In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, it might not cross your mind that you will need to pursue legal action to obtain the compensation you need for your injuries and property damages. But if you suffered injuries, the medical bills will soon start rushing in. Most car accident victims first try filing a claim through the at-fault party’s insurance company. However, if the insurance company is unwilling to settle for a fair amount, legal action might be your only option.
This post explains the general process of pursuing compensation after a car accident.
The First Step—Negotiating With the Insurance Company
Typically, after a collision, many victims will try to file an insurance claim to recover money for the damages they suffered. These claims may include demands for medical care costs, lost wages, and other expenses resulting from the accident. For claimants who are not injured in an accident, their claims for compensation would be largely limited to property damages, rental car expenses, and other related costs.
Regardless of the expenses you are claiming, it is often difficult and time-consuming to get an insurance company to pay out. Every car accident claimant needs to realize that insurance companies are businesses and, like any business, their primary purpose is to make money. In their case, they make money by taking in premiums and paying out as little as possible. As a result, you are likely to face at least some pushback from the insurance company in your claim for compensation.
The best way to deal with insurance company pushback is to have an experienced car accident attorney on your side. A lawyer can take over discussions with the insurance company on your behalf and ensure your claim is handled in a way that maximizes your chances of recovering as much compensation as possible. However, if the insurer is not willing to negotiate fairly or get you the money you need, even with an attorney representing you, your only option remaining will be to take your case to trial and fight for the court to order the defendant to pay damages.
Ways to Pursue Compensation After a Car Accident
Unfortunately, even a minor car crash can have catastrophic consequences, leading to significant damages and astronomical medical expenses. As a result, victims of this crash will need to take legal action fast to ensure they can recover the money they need for their losses and bills. Pursuing compensation may look different depending on the unique circumstances of your case, and the financial circumstances of the defendant.
File a Lawsuit
If the car accident left you with costly repairs or extensive medical bills, you may need to file a lawsuit against the liable parties, especially if a defendant’s insurer offers you a lowball settlement, refuses to negotiate, or denies your claim. Bringing a lawsuit makes the process more complicated, from the process and requirements for filing a complaint, to conducting discovery and gathering evidence, to presenting at trial and making legal arguments for why you deserve to be compensated. However, this is all very doable with the right attorney at your side.
Before you initiate a lawsuit, it is best to contact a skilled car accident attorney. In fact, it is best to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your accident. A lawyer can review your case and advise you on your legal options. They can also help give you an idea of your chances of winning and can estimate how much you could stand to recover in compensation.
File an Uninsured Motorist Claim
Victims who are hit by a motorist without any insurance or without sufficient insurance might be able to turn to their own insurance company for compensation. Many motorists often have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage to help in these situations. This optional insurance helps cover you up to a certain amount if a motorist hits you and they do not carry insurance or do not have high enough insurance limits to cover your damages
If this additional insurance is unavailable or still does not cover all of your losses and damages, you still may need to sue the at-fault driver, particularly if they have the funds or assets to be able to pay a judgment.
Establishing Liability After a Car Crash
Before proceeding with a car accident lawsuit, you need to know you can produce evidence to show that the prospective defendant was responsible for your accident. This is the only way they can be held liable for your damages. This is one reason why it is important to work with an experienced car accident attorney following your collision.
An experienced car accident attorney will know how to investigate your accident and find out how it occurred. It might simply have happened because the driver was negligently playing with their phone. Or, some other party might have shared responsibility, such as if the other driver was an employee of a company that forced the driver to work over the legally-allowed number of hours, causing the employee to become drowsy and cause the accident.
However, most car collisions result from the other driver’s negligence.
To establish a negligent driver’s liability, you must be able to establish:
- The other driver owed you a duty of care—this is normally fairly easy, as all drivers have a duty to drive legally and safely
- The other driver breached their duty—in a car accident case, this would be taking some illegal or unsafe action while driving
- The breach caused you harm, as well as the damages you are claiming as a result
The Time You Have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit Is Limited
If you wish to pursue a car accident lawsuit, you need to find out the deadline by which you must do so. Every state has a statute of limitations, which is a law that dictates the maximum amount of time you have to file a lawsuit following an alleged offense. If you do not file your lawsuit within this allotted period of time, you can be barred from collecting compensation for your harm and losses.
In addition, many times, there are exceptions to this law that can shorten or extend the amount of time you have to file. To ensure you do not miss this deadline, you should reach out to a skilled car crash lawyer as soon as possible. These attorneys can verify not only how much time you have to file your case but they can prepare your legal documents and make sure you timely and accurately file your lawsuit.
Compensation You May Recover in a Car Accident Lawsuit
If you bring a car accident lawsuit and win, you will be entitled to certain types of compensation, depending on the harm and losses you suffered as a result of the accident. This compensation generally includes the following:
Economic Damages: These damages refer to the actual and measurable losses that result from an accident, including:
- Past, current, and future medical expenses, such as your doctor visits, emergency services, hospital stay, surgeries, prescription medications, and assistive medical devices
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Rehabilitative services, such as physical and occupational therapy
- At-home nursing care
- Personal property damages
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
Non-Economic Damages: These damages refer to the subjective losses that result from an accident.
These losses are not as easily quantifiable, though are often awarded and may include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of reputation
In addition, in some exceptional cases, a victim may also collect punitive damages. Unlike the previously mentioned damages—which compensate the victim for their losses following an accident—punitive damages punish the defendant for egregious actions and deter them and others from committing such acts.
Punitive damages are not often awarded. They not only require showing a higher level of misconduct by a defendant but also require meeting a higher standard of proof. To recover punitive damages, a victim generally must prove by clear and convincing evidence (a heightened standard of evidence) that the defendant acted with intention or gross negligence.
Action To Take After a Car Crash To Help Your Lawsuit
Although the scene after a car accident is often stressful and overwhelming, there are important actions to take to ensure that you remain safe following this crash and that your legal rights are protected. The following steps can help ensure you prevent incurring greater harm to your health and can also help lay the groundwork for your lawsuit:
Following a car accident, you should contact 911 immediately. This is the fastest way to get your accident on record, alert the authorities of the crash, and to notify emergency medical personnel that you or someone at the scene needs medical attention.
Once the police arrive, they can conduct a preliminary investigation of the crash and memorialize their findings in a police report. If you decide to pursue legal action after the accident, this report can provide helpful details regarding liability and damages to further investigate, and might even serve as proof in support of your claim.
If you do not require emergency medical treatment and the area is safe, you should collect as evidence to help support your lawsuit. This evidence should include pictures and videos of your visible injuries, the vehicles involved in the crash, skid marks on the road, the weather at the time of the accident, traffic signals near the scene, and any other evidence that can help show what happened.
Exchange Information With Other Drivers Involved
Make sure you exchange details with the others involved in the crash, such as names, contact details, insurance information, and driver’s license numbers. Be careful not to share more than these basic details with the other drivers. You should avoid making any definitive statements about the collision, apologizing for anything that happened, or taking the blame for what occurred. These types of comments can end up hurting your case.
Check for Witnesses
If there were people who saw what happened, try to get their names and contact information. Their statements can often provide you with further valuable details regarding the incident and can help back up your claim.
Get to a Doctor as Soon as Possible
Even if your personal injuries appear relatively minor following the accident, you should still see your doctor as soon as possible. Many times, symptoms of serious injuries such as brain trauma or internal bleeding take time to show up. Yet, the longer you wait to get medical treatment, the more serious and even deadly the injuries can become.
In addition, getting prompt treatment after a crash can help your legal case. Or, rather, not getting prompt treatment often hurts a case. For instance, by not getting immediate medical help, the insurance company or the other side will try to argue that your injuries from the accident were not that serious, or that the severity of your injuries is a result of a subsequent event. When a doctor examines you after your accident, they can create a medical report of your injuries. The report can serve as evidence of a direct link between your injuries and the car crash.
File a Lawsuit With the Help of a Skilled Car Accident Attorney
To recover compensation in a car accident lawsuit, you need not only to identify the defendants and insurers who have the funds to cover your accident expenses, but you also need to be able to produce relevant, admissible evidence and sound legal arguments.
However, after a motor vehicle accident, this is probably the last thing you want to try to tackle. When you hire an experienced car crash lawyer, you do not have to take on this legal battle on your own. Instead, you can focus on your healing while your attorney goes after the justice and compensation you deserve.
A lawyer can provide a number of valuable services in a car accident claim, including:
- Evaluate your legal claim, determine if you have a viable case, and figure out what legal options you have
- Answer all the questions you have regarding your case
- Investigate your car accident and secure the evidence needed to prove what happened and who was at fault
- Obtain experts such as accident reconstructionists and medical professionals to substantiate your claims
- Take over the negotiations with the other side and go after a fair settlement amount on your behalf
- Proceed to trial if settlement negotiations fail and fight for the maximum compensation you can recover.
If another motorist has hit you or a loved one, do not wait any longer to secure the legal help you need. Instead, contact an experienced car accident attorney today for a free case evaluation, and to start building your case for compensation.