A car accident leaves the drivers involved with many questions, one of the most common being whether they should take legal action. While they may need to file suit to gain compensation to cover the cost of damages, people hesitate to talk with a lawyer because the thought of going to court can intimidate people.
A car accident lawyer can help you understand your options and maximize compensation after a car accident leaves you with injuries and damages. The good news is that for most people, a car accident doesn’t have to mean going before a judge.
How Often Do Car Accident Cases Go to Court?
Car accident cases are a type of personal injury case. These go through civil court rather than criminal court. Civil court is how an injured victim can gain compensation for an injury. A fraction of personal injury cases fails to resolve through negotiations and go to trial.
When personal injury cases go to court, many are related to motor vehicle accidents. The U.S. Court’s 12-month study period ending March 31st, 2020, shows that of the 23,310 personal injury cases filed with the court system, 5,301 resulted from motor vehicle accidents.
Yet even after lawyers start court proceedings, most cases never make it to the courtroom—they resolve through negotiations.
The most recent data tracking trial and settlement statistics come from the Bureau of Justice, which reports that only around 3 percent of all personal injury cases settle by trial verdict. The Bureau also reports that motor vehicle accident cases usually settle faster than other personal injury cases.
Why Do Car Accident Attorneys Prefer to Settle Out of Court?
What are the benefits of keeping a case out of court? There are several reasons why car accident lawyers prefer to settle car accident cases through negotiation instead of taking them to trial.
First, negotiation prevents the need to pay court costs, which can significantly increase the overall cost of legal proceedings. A trial also increases the amount of work a car accident attorney needs to do, increasing attorney fees.
Timing is another factor. Cases that settle through negotiation can be resolved more quickly than those that have to go through a court hearing. A hearing often takes place over multiple sessions.
The final reason to keep a car accident case out of court is control over the outcome. The judge or jury determines the outcome when a case goes to court. When negotiations settle a case, a car accident lawyer can maintain control over their client’s compensation.
Why Does a Car Accident Case End up in Court?
Every car accident case that goes to court ends up there for the same reason—an inability to come to a settlement agreement that works for both parties. There are a few different reasons this can happen.
For one, an insurance company might be unwilling to pay the settlement amount a car accident lawyer thinks is fair. Often, an insurance company refuses to pay the full amount you deserve.
In cases where a car accident caused life-altering results like a traumatic brain injury or the death of a loved one, compensation can reach seven figures. In these cases, insurance companies often work hard to curb their losses by fighting for a lower settlement than you deserve.
A case might also end up in court because of an inability to agree on which party was at fault. Additionally, accidents involving multiple parties, or cases that include a mixture of personal and company insurance policies, can lead to complications in determining which policy is responsible for payment.
How Long Does a Car Accident Court Hearing Take?
Every car accident case is different, which means there’s no average time limit for court proceedings. As a general rule, court hearings take longer than negotiations. Many factors affect how long a car accident court hearing will take.
Common issues that can increase the duration of a hearing include:
- Multiple parties involved
- Multiple insurance policies covering one party
- The amount of evidence available
- The extent of injuries and compensation value sought
- Complexity regarding fault
- The need for witness and expert testimony
Factors like these increase the case’s complexity and often require additional time and court sessions.
When you speak with a car accident lawyer during an initial consultation, they should be able to give you an estimate for the duration of your case. However, you never know in advance if an insurance company will meet your terms.
Are There Any Advantages to a Car Accident Case Going to Court?
Generally speaking, trying to keep a case out of court is preferable.
Settling through negotiation brings many benefits, including:
- Reduced attorney fees
- No court costs
- Shorter duration
- More control over case outcome
However, in some cases, a car accident attorney will advise pushing the case to court as the only way to gain a settlement amount that adequately reimburses you for the damages.
When a lawyer recommends going to court, they believe it will bring you a better outcome. There are two chief advantages to taking a case to court.
First, you have the possibility of being awarded the settlement amount you’re seeking rather than settling for a lower amount.
Second, some court cases can leave you with punitive damages.
Judges sometimes award punitive damages when the responsible party displays excessive negligence. For example, suppose that a drunk driver hit another vehicle. Or perhaps a truck driver knowingly violated trucking regulations and caused an accident. In these cases, you might recover punitive damages.
How Does Going to Court Impact the Compensation You Can Receive from a Car Accident?
Compensation for a car accident takes two primary forms: economic and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages are financial costs or losses related to the accident that you can prove through documentation like bills, receipts, or pay stubs.
Examples of costs you can seek economic damages for include:
- Medical bills
- Ambulance bills
- Prescription medication costs
- Anticipated future medical costs
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of wages
- Loss of anticipated lifetime earnings
- Loss of benefits
In addition to losses you can prove, you can also seek noneconomic damages. They compensate you for damages the accident caused that don’t have a monetary value.
For example, suppose an accident leaves the victim unable to participate in family life or childcare responsibilities. In that case, this damage can factor into the amount of compensation sought.
Noneconomic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Diminished quality of life
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Disability or disfigurement
Noneconomic damages can be harder to prove than economic damages, but they can bring significant compensation, especially in accidents that result in severe injury or death.
What Should I Expect if My Car Accident Case Goes to Court?
If you find yourself in the small percentage of individuals who end up going to court over a car accident claim, you likely want to know what to expect from the process. Not every case will pass through every step, but most follow the same sequence of events.
When you begin working with a car accident lawyer, first comes the discovery period. During this time, your lawyer will do the work of compiling evidence related to fault for the accident and proof of your damages.
Your lawyer may:
- Interview witnesses
- Collect police and medical reports
- Enlist accident reconstruction experts
- Take statements from medical professionals
- Research relevant laws to bolster your position
After the discovery phase is the negotiation phase. Once your attorney has established a target compensation value, they’ll attempt to undergo negotiations with the relevant insurance companies. Most cases resolve at this point.
If negotiations are unsuccessful, your car accident attorney will file an action with the court. From there, preparations for the court hearing will begin.
Once an insurance company sees that you are willing to take them to court, they may be more inclined to negotiate. Not every case filed with the court goes on to resolve through a verdict, as an insurance company eager to avoid the cost of court proceedings may be willing to agree to a more generous settlement.
When settlement is not an option, the trial will begin. Both sides present arguments and evidence to the court. Depending on the case’s complexity, this may occur over several sessions, often scheduled months apart.
Eventually, the hearing will come to an end. The judge or jury will give a verdict on your case. At this time, you’ll hear whether you have won or lost and what compensation the court will award you.
Will You Need to Testify If Your Car Accident Case Goes to Court?
If your car accident case goes to trial, you’ll likely need to take the stand and testify about the accident. One of the many benefits of working with an experienced car accident lawyer is that you’re never alone for any part of the legal process.
Your car accident attorney can’t take the stand for you, but they’ll do everything possible to help you prepare for your appearance. Typically a lawyer will prepare a written statement and advise you on what you should and should not say.
Although appearing before the court can feel intimidating, your lawyer’s job is to help you feel as prepared and confident as possible.
What Should You Do to Protect Yourself After a Car Accident?
A car accident is usually a nerve-racking experience, even when injuries are minor. Knowing what steps to take can protect you in the long run. Always call the police and see a doctor after a car accident, even if no one is injured. Both of these steps establish documentation of the details of the accident.
Legally, police documentation protects you from the other party later making untrue claims about the circumstances of the accident or the level of damage experienced.
Seeing a doctor is recommended because of the potential for injuries that don’t manifest immediately. It’s not unusual for car accidents to lead to severe injuries like internal bleeding, organ damage, or spinal injuries.
Establishing documentation from the accident can be crucial to gaining the compensation needed to pay for medical care. When you don’t see a doctor, there’s no paper trail establishing the accident as the initial cause of injury. Insurance companies can use this against you to withhold payment.
Finally, never speak with an insurance company before consulting with a car accident attorney. Because the average person isn’t well-versed in personal injury law or insurance policy terms, most people don’t know how much money they stand to gain from an insurance policy.
Insurance companies function as for-profit businesses. Their goal isn’t to help an accident victim—it’s to minimize their financial losses as much as possible. It takes an experienced car accident lawyer to recover the full compensation you deserve after a car accident.
Working With a Car Accident Lawyer
If you hope to gain fair compensation after a car accident, working with an experienced car accident lawyer is imperative. Without a lawyer collecting evidence, building an argument, and protecting you from insurance company tactics, there’s little chance of gaining the compensation you deserve.
If a car accident injured you, contact a car accident lawyer today. Take advantage of a free consultation to learn your financial options and how legal representation can improve your outcome.