent from you bringing a case; and 2) getting you to admit that the defendant was not at fault and/or that you were at fault.
As a non-lawyer, you are not in a position to understand the correctness of either of those decisions, and each may prevent you from bringing a case later. Instead, contact an attorney to help you with understanding your case.
Initial Investigations Following the Car Accident
By contacting a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your case, your attorney can begin the process of investigating the accident scene and the damage to your vehicle, talking to eyewitnesses, and gathering other sources of evidence so that he or she can make your best case for fault on the other part of the driver on your behalf while preparing to respond to accusations from the defendant of fault on your part.
Calculating Your Damages
Along with investigating the defendant’s fault (which will be necessary for winning a lawsuit), your attorney will also work with your medical providers and other professionals in order to calculate the amount of damages you are owed in your lawsuit. This can be a challenging calculation as you are owed damages that you will suffer over your lifetime and not just those incurred at the time of the suit. Damages recoverable include:
- Medical costs, including in-home nursing and devices
- Lost income from inability to work at previous levels
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage to your car
Negotiations with the Defendants
Once your attorney has a strong sense of the likelihood of proving fault and your total damages, he or she can then negotiate with the defendants for a just settlement which will meet all of your needs. Ideally, the defendant will understand what you are owed and likelihood of success at trial and be willing to settle without a trial.
Filing a Lawsuit
Assuming a quick settlement is not reached, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf against all liable defendants (including employers of drivers) which lays out both the legal fault of the defendants and the damages you are owed.
Negotiation for a settlement can continue through all steps, but, after the lawsuit is filed, the defendants will have a chance to respond. After that occurs, pre-trial discovery will proceed, which can include sharing of medical records, evidence related to the accident, and depositions of relevant parties.
Going to Trial
Once pre-trial discovery ends, many parties will settle at that point as the evidence that will be brought at trial is made clear, but, if there is still no settlement, the case will proceed to a trial where a jury will make decisions on both fault and the damages owed the plaintiff.