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What You Need to Know when Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit
Aug 20, 2014 | Views: 232
The first thing to find out is whether the insurance company of the other driver adequately covers the damages caused. If not, you'll have to check with your own insurance agent if you have under-insured motorist coverage to make up for the balance damages. You can always file a lawsuit if the damages are high.
Some states only allow you to sue under certain pre-set conditions; some states, for instance, only allow you to sue if the total damages you incurred exceed $50,000. Consult with your attorney if you live in such "no-fault" states. In a no-fault state the injured must exhaust their limit of insurance to qualify to file a lawsuit against the other driver.
North Carolina, for instance, is a fault state. In these states the party found guilty of causing the accident is held liable for the damages and/or the injuries caused. Regardless of the laws your state follows, non-economic losses like emotional trauma are usually not covered by insurance companies.
Every personal injury trial involves a number of steps for which you need to be amply prepared. A brief description of the important stages of a personal injury trial is mentioned below:
Meeting an Attorney
This crucial first step for assessing damages is often not taken by people for days, weeks and in some cases even months. Do not wait for the damages to pile up before you take action; what looks like a twisted ankle today could well result into a month spent away from work, or may even require expensive surgery.
A lawyer helps you determine the defendant's liability, the extent of damages and insurance coverage involved. For the case to move forward you, the plaintiff, must have ample proof of the injury and/or the damage caused. If the scope and extent of the injuries to the plaintiff is unclear it may delay filing the complaint until a distinct future prognosis is available.
At this stage, if your damages come to under $5,000 the attorney will advise you to take it up in the small claims court. There is usually a statute of limitations on personal injury cases, for North Carolina it is 3 years from the date the personal injury occurred or was identified.
It would be wise to consult a car accident lawyer in Raleigh for getting the right advice if, and when, you should file the case. They may require you to sign forms to release your health and other records in their care. It is important to remember that what you communicate with your lawyer is privileged. A lawsuit can have a lot of complications and endless paperwork that needs to be filed that can best be handled by an attorney.
Filing the Complaint
Usually the first document to be filed in a lawsuit, it outlines the case, the parties involved, the legal claims of the plaintiff and a demand for judgment. This is usually followed by a summons to the court notifying the defendant that they have been sued and sets a deadline for them to answer to the complaint.
The answer to the complaint sometime can be a counterclaim, with the defendant claiming for damages due to the plaintiff's actions in the same accident. The plaintiff's reply to this counterclaim can either choose to admit or deny the charges. There is also a chance of filing cross-claims in cases like pileups where more than one car is involved.
Fact-Finding and Discovery
This is the period when lawyers from both sides of the table investigate all the facts of the case to ensure no surprises come up in the courtroom. It can involve:
• Interrogatories – These are questionnaires and each party can send the other their written questions which must be answered within 30 days.
• Request for documents – There will be written requests for all documents pertaining to the case.
• Depositions – This is essentially a testimony taken under oath at the offices of your lawyer with both, the opposing counsel and your lawyer, being allowed to ask questions. Other witnesses may be deposed as well, which can include bystanders, first officers on the scene, treating doctors, family members, etc.
All the information produced during the interrogatories and depositions, as well as that gleaned from the documents requested, can be used in court. This is also the stage when your lawyer decides the witnesses you will be calling on to make your case.
It is necessary for you to be as upfront and honest during the discovery process because everything related to the case will inevitably be dug up and analyzed. While this is a lengthy process and often frustrating, it is important to remember that it is a crucial step in providing you the compensation you deserve.
Negotiation and Settlement
Almost 95% of personal injury claims are settled out of court before going to trial. A settlement offer can come at any stage during the case. It is means of resolving the matter while still being able to control the outcome. While a lawyer can advise you if an offer is good or bad, the final decision to accept it is in your hands.
A defendant may also choose to file a motion to dismiss after or during, the process of discovery stating that the complaint has no legal basis. Other motions such as a change of venue may also be filed depending upon where the accident occurred. If the key facts are not disputed in the case then the plaintiff can push for summary judgment, which effectively puts the judge in a position to pronounce a judgment before the trial begins.
If and when the case goes to trial make sure that you are amply prepared for the long haul. Trial preparation takes a lot of work, most of which is done during the discovery, but has to be reassessed and aligned according to the case. It is important to keep in mind that the burden of proof in personal injury cases is on the plaintiff, thus it is important for you to be prepared.
A personal injury trial is all about assigning the blame and assessing the damages to be awarded. Having a clear understanding of both before going into the trial will hold you in good stead.
Filing a lawsuit, while the only recourse in some cases, can be a long and tiring process. Having all the information you can gather about your case is what will ensure how best your lawyer can help you. Lawsuits are a trial of patience and fortitude, and often your best shot at getting your due compensation.
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