In most car accident cases, the injured person, or the plaintiff, may try to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company of the at-fault driver. An adequate and fair settlement may include compensation for medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering, and other losses. Oftentimes, an insurance company will deny a claim outright, or offer a low amount that medical expenses, alone, will not be covered.
When injured parties can’t negotiate a fair settlement, they may pursue legal action against the responsible parties. Responsible parties may include the person who caused the accident, their insurance company, or others that may have contributed to the accident in some way. If you have been involved in an auto accident, contact a San Antonio personal injury lawyer today to get your legal questions answered.
Filing a Case
To initiate the legal process, a plaintiff must file a claim for damages. Upon filing a claim, a procedural timeline begins that dictates when you need to take the next steps. Within a certain amount of time, the responsible party is required to respond to the claim, and, from there, the timelines for the discovery begin.
In the response phase, the defendant must file a response to your claim, whether to provide an answer to the allegations, a counterclaim, or other legal motion. If the defendant files an answer and counterclaim, the case then moves into the discovery phase.
If the defendant files another motion, two things may happen:
- The parties may discuss the motion and come to an agreement. If an agreement is reached, the case then moves into the discovery phase, or the parties may agree to dismiss the case.
- The parties may schedule the motion for a court hearing and a judge will decide the outcome of the motion. Depending on the court’s decision, the court may dismiss the case. In that case, the plaintiff may be required to amend the petition. If the claim is not dismissed by the court, the case moves into the discovery phase.
The Discovery Phase
The discovery phase is typically the longest phase of the litigation process. It allows both parties to investigate the facts of the case. Each party is required to share certain evidence and information with the other party to prevent any element of “surprise” during the trial phase. The process of discovery itself consists of several phases. Both parties may serve the other party with requests for disclosure, requests for production, interrogatories, and requests for admission.
The parties may also schedule depositions and request physical or mental examinations. Generally, attorneys request depositions after they receive other forms of discovery. After attorneys have an opportunity to review the evidence provided by the other party, they may find it necessary to interview the parties or witnesses.
A deposition is a mechanism that allows attorneys to question the other parties and their witnesses under oath. Each phase of discovery has a respective time limit. The time limits provide a set number of days to take action after the party receives a response to their discovery requests.
Types of Depositions
Depending on the circumstances of a specific case, an attorney may request written or oral depositions. If the deposition is written, an attorney will provide the other party with a list of questions. The party who receives the questions must provide written answers in a document that must be notarized. In some cases, the written deposition might require the other party to provide documents that they failed to produce during previous phases of discovery. If the deposition is oral, the parties will meet with their attorneys present and provide answers under an oath that their answers will be truthful.
After the Depositions
After any necessary depositions have been completed, the attorneys on both sides may review the transcripts. From the information gathered, they may request additional discovery in the form of admissions, production of documents, or interrogatories. When appropriate, they may request a physical or mental examination of disposed parties.
Once a car accident attorney is satisfied with the discovery received and the investigation of the accident, they have three potential courses of action:
- Agree to dismiss the case based on lack of evidence proving the plaintiff’s case (very rare);
- Negotiate to a reasonable settlement; or
- Set a trial date.
Before determining whether a settlement is reasonable, an attorney may need to review and investigate the injured party’s medical conditions and losses. Determining whether a settlement amount will adequately cover past and future losses is a complex process.
Considerations may include:
- The medical expenses you have already incurred.
- The medical expenses you will incur, including but not limited to additional surgical procedures, follow-up appointments, and physical, cognitive, or psychological therapy services. In addition, medical equipment, such as walkers, crutches, shower chairs, and wheelchairs can be included in the cost of medical expenses.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- The replacement or repair of personal property damaged or destroyed in the accident.
- Pain and suffering for physical and mental issues caused by the accident.
- The loss of companionship of a family member if the injured person cannot take part in family activities.
- The loss of consortium if a spouse can no longer maintain a physical relationship.
- The loss of use of a body part such as an arm; or the loss of a function, such as your eyesight.
- Inconvenience, if you have to hire someone to do chores that you typically would do. For example, grocery shopping, household cleaning, home maintenance, and lawn maintenance.
- Additional compensation for injuries that caused permanent disfigurement.
- The death of a loved one.
Economic losses refer to damages with a price tag attached, such as past and future medical expenses, and are compensated based on actual cost. Non-economic damages are those that do not have a monetary value, such as pain and suffering. Typically, courts only recognize non-economic damages for injuries that cause long-term disabilities or exacerbate an existing long-term disability.
In ordering responsible parties to pay economic and non-economic damages, the legal system intends to make injured victims whole again. While no amount of compensation can restore a victim’s physical health, recovery can dramatically reduce the financial stress caused by the accident.
As mentioned, some cases warrant an award of exemplary damages, which are intended to act as punishment for a defendant’s behavior that is grossly negligent or intentional. Texas law, for example, limits the amount of exemplary damages a court can require a defendant to pay, while other states might not. You’ll need to call a car accident lawyer near you for more information about any limits in your own state.
Working With Your Attorney During Discovery Phase
Discovery is often the most complicated phase of the entire process. An opposing attorney may hand an injured victim a stack of documents, requesting that they provide information and answer difficult questions. Victims must answer each question or request as thoroughly as possible before moving onto the next question or request. If you don’t understand what the at-fault party is requesting, a car accident attorney can help you determine how you must respond.
If you suffered injuries in a car accident, contact a car accident lawyer for a free consultation.