You can sue after a car accident, but whether you can recover compensation is a different matter.
If you have been injured in a car accident due to no fault of your own, bringing a lawsuit is often the primary way you can recover compensation for your accident expenses.
However, there’s a lot to take into consideration regarding when and how to bring a lawsuit after a car accident. Let’s take a look.
Should You File A Lawsuit?
Just because a person can file a lawsuit, does not always mean they should—especially without legal counsel. An experienced car accident attorney can be an invaluable resource in ensuring you bring a successful claim. Statistics from one recent year tell us there are approximately 1.33 million lawyers in the United States, so finding legal counsel won’t be difficult for car accident victims.
Technology has made it even easier to find a car accident lawyer. According to the Pew Research Institute, 93% of adults in our country use the internet. This gives the legal profession a convenient new way to connect with those who need their services, making lawyers more accessible than ever—especially in car accident cases, where most law firms offer a no-cost initial consultation.
If you were in a car accident and are contemplating bringing a lawsuit, find a reputable law firm with experience in motor vehicle accidents. Schedule a consultation with them to evaluate your case. A case evaluation not only gives you an idea of how strong your potential claim is but may give you an estimate of how much you could potentially recover in compensation. This is something you need to know before going through the expense and time of litigation.
Physical Injuries Are The Main Reason Car Accident Victims Consider A Claim
Depending on the size and speed of the vehicles involved in a car accident, injuries range from relatively minor and inconvenient (sprains, strains, or soft tissue damage) to catastrophic or fatal. While you can sue for the former, it might not be worth the time and effort, especially if your own insurance will cover any medical costs associated with those injuries.
On the other hand, more serious injuries often warrant bringing legal action. Examples of some more serious injuries include internal injuries and traumatic brain injuries. Internal injuries manifest as abdominal pain and bruising, a drop in blood pressure, respiratory and cardiac distress, and blood in the urine.
Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include:
- Bruising around the eyes
- Loss of consciousness
- An obvious depression in the skull
- Visible blood in the ear
- Loss of vision
- Elevated blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Inability to focus
Other car accident injuries that may warrant bringing legal action include neck and spinal cord damage, crush injury, traumatic amputation, and facial and dental damage.
Some of the most common reasons for motor vehicle accidents are speeding, distracted driving, fatigue, and impaired driving.
Personal injury lawsuits are a legal means to seek recovery, but not every case will succeed. Whether you succeed depends on the strength of the evidence you can collect to support your claim and the severity of your injuries.
In relatively minor and straightforward accident cases, insurance adjusters will most likely use a combination of computer programs designed to calculate potential case value and past historical data based on cases similar to yours. However, the more an insurance company stands to lose, the more likely they are to fight a claim. An insurance company’s primary objective is to pay out the least amount of money possible and to dispose of claims quickly.
Bringing A Car Accident Injury Claim And The Process Of Recovering Compensation Takes Time
In any car accident injury claim, a victim will have to wait before getting a check for compensation. Some of the timeline is within a victim’s control, such as when they file a lawsuit, but every state has a specific deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit. This deadline is called a statute of limitations.
Depending on the state, statutes of limitations range from one to six years. For instance, Louisiana and Tennessee only allow one year, while Maine and North Dakota provide six years. When the statute of limitations expires, so does a plaintiff’s right to pursue any financial recovery. Certain exceptions may apply.
Whatever the statute of limitations may be where you live, it is always best to get the process started sooner than later. This speeds up the time it takes to resolve your claim and improves your chances of a full financial recovery. As time goes by, important evidence can be lost or destroyed, witnesses’ memories may not be as sharp, and important documents may be difficult t obtain. All of these are crucial to proving your claim and pressing a defendant and their insurer to provide you with the compensation you deserve.
A car accident claim is a time-consuming process. Having a legal representative advocating for you can take the hassle of bringing a claim off your back.
A car accident attorney can:
- Investigate the accident
- Evaluate your chances of success and estimate a likely recovery amount
- Determine the cause of the accident and potentially liable parties
- Communicate with the insurance company
- Negotiate a settlement
- If needed, take the case to trial and obtain a court award of damages on your behalf
Your physical healing can also take a considerable amount of time, which may impact how quickly your claim is resolved. The best possible financial settlement will often come only after you have been able to determine the full extent to which you will be able to recover. Settling too quickly could mean leaving money on the table!
Consequences of Bringing a Car Accident Injury Claim
If you bring a car accident injury claim, the insurance company won’t back down easily. Expect a fight to the finish.
Insurance claims adjusters are skilled investigators. Within the limits of the law, they may use their investigative skills to gather evidence to dispute your claim. An accident victim may be watched or followed, even on social media. Because of this, it is never a good idea to post any pictures of your accident, comment on your injuries, or even discuss a case with anyone other than your attorney.
Any conversations a client has with their lawyer are confidential, but those with anyone else—even close friends or family—are not protected. An insurance company might be able to make others reveal what you’ve shared with them. Turns out the clichéd legal phrase “anything you say can be used against you” has some truth in car accident claims!
The at-fault driver’s insurance company may also do a background check on the injured person. As a rule of thumb, the greater the injury, the more incentive the adjusters have to find a reason to discredit or devalue a case. In instances where the plaintiff’s injuries are catastrophic (brain injury, paralysis, traumatic amputation, permanent disability, or death) you can expect claims adjusters to be more adversarial. As such, they may dig even deeper into your history to find a way to dispute your claim.
The Difference Between an Insurance Claim and a Lawsuit
Those who are harmed in car accidents due to another’s wrongdoing have a right to seek compensation for their losses. The victim may pursue compensation by bringing an insurance claim or a lawsuit. Oftentimes, victims first file a claim with insurance to try to come to a settlement.
A victim might need to proceed with a lawsuit if or when:
- An insurance company denies a claim
- The insurance company offers an unfairly low settlement
- The insurance company refuses to negotiate at all
In these cases, an accident victim might need to bring a lawsuit. Once the case is brought into a courtroom, the plaintiff’s fate might rest in the hands of a judge and jury. Luckily, many parties settle out of court before the case proceeds to trial.
Who Do You Sue After a Car Accident?
One of the first questions you need to answer to pursue a personal injury claim is who is responsible for the accident and your injuries. Depending on the answer to this question, you may determine what potential resources can compensate you and whether you face any additional restrictions in bringing a claim.
Who bears responsibility in a car accident case can be more complicated than you think.
- If the person found to be at fault for the accident was a commercial truck driver, it may be possible to hold their employer liable for the accident, due to such things as negligent hiring practices or violating state or federal mandates.
- If a defective part on a vehicle was found to be the cause of the collision, the part’s manufacturer could be the responsible party.
- When preventable environmental issues—such as potholes, broken or defective traffic signals, roadway debris, or poor road design—caused the crash, you might hold a state or city municipality liable.
What You Can Recover Depends on What You Lost In the Accident
There are millions of car accidents every year, and each one is different, both in cause and consequences. Some of these may only result in minor damages. In other cases, the cost of recovering from a car wreck can be exorbitant. What you can recover depends on what expenses and impacts you can prove you have suffered.
Documented out-of-pocket expenses are easier to quantify. For example, emergency medical care immediately following the accident, the cost of emergency transportation by ambulance, inpatient hospital charges, prescriptions, imaging studies, surgery, physical therapy, follow-up physician visits, and medical equipment are all fairly easy losses to prove.
Non-medical out-of-pocket expenses are also often easy to establish. These include alternate transportation costs such as rental car fees, parking costs, mileage reimbursement, public transportation fares, or the cost of using a ride-share service.
On the other hand, other consequences of severe physical injuries are harder to assign a value to.
A law firm with the right experience, reputation, and resources such as financial analysts and other experts can go a long way in helping a family when it comes to valuing:
- Future lost wages, including expected raises, bonuses, or commissions
- Job retraining
- Necessary home modifications
- Hiring household services that can no longer be done by the victim
- In the case of permanent disability, long-term medical costs
- Loss of earning capacity in the plaintiff’s chosen profession
A car accident victim may be able to recover for other less quantifiable impacts as well, such as pain and suffering.
Is it even possible to place a dollar value on pain and suffering? Loss of self-esteem is common after a traumatic car accident, as are shifts in family and friend relations and the ability to engage in normal daily activities.
A catastrophic car accident can often impact the quality of marriages or intimate relationships as well. Emotional distress may eventually lead to anxiety, depression, mood swings, insomnia, and in severe cases post-traumatic stress disorder.
While harder to quantify, these losses are no less worthy of being compensated.
Can You File a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer?
The real question is, should you?
If you want to give yourself the best chances of recovering all you need and deserve in compensation, no. An experienced car accident attorney has the resources and knowledge to bring a successful claim, meaning you are much better off with an attorney at your side.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.