What to Know When Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit

Personal Injury Legal Facts Everyone Should UnderstandCar accidents are not fun for anyone involved, and unfortunately, many people are involved outside of those in the motor vehicles. Police officers (if called to the scene) have to write accident reports, insurance adjusters have to be notified to start the claim process, vehicle repairmen have to be contacted to give repair estimates, and if anyone is injured, numerous physicians and medical facilities will also become a part of the massive equation. Adding lawyers to the mix is sometimes helpful in pushing a claim through, but unfortunately, most people who contact attorneys for help don’t realize everything that is involved, such as how long the process takes, and how little extra money they will add to their pockets.

Lengthy Pre-Litigation Process for Car Accident Claims

Every state has a statute of limitations dictating the time limit to file a personal injury lawsuit from the date of the incident. The average time for car accidents is two years. If a car accident attorney is contacted well before the statute of limitations is up, the claim will be put through a pre-litigation process to assess all damages and try to settle the claim out of court. Both the attorney and the client can potentially earn more money in these settlements.

The first step in the process is to collect all of the client’s medical records, medical billing records, and repair estimates (unless the car has been declared a total loss). If the client is still treating, the attorney may wait until the client is released from treatment or attempt to get the treating physician to say in writing how much treatment will be needed in the future. Depending on the number of medical facilities and how quickly they turn around the records, this process can take many months. When the attorney has all of the needed documentation, only then can they make a demand for settlement to the insurance company. When negotiations fail, the attorney will file a lawsuit.

How Much Money Is Demanded, and Where the Money Goes

A typical demand will list a summary of all medical fees, repair estimates or total loss value of the vehicle, any future medical expenses, and of course, the attorney fees. From that list, the attorney will usually demand a settlement that exceeds the total number for bartering purposes. Just because an attorney demands $100,000 in settlement, it doesn’t mean he expects the insurance company to agree to that amount. It does happen, but it’s extremely rare and should not be counted on.

Once a claim is settled, the attorney’s office takes care of distributing the settlement funds. The first amount taken out is the attorney’s fees, which usually runs about a third of the total settlement. If the case becomes a lawsuit, sometimes as much as forty-five percent of the total settlement is charged. Next is the legal expenses, including copies, postage, and mediation fees, if any. These are separate from the attorney’s contingency fee.

Then all outstanding medical expenses are paid off for the client. If the client has a primary health insurance company, the attorney’s office will by law contact that company to alert them of the claim and settlement. The insurance company will collect all of the medical expenses it paid for the medical services sought by the client.

At this point, if there is any money left, it will all go into the client’s pocket. Most of this pocket money is for vehicle repairs or to cover the loss of the vehicle, and it’s rarely anything more than that.

If the Claim Becomes a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If negotiations between the attorneys and the opposing car insurance company fail, or if the statute of limitations is rapidly approaching, the attorneys will file a personal injury lawsuit. Once this happens, the lengthy process of pre-lit practically starts over. The medical records and bills will have to be re-requested with affidavits for the court, which can once again, take months.

A trial date is usually set for a year from the date of the filing. Also, just because a case is scheduled for trial on a date does not mean that the trial will happen on that date. Courts will book several trials on one date, because many cases will settle and free up the date, and if they didn’t overbook, cases couldn’t be scheduled for years. So if the court resets a case over and over, it could be three years before the case can officially go to trial.

On top of all that, before the attorney can negotiate a settlement with the new opposing attorney, depositions of the drivers and passengers must be taken. This adds in additional legal expenses to be taken out of the final settlement, not to mention, additional time before the case can be settled.

Car Accident Attorneys are There to Help Ease Insurance Claim Burdens

This is not to say that no one should think about seeking legal help if they have been in a car accident. Everyone has different reasons why they contact lawyers to assist them in dealing with opposing insurance companies, and car accident lawyers are very skilled at negotiating claims to make sure all medical expenses and repair expenses are covered. However, everyone should also be aware of the reality that they are most likely in for a long haul for little extra money. Understanding these two aspects will make the entire legal process a little easier for the clients to endure.

Scroll to Top