Car accidents occur, whether it’s minor crashes or serious ones. After your accident, educate yourself on what to do if your car accident case heads to court. It can leave you shaken up and confused, but the whirlwind process of a lawsuit can be just as overwhelming. Here are some helpful tips on what to do when a car accident case heads to court.
What Are The First Steps To Take In A Car Accident Lawsuit?
The first step in taking a car accident case to court is filing a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff (the injured person) will file a civil suit with the local court. The defendant (the driver who allegedly caused the accident) will then be served with a summons and a complaint. A defendant is then required to respond to the complaint.
Afterward, the response is filed with the court and served to the defendant. After the defendant has filed an answer, both sides will gather evidence. This particular process of the proceedings may include depositions, subpoenas, and the discovery process. Once the evidence-gathering phase is complete, the case will go to trial.
Heading to Trial
At trial, the judge or jury will hear from both sides and decide who was at fault and how much money should be paid. If a jury decides that the defendant should compensate the plaintiff, the case will proceed to the damages phase. The damages phase is where the jury decides how much the plaintiff should receive. After the jury has determined how much the plaintiff should receive, the defendant will be ordered to pay the amount. The plaintiff may take additional steps to collect the money if the defendant does not pay the amount. These steps may include the following:
- Filing a lawsuit
- Hiring a collection agency
- Garnishing wages
- Putting a lien on the property
New Jersey’s auto insurance system is “no-fault” insurance. So regardless of who is at fault, your car insurance will pay for your injuries. However, you can still sue the at-fault driver for damages. The idea around no-fault insurance is to:
- Reduce the number of lawsuits that are filed against insurance companies
- Help victims of car accidents get the medical treatment they need
- Assist victims of car accidents in getting their lost wages reimbursed
- Protect victims of car accidents from being sued by the at-fault driver
- Easier for insurance companies to pay claims
Insurance Doesn’t Cover Everything
A “limitation on lawsuit” policy in New Jersey means that if you are in an accident and are sued for damages, you can only collect up to the amount the policy limits. This policy is not required in New Jersey and is one way to lower the cost of your insurance premium. A first-party claim is brought when the injured person sues the at-fault driver, and a third-party claim is obtained when the injured person sues the driver’s insurance company.
If you have a limitation on lawsuit policy in New Jersey, you will be limited to the policy limits in a first-party lawsuit. In a third-party case, you can collect up to the policy limits, but you will have to pay your attorney’s fees and costs. There are some exceptions:
- Loss of Limbs or Dismemberment
- Significant Disfigurement or Scarring
- Broken Bones or Fractures
- Loss of Unborn Life
- Permanent Injury
These severe injuries may allow you to collect more than the policy limits. Speak to an experienced New Jersey car accident attorney to see if you are eligible for these exceptions, as you can only collect the amount of the policy limits, even if your damages are more significant.
In a third-party claim, you can collect the total damages up to the at-fault driver’s policy limits. If the damages exceed the limits, you can only manage the number of policy limits. Suppose you have a limitation on the lawsuit policy. In that case, you may want to increase your policy limits to ensure you are fully protected in the event of an accident.
New Jersey is a pure comparative negligence state. Insurance companies determine each driver’s degree of fault based on the Comparative Negligence Act, and New Jersey uses a modified comparative fault scheme. If a driver is more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, they cannot recover for any damages sustained. If that person is less than 50 percent at fault for the accident, they can recover, but the total gross compensation is adjusted to account for their degree of responsibility. For example, if you are 15 percent at fault, your complete recovery is reduced by 15 percent.
Insurance is Denying or Devaluing Your Claim
Be cautious when accepting an initial settlement offer from your insurance company after a car accident. It is common for insurance adjusters to pressure injured victims into settling early. Once you agree to a settlement, you cannot return for any additional compensation if you realize your bills were higher than you initially anticipated. Always consult a car accident lawyer before accepting a settlement offer, as insurance companies will find reasons like the following to devalue or deny your claim:
- Save money for their insurance company.
- Investigate extensively to provide the claim is valid
- Stating the damages are not severe enough to warrant a payout
- The policyholder is at fault
- Delay the payout
Collision coverage should cover the damages to your car in a vehicle accident. If you were injured in the accident, your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance is intended to cover losses like medical bills and lost wages. In the case of serious injury, your PIP coverage may only come close to paying for some of your losses. Or, your own insurance company may deny or devalue your claim.
What To Do After A Car Accident?
After a car accident, It can be difficult to determine if you have a valid claim and are fairly compensated without an attorney’s help. If you or a loved one have been involved in a car accident, the law professionals at Gold and Albanese can help you determine if you have a valid claim and are fairly compensated after the car accident. Contact us today for more information regarding your case.