The Stages of a Car Accident Lawsuit: What to Expect

Car AccidentYou were seriously injured in a car accident and you’ve decided to sue the other driver for damages. Keep in mind that this is a big decision and one you should discuss with your car accident attorney before pursuing since it can involve a long path to potential compensation.

But once you decide that this is the best path for you, you may wonder what comes next. In this article, we outline the basic stages of a car accident lawsuit.

What Happens First in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

First, you and your attorney will file a complaint or petition with the local court. It’s important not to delay this step as most states have laws limiting how much time you have to do this after the accident.

The complaint will include the allegations you’re making against the other driver as well as the damages you’re seeking. The other driver and his/her insurance company have a set amount of time to respond to this complaint. They must write up an “answer” in which they admit or deny the allegations, and include any potential counterclaims against you. They may say that you were partially responsible for the accident, for example.

Then you will have a set amount of time to respond to those counterclaims.

The Discovery and Deposition Phase

During the next phase of litigation, the parties seek documents, evidence, and other information in a process known as “discovery.” This stage may also involve interviewing witnesses and anyone else with information pertinent to the case and gathering additional documents that may be relevant.

Both sides also have the option at this point to gather “expert” opinions from from experts that may be able to shed light on what happened in the accident.

Mediation and Settlement Negotiations

Both parties usually like to avoid the time and uncertainty  of a court trial. For this reason, there is usually a period during a car accident lawsuit where the parties have settlement negotiations or go to mediation. A mediation  is a type of dispute resolution where a neutral party (called a mediator) tries to help the parties find common ground and come to a settlement agreement.

If this stage of the process works, both parties will agree to a settlement amount and the case will come to a close. If it doesn’t work and the parties cannot agree, the case will likely go to trial.

The Trial Stage

During a trial, a jury listens to each side’s presentation of the evidence, then decides a verdict based on the facts presented and the law in that state. Trials can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks as both parties present their facts, documents, witness testimony, and expert testimony to the judge and jury.

If the jury decides in your favor, you win the verdict. If the jury decides in the other party’s favor, you may decide to file an appeal to a higher court. The appeal option is available only if you have grounds for an appeal, such as the court making a serious error. The appeals part of the process is typically long and arduous and can take a year or more to complete.