If one was seriously hurt in a car accident, one might think that suing for injuries would be simple, especially if it is clear that the other driver caused the accident. Every car accident court case requires methodical investigation, careful preparation, and skilled legal counsel to ensure the best possible outcome for an injured plaintiff. If one is considering suing a reckless driver for injuries, it is important to learn more about how the personal injury claim process works.
What Should I Know About Auto Insurance Payouts?
As a driver in Virginia and across the country, one is required to carry auto insurance. If an at-fault driver is sued and gets a verdict, their insurer pays out the verdict only up to the total amount of the policy the driver has purchased. If the insurance company denies the claim, the plaintiff can choose to sue the policyholder and try to prove their case in court.
Most insurance companies will propose a financial settlement to avoid litigation. Generally, settlements offer less money than a verdict would. Discuss the strength of one’s case and likelihood of a positive outcome with an experienced lawyer before agreeing to an insurance settlement.
What is the Car Accident Lawsuit Process?
Litigation is the process that begins with a lawsuit and continues with the procedures that follow up until the jury decides a verdict. Since the parties involved in an accident case often will have different versions of what happened, the courts have steps in place to help sort the details out.
If a car accident victim has never been involved in a lawsuit before, they probably have a few questions about what is going to happen. Here is a brief overview of the key components of a motor vehicle accident claim:
This takes place at the scene of the accident. Police and other first responders assess the aftermath of the crash, determine if anyone needs immediate medical assistance, and they try to make sense of what happened. Witnesses share their accounts and the scene is documented with photos and accident reports. If one is able, tell the police about what happened to the best of one’s ability.
Contact the Insurance Company
It is important to report the wreck to the insurance company as soon as possible. Even if the crash was not one’s fault, the insurer will help provide a replacement vehicle and pursue reimbursement from the other driver’s insurer. Take caution not to agree to any insurance settlement without consulting a personal injury attorney. A victim could stand to lose a significant amount of money by deciding prematurely.
A car accident lawyer’s job is to help their client recover the maximum compensation available for injuries and other losses. During that initial consultation, a victim will explain how the crash occurred and how it has impacted their life. A lawyer investigates these details before recommending the next best step.
Choosing a Settlement or Lawsuit
After evaluating a case, an attorney may recommend submitting a demand for settlement to the insurance company on one’s behalf. Negotiations usually go back and forth until the client either agrees to a settlement or decides to file a lawsuit. After consulting with an attorney, if one decides that the final settlement proposed by the insurance company is unreasonable, one can file a lawsuit.
After the lawsuit is filed, the discovery period begins. This is the time when a lawyer digs deeper to find out more about the other side’s case. The discovery process may involve:
- Interrogatories: Written questions submitted to the other side.
- Requests for documents: These can be requests for accident and injury photos, medical records, and proof of lost income.
- Depositions: Lawyers ask questions to all parties involved in the accident, including police, doctors, and eyewitnesses.
As a plaintiff, one will have to answer a host of questions related to the accident. The other side’s attorney might ask about the injuries and how they impact one’s quality of life, overall health, and employment. If a plaintiff wants to move forward with the legal claim process, they should prepare to disclose information that may be quite personal.
In most cases, after this exchange of information has concluded, the court orders mediation before the trial begins. Mediation is an opportunity to resolve a dispute before it goes to court. An objective, third-party mediator coordinates a discussion between all parties with the goal of achieving a voluntary settlement. While the mediator works to encourage a settlement, they do not have the power to order one. If mediation is not successful, the case moves forward to trial.
During the trial, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to establish that the defendant was negligent in some way. The plaintiff and their counsel must show proof that the defendant failed to use ordinary care and that failure led to the accident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
They also need to show how much money the jury should award to compensate for the injured party’s physical disabilities, medical care, and other losses. From there, the jury decides if the plaintiff’s counsel has successfully proven their case.
What Role Does the Jury Play?
After an auto accident where one has been hurt, one has the right to sue the at-fault party in a court of law to recover financial compensation for medical bills, property damage, and lost income. Some plaintiffs agree to settle before their case goes to court. If one does not, a jury will decide the case.
Once it reaches trial, the jury is tasked with determining three primary points:
Fault must meet a certain threshold according to the law. The defendant either did something wrong and that careless act led to the crash or was negligent in another way.
Next, the jury must assess if the plaintiff bears any fault for the accident. Since Virginia adheres to the doctrine of contributory negligence, if someone is even one percent to blame for the crash, they forfeit any chance of a claim for damages.
This rule is undoubtedly harsh, Virginia is one of very few states to maintain contributory negligence. It is important to approach a case with care and caution. The defendant’s attorney will be looking for any reason at all to prove one’s actions contributed to the accident in some way.
Injuries and Losses
Finally, the jury evaluates the injuries one has suffered and the financial losses these injuries have cost the plaintiff. Beyond expenses for emergency care, surgeries, medications, and physical therapy, they may consider the fact that the plaintiff is unable to work and has lost income. In some cases, an accident is so traumatic, it leaves long-lasting emotional pain and suffering. These intangible losses can sometimes warrant compensation as well.
Why is it Crucial to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer?
Since Virginia has tough contributory negligence laws, car accident cases can be more challenging to prove. Smart legal counsel is the key to building a successful claim and achieving justice through mediation or litigation.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Offer Custom Legal Solutions to Meet the Needs of Car Accident Victims
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to car accident cases. Every motor vehicle accident is different, and the legal approach to pursuing justice should be as well. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, our team of respected Virginia Beach car accident lawyers take time to provide individualized guidance and representation for your unique legal needs. Call us at 757-352-2237 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we proudly serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shores, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.