If you have suffered injuries in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, you should hire a good lawyer and put your trust in that lawyer. Refer to the section of this website on how to find a good car accident lawyer.
Your lawyer will want to meet with you a number of times over the course of your case and gather information about the crash, your injuries, your work history and other subjects. It is important that you cooperate fully with your lawyer and provide all information that he or she is asking for.
You both want the case to be successful and to recover as much money from the insurance company as possible. Although the lawyer has the primary responsibility for preparing the case, you also have an important responsibility to help in that process.
The early steps in a car accident case can include the following:
- Getting a copy of the police report
- Figuring out how much insurance coverage the other driver has
- Interviewing witnesses
- Hiring experts to figure out exactly how the crash occurred and whose fault it was
Also, your lawyer can help make sure that you get the medical care that you need.
Inexperienced or unskilled lawyers will often contact the other driver’s insurance company immediately and try to settle the case early. This is usually not in the client’s best interests. A quick settlement means a quick payday for the lawyer, but usually a bad deal for the client.
You want your lawyer to leave no stone unturned to prepare your case so that you end up collecting all of the money that you deserve. When it comes time to negotiate with the insurance company, you want to be negotiating from a position of strength. Sometimes that means that it will take a couple of years to resolve your case.
Typically, a person can recover money for the following types of damages in a car accident case:
- The medical bills that you have already incurred
- The cost of medical treatment that you will need in the future
- Lost earnings from having to miss time at work
- Earnings that you will lose in the future
- Compensation for all the ways in which your injuries have caused you to suffer and have affected your quality of life
Not every item applies in every case. A good lawyer will work with you to maximize the damages that you can recover.
In cases involving serious injuries, it will usually be necessary for your lawyer to file a lawsuit with the court. This will force the insurance company to also hire a lawyer. Eventually, the judge will set a trial date in your case.
- Exchange of Information in Writing. Early on, the two lawyers will exchange information in writing that is relevant to the case. Your lawyer will ask you to provide certain information as part of that process.
- Depositions. Within a few months or so after the lawsuit is filed, the lawyers will start taking depositions, and your deposition will likely be taken by the insurance company’s lawyer. A deposition is sworn testimony given by a witness in front of a court reporter. Your lawyer will prepare you for that process and will sit with you during the deposition. You will be asked questions about the crash, your injuries, your background and other subjects.
- Medical Examinations. The insurance company’s lawyer has a right to send you to a doctor of his choosing to be examined. That doctor will then prepare a report summarizing his opinions about your injuries. Your lawyer may also send you to one or more doctors whom the lawyer has selected, in order to determine the nature and seriousness of your injuries and decide how best to present those injuries to the jury at trial.
- Settlement Negotiations. In most cases, there will be serious settlement negotiations within the last few months before trial. Often these negotiations will take place at a mediation. A mediation is simply a meeting among the lawyers and clients for both sides, with a professional mediator who helps the parties try to reach a settlement. Although your lawyer will conduct the negotiations on your behalf and advise you as to how much money she thinks you should settle for, it is ultimately your decision whether to settle your case and for how much.
- Trial. If the case does not settle, it will proceed to a jury trial. You will have to testify in court about the accident and your injuries. Other people will also testify, including witnesses to the crash, the other driver, doctors and expert witnesses. You may or may not have to attend the trial on the days when you are not testifying. Most trials in car accident cases last approximately one to two weeks. At the end of the trial, the jury will return a verdict. If the jurors decides that the other driver was at fault, they will award a certain dollar amount to you, in order to compensate you for your injuries.