What Happens in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

FREE CONSULTATION 24/7

After a car accident, you might wonder what the lawsuit process entails. Understanding the steps involved and hiring a car accident lawyer can help you navigate the legal system more effectively.

1. Seek Medical Attention and Gather Evidence

The very first thing you should do after a car accident is seek a medical evaluation, even if you don’t believe the accident hurt you. A medical evaluation will provide the necessary treatment and create a record of your injuries, which you need to file a lawsuit.

2. Consult a Personal Injury Attorney

After a car accident caused by another driver, meet with a personal injury lawyer.

During your initial consultation, the attorney will review your case and advise you on the best course of action. They may also help you gather additional evidence, such as medical records and witness statements, to support your claim.

3. File a Complaint

If you proceed with a lawsuit, your attorney will file a complaint with the appropriate court. The complaint will outline the details of the accident, the injuries you sustained, and the damages you seek.

Your lawyer will then serve the defendant (the person you’re suing) with the complaint and give them a certain amount of time to respond. This response is called an answer, and it typically includes the defendant’s version of events and any defenses they plan to raise.

4. Discovery Phase

After the complaint and answer have been filed, the case goes into the discovery stage. During this time, both sides exchange evidence and details related to the case. 

This may include:

Interrogatories

Interrogatories are written questions that each side in a lawsuit must answer under oath. These questions are designed to gather relevant information about the case and help both parties prepare for trial.

Interrogatories can cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Details about the accident, such as the date, time, location, and weather conditions
  • The extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and any medical treatment received
  • The plaintiff’s employment history and any lost wages due to the accident
  • The defendant’s version of events and any defenses they plan to raise

Answers to interrogatories must be provided in writing and signed under oath. The responding party typically has 30 days to answer the interrogatories, although extensions may be granted in some cases.

Requests for Production

Requests for production are formal requests for specific documents or other tangible evidence related to the case. These requests can be made by either party and are designed to help gather relevant information and support their claims or defenses.

Requested documents in a car accident lawsuit may include:

  • Police reports and accident scene photographs
  • Medical records and bills related to the plaintiff’s injuries
  • Employment records and wage statements to support claims of lost income
  • Insurance policies and communications with insurance companies
  • Maintenance records for the vehicles involved in the accident

The party receiving the request for production must provide the requested documents within a set timeframe, typically 30 days. If a party fails to comply with a request for production, the court may issue sanctions or penalties.

Your attorney can identify which documents pertain to your case then gather and organize them for production.

Depositions

Depositions are in-person interviews conducted under oath, typically involving the parties to the lawsuit and any key witnesses. Attorneys for both sides conduct these interviews to gather more detailed information about the case.

During a deposition, the attorneys ask the person being deposed (the deponent) a series of questions. The deponent must answer these questions truthfully, as they give the testimony in a deposition under oath.

Depositions serve several purposes:

  1. They allow attorneys to assess the credibility and demeanor of witnesses.
  2. They provide an opportunity to uncover new information or evidence that may not have been revealed through other discovery methods.
  3. They can impeach a witness’s testimony at trial if their statements are inconsistent with what they said during the deposition.

Depositions can be stressful and intimidating, but your attorney will prepare you for the process. They may conduct a mock deposition to familiarize you with the types of questions you’ll need to answer and provide guidance on how to answer them effectively.

While depositions are less formal than courtroom testimony, they are still conducted under oath, and the testimony given can have a significant impact on the outcome of your case. Your attorney will attend the deposition to protect your rights and object to any improper questions.

5. Pretrial Motions and Settlement Negotiations

As the discovery phase progresses, both sides may file pretrial motions. These motions can address a wide range of issues, such as asking the court to exclude certain evidence or to dismiss the case entirely.

Simultaneously, the attorneys for both sides will typically engage in settlement negotiations. Many car accident lawsuits resolve through settlements, which can save time and money compared to going to trial. After a settlement, the case ends, and the plaintiff receives the agreed-upon compensation.

6. Trial

If the parties cannot settle, the case will proceed to trial. During the trial, both sides will present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury. The plaintiff’s attorney will aim to prove that the defendant was at fault for the accident and that the plaintiff suffered damages as a result.

The trial process generally includes:

Opening Statements

Opening statements are the first opportunity for each side’s attorney to present their case to the judge or jury. These statements provide an overview of the facts, evidence, and arguments that will be presented throughout the trial.

The plaintiff’s attorney typically delivers their opening statement first, followed by the defendant’s attorney.

Two cars damaged after silver car hitting blue car from the back.

During the opening statement, the attorney will:

  1. Introduce the parties involved in the case
  2. Outline the key facts and evidence that support their client’s position
  3. Explain the legal theories and arguments they plan to make
  4. Provide a roadmap of what the judge or jury can expect to hear during the trial

Opening statements are not evidence themselves but rather a preview of the evidence that will be presented. Attorneys are not allowed to argue their case during the opening statement, but they can use this time to create a compelling narrative and set the stage for the rest of the trial.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination

Witness testimony is an important component of any trial. Both sides will call witnesses to testify about their knowledge of the events surrounding the car accident.

Witnesses may include:

  • The parties involved in the accident
  • Eyewitnesses who saw the accident occur
  • Medical experts who can testify about the plaintiff’s injuries and treatment
  • Accident reconstruction experts who can analyze the cause of the accident

When a witness is called to testify, they will first undergo direct examination by the attorney who called them. During direct examination, the attorney will ask questions designed to elicit information that supports their client’s case.

After direct examination, the opposing attorney may cross-examine the witness. Cross-examination tests the credibility of the witness and challenges any inconsistencies or weaknesses in their testimony. The opposing attorney may ask questions that highlight biases, contradictions, or gaps in the witness’s knowledge.

Presentation of Evidence

In addition to witness testimony, both sides will present physical evidence to support their case.

This evidence may include:

  • Photographs of the accident scene and vehicle damage
  • Medical records and bills documenting the plaintiff’s injuries and treatment
  • Police reports and accident reconstructions
  • Expert reports and analyses

The presentation of evidence is governed by strict rules to ensure fairness and relevance. Each piece of evidence must be properly authenticated and entered into the record before it can be considered by the judge or jury.

Closing Arguments

Closing arguments are the final opportunity for each side’s attorney to address the judge or jury before deliberations begin.

During closing arguments, the attorneys will:

  1. Summarize the key evidence and testimony presented during the trial
  2. Highlight the strengths of their case and the weaknesses of the opposing side’s case
  3. Explain how the evidence supports their legal arguments and theories
  4. Appeal to the judge or jury to find in favor of their client

Unlike opening statements, closing arguments allow attorneys to be more persuasive and argumentative. They will use this time to tie together all the evidence and testimony presented during the trial and make a compelling case for why their client should prevail.

After both sides have presented their cases, the judge or jury will deliberate and reach a verdict. If the plaintiff prevails, the judge or jury will also determine the amount of damages to be awarded.

7. Appeals

If either side is unsatisfied with the outcome of the trial, they might choose to file an appeal. An appeal involves asking a higher court to look at the case and decide if any legal mistakes were made during the trial. An appeal examines whether the trial court properly applied the law and followed legal procedures.

The appeals process begins with the filing of a notice of appeal, which must be done within a specified time frame after the trial court’s judgment. The party filing the appeal (the appellant) must then prepare a written brief outlining their arguments and the specific legal errors they believe occurred during the trial.

The opposing party (the appellee) can file a response brief, countering the appellant’s arguments and defending the trial court’s decision. In some cases, the appellate court may also request oral arguments, where attorneys for both sides present their case in person.

The appellate court will then review the briefs, trial court records, and any oral arguments before making a decision.

The court may:

  1. Affirm the trial court’s decision, upholding the original verdict
  2. Reverse the trial court’s decision, overturning the original verdict
  3. Modify the trial court’s decision, such as adjusting the damages awarded
  4. Remand the case back to the trial court for further proceedings or a new trial

The appeals process requires a long time for preparing briefs, scheduling oral arguments, and the appellate court’s careful review of the case.

Not all cases may appeal. Generally, appeals courts limit appeals to cases with a valid legal basis for challenging the trial court’s decision.

The attorney is reviewing the case documents in court.

This may include issues such as:

  • Improperly admitted or excluded evidence
  • Incorrect jury instructions
  • Insufficient evidence to support the verdict
  • Errors in applying the law

Your attorney can advise you on whether to appeal in your situation and explain the potential benefits and drawbacks of an appeal.

If the appellate court finds in your favor, it can provide a sense of justice and vindication. However, even if the appellate court upholds the original verdict, the appeals process can provide closure and finality to your case.

8. Collection of Judgment

If the plaintiff prevails at trial or reaches a settlement agreement, the final step is collecting the judgment or settlement. In some cases, the defendant’s insurance company will pay the damages. However, if the defendant is uninsured or underinsured, the plaintiff may need to take additional steps to collect the judgment, such as wage garnishment or property liens.

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, don’t hesitate to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney can guide you through the legal process, advocate for your rights, and work to secure the compensation you deserve.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this challenging time alone. A skilled car accident lawyer can be your strongest ally in your pursuit of justice.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
By submitting this form, you agree to receive telephone calls and text messages at anytime, which include hours outside of business hours (8:00 a.m. PST - 9:00 p.m. PST). This is so that we may reach you as soon as possible in order to consult on your potential case.

FEATURED ATTORNEYS

LET US HELP

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name
By submitting this form, you agree to receive telephone calls and text messages at anytime, which include hours outside of business hours (8:00 a.m. PST - 9:00 p.m. PST). This is so that we may reach you as soon as possible in order to consult on your potential case.