If you’re thinking about a car accident lawsuit, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the process. Your lawyer will walk you through each step, and if you have questions, you’re always welcome to ask. But it’s nice to know what you’re getting into before you dive in with both feet.
Once you’ve received medical attention and consulted with an attorney who has decided to take on your auto accident lawsuit, you’ll go through a five-stage process. While every case is unique, most auto accident lawsuits follow the same timeline.
1. Complaint and Summons
Your attorney will prepare documents that explain what happened, who’s involved, and who you believe is responsible. This document will also include your request for damages. Once they’re prepared, they must be filed with the court.
A filing fee will be assessed by the clerk, but if you have retained us on a contingency basis, we take care of the filing fees on your behalf.
The summons is a formal action by the court, informing the defendant that you have brought action against him. An answer from the defendant is required.
2. The Defendant’s Answer
The defendant—the person you’re taking to court—will have a chance to admit or deny responsibility to the accusations in the complaint by filing an answer with the court.
It is also likely the defendant will retain an attorney, and his attorney would be filing the answer document with the court in response to your complaint.
During the period of time following the complaint and answer, both sides gather information on the case. The legal term for this is discovery.
Depositions may also take place during discovery. You and the defendant might be asked to provide supporting documentation and write out the answers to questions while you’re under oath. If the questions are to be answered verbally, these sessions are usually recorded by a court reporter who swears the defendant or plaintiff to tell the truth before questioning begins.
Your lawyer will probably get photos of the area where your auto accident took place, talk to witnesses and experts, and create a detailed file that includes a complete timeline of what happened to you.
During the discovery phase, your lawyer or the defendant’s lawyer can file any of several motions to change the dynamics of the case. The other party can ask the judge to dismiss your case, or either side may ask the judge to force the other into an action.
4. Settlement Conference or Mediation Conference
Many cases—roughly 85% of them—are settled out of court.
Your judge may order a settlement conference. Alternatively, you and the defendant might agree to work with a mediator to hash out the details about what happened and how much you should receive in damages.
See more about negotiating a settlement.
Not all auto accident cases go to trial, but if yours does, you’ll be put on the court’s calendar.
You may need to prepare for the likelihood that you will be called to testify in court. You can learn how to prepare to testify and what to expect here.
Your jury will hear the case and make a final determination based on the evidence that you and the defendant provide.
Keep in mind that pushing a case to trial is riskier than getting a decent settlement. We cannot predict how the case will turn out in trial, and it’s possible you may receive less in damages than you would have otherwise gotten in a settlement.
You Do Not Have to Do This Alone
While you can file a complaint and summons on your own, please understand you don’t have to do this all by yourself. Your attorney will be with you every step of the way, providing guidance and answering all of your questions. Because we get paid on contingency, filing and court fees will be taken care of along the way, and we don’t get paid until you get paid.
Contact us for a free initial consultation, and we can help you move forward from here.