Most car accident cases settle during negotiations, but there are instances when these cases go to trial. Generally, it is best to avoid a lengthy trial process and attempt to reach a settlement when negotiating with defendants and their insurers. On the other hand, it is sometimes worth taking the case to court if it is the best way to reach a favorable settlement, even if going to court comes with additional expenses and a potentially lengthy process.
If you’ve been in a car accident and you’re unsure about what to do next, it’s important to seek legal advice from a car accident lawyer. Learn about the rate at which car accidents go to court and what you might expect if a case reaches the trial phase.
Do Car Accident Cases Frequently Go to Trial?
If you are wondering how often a car accident case goes to trial, there is not exact figure. However, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 3 to 4 percent of tort cases go to court. Approximately 95 percent of accident cases and other types of personal injury cases settle before they reach the trial phase, slimming the chances of a case going to trial.
Most cases do not go to court because of the hassle of going through the trial process. Preparation for the legal process can require ample time and money on its own, and the discovery process in a trial can take as long as a year or more. Even if initial negotiations do not result in a settlement, it is possible to reach one via pre-trial mediation before taking the case to court.
When Could a Car Accident Go to Trial?
Although most car accident cases settle well before going to court, there are certain circumstances that make sense when taking the case to trial. These exceptions may include the following:
Fault Is Unclear
Sometimes fault in an accident is clear, and there is a liable party that is easy to identify, but other cases may be more complex. For instance, a case may involve various circumstances leading up to the accident and many drivers that make it difficult to determine liability.
Typically, insurance companies or police determine fault in an accident based on the evidence available. At the same time, determining fault will depend on your state. For example, New York is a no-fault state, which means that accident victims will not need to prove fault in an accident claim. Instead, both parties involved in the accident would have a certain amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage to cover damages.
If a fault is unclear in a situation where a plaintiff must prove negligence, the case may ultimately wind up in court.
Insurers Do Not Offer a Fair Settlement Amount
An insurer may make an offer in an attempt to settle the case after beginning negotiations. However, the plaintiff in a car accident case may be unhappy with the proposed amount. This could be the case if the insurer makes an offer far lower than what the plaintiff expects based on the damages involved. In some instances, insurers may even make lowball settlements far below what would be a reasonable amount, believing that plaintiffs may not be aware of the actual value of their cases.
Generally, it is in your best interest to avoid accepting the first offer from insurers. Instead, you should discuss your case with an attorney before settling on an offer. Upon reviewing your case, you may discover that your case is worth considerably more than what insurance companies propose. If insurance companies continue to refuse to make a fair offer, plaintiffs and their attorneys may choose to take the car accident case to court.
What Does the Legal Process Entail When Car Accident Claims to Go to Court?
If a car accident case winds up going to trial, there is a long process involved before reaching a settlement. In the event of a trial case, you should know the timeline of the legal process and what to expect during each stage.
The trial process will involve the following phases:
Serving a Complaint and Awaiting a Response
The first stage of the lawsuit involves filing a court complaint. Before submitting this complaint, your attorney may spend months preparing it. The reason for this is the need for your attorney to gather and understand all the facts pertaining to your case.
Once the attorney has prepared the complaint, they can then file it with the court, after which the next step is to serve the complaint to the defendant. The time it takes for the complaint to reach the defendant will largely depend on the defendant’s location. Sometimes a defendant will be challenging to find, which can further prolong the process.
You will need to wait for the defendant to respond if and when the defendant receives the complaint. Waiting for a response could take up to a month or longer, and the defendant may take this opportunity to contest the complaint.
The Discovery Process
After receiving a response from the defendant and the lawsuit can continue, the next stage is discovery. This type of investigation entails uncovering as much documentation and information about the case as possible. It will involve both parties sharing information to ensure they are aware of all the facts about the case. The parties involved will achieve this through
depositions that consist of in-person or virtual meetings.
Parties may need to share during discovery:
- Certain things that someone saw, did or heard in relation to the case
- The identities of people who may have details about the accident, injuries, or losses involved in the case
- Something that someone stated along with the location and time of the statement
- Documents detailing more information about the case
- Details about witnesses, including their background
The discovery process alone can take anywhere from a few months to a year or longer to complete. One of the reasons this process could take so long is the inability of both parties to agree to provide access to critical information.
After the discovery process, the lawsuit may settle well before a trial becomes necessary. Sometimes one side might discover and present a crucial piece of evidence that leads to a resolution.
For instance, a defendant may deny that they were liable for an accident. Still, multiple witness testimonies and CCTV footage from a nearby camera show the defendant driving aggressively and causing the accident. In a case like this, there likely will not be any further argument about a fault with this kind of evidence.
While only some cases are likely to go to trial, some may fail to reach a resolution after the deposition.
The Trial Process
The actual trial may commence if both sides cannot come to an agreement after discovery. The trial will begin with the plaintiff making an argument in their favor through an attorney, starting with an opening statement. The plaintiff may present evidence such as photos and video footage of the accident, medical bills and records proving the severity of injuries, and testimony from expert witnesses along with eyewitnesses.
The defendant will also have the opportunity to present evidence conflicting with the plaintiff’s arguments. Much of the defendant’s evidence will be similar in nature to the plaintiff’s, with physical evidence and witness testimony contributing to the defense. For example, the defendant may call a witness in the form of a doctor who examined the plaintiff and found their injuries to be far less severe than what other doctors claim.
The trial will ultimately end with closing arguments followed by jury deliberation. If the jury reaches a verdict, the judge in the case will make a final decision regarding the settlement.
Appealing the Decision
Either the plaintiff or defendant may be dissatisfied with the outcome of the case, which could lead either party to appeal the decision. For example, the defendant may still disagree with the decided settlement amount and refuse to pay it, in which case the defendant would begin the appeals process.
There are multiple ways a party involved in an accident case may appeal a jury’s verdict in a car accident lawsuit. One method is to go through the appellate court to review the case and determine whether the original case followed all necessary protocols.
The plaintiff or the defendant may also request a new trial, with the party making this request to the same court responsible for the first trial.
Grounds for a new trial could include:
- An error of law.
- Misconduct on the part of the jury or the opposing party.
- New evidence not previously uncovered during the first trial.
- Other issues that could constitute a mistrial.
At some point during the appeals process, the case will eventually reach a settlement.
The Importance of Filing a Car Accident Claim or Lawsuit on Time
If you seek compensation following a car accident, you may do so with an insurance claim or a lawsuit. However, you only have a limited amount of time to file a case before you are unable to recover compensation. This limit is the statute of limitations. Each state has a different statute of limitations for car accident cases, with most ranging from two to four years after the time of the accident.
You may believe you have ample time to file a claim or lawsuit against negligent parties, but it is best to get started as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you may not only pass the statute of limitations in your state but also need help to pay medical expenses and other costs while recovering from your injuries.
Filing early on will help get you on the way to recovering a settlement to help cover the costs associated with the accident. This is particularly important if your car accident case goes to trial and takes months or over a year to settle.
Why You Should Work With a Car Accident Attorney
While you may believe you can negotiate with insurers on your own or even navigate a trial without legal assistance, you may not have the necessary experience handling car accident cases. There may also be many complexities in your case that you did not anticipate before filing a claim or suit. In any case, it is important to consult with an experienced car accident attorney to discuss your case.
A car accident lawyer can talk with you and assess your case in a free consultation. Based on this consultation, the attorney can decide whether to represent you and handle your case. If the lawyer chooses to work with you, they will be able to handle negotiations with insurers to seek a fair settlement based on what the case is truly worth.
Additionally, if you cannot get the compensation you deserve during negotiations, your attorney may be able to take the case to court if necessary. A trial lawyer will have experience with car accident lawsuits and may also help settle your case before an actual trial becomes necessary.
An attorney could ultimately mean the difference between succeeding and failing with a car accident case.
Get the Help You Need to Build a Successful Case
While the likelihood of a car accident claims eventually turning into a trial is minimal in most cases, it is possible that you or the opposing party in your case may disagree during negotiations.
If this happens during your case, you will want to work with someone who understands the legal and claims processes. Legal counsel could help you effectively prepare a case and take steps to minimize the timeline of your lawsuit while fighting for a fair settlement from liable parties.
Get in touch with a knowledgeable and reliable car accident lawyer to determine your options before filing a claim or suit.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.