Being involved in a car accident can be a traumatic and stressful experience. Even if you believe the accident was not your fault, you may still find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the other driver, passengers, or even pedestrians. Getting served legal papers can feel overwhelming, but it’s important to stay calm and take the right steps to protect yourself. Here’s what you need to know about being sued after a car accident, and how to respond appropriately.
Who Can Sue You After a Car Accident
There are a few different parties who may be able to sue you after a car accident:
The Other Driver
If the other driver suffered injuries or vehicle damage in the accident, they may choose to sue you to recover compensation for their losses. Even if you don’t think you were at fault, they may still name you in a lawsuit arguing that you bear some responsibility.
Passengers in the Other Vehicle
Any passengers in the other vehicle who sustained injuries may also sue you for damages like medical bills and lost wages. This is true even if the other driver was principally at fault.
Your Own Passengers
In some cases, a passenger in your own vehicle may sue you if they feel you operated your vehicle negligently and caused the collision. This scenario is less common but can happen.
Pedestrians or Cyclists
If your vehicle struck a pedestrian or cyclist, they have the right to sue you for their injuries and other losses.
The Other Driver’s Insurance Company
If the other driver’s insurance company paid out money for their policyholder’s damages, they may seek to recover those costs by filing a subrogation lawsuit against you.
What You Can Be Sued For After a Car Accident
There are a variety of damages someone can seek compensation for by suing after an accident:
This includes ambulance transportation, emergency room treatment, hospitalization, surgery, physical therapy, and any other medical expenses related to treating crash injuries.
If the injured party missed time from work due to their injuries, they can seek to recover lost wages through a lawsuit.
Pain and Suffering
Damages for the victim’s physical pain, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and other intangible losses may be sought.
Repairs or replacement costs for any property damaged in the crash, such as the vehicles involved or other property like fences or sign poles.
Loss of Consortium
The spouse of an injured party may sue for loss of companionship and affection.
If someone dies as a result of the accident, their surviving family members may sue for wrongful death. This allows them to recover compensation for funeral costs, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, and other death-related losses.
How to Defend Yourself Against a Lawsuit After a Car Accident
If you’ve been served with a summons and complaint after an accident, don’t panic. Here are some tips on mounting a vigorous legal defense:
- Don’t ignore it: You must respond timely to the lawsuit, either personally or through an attorney, or you risk having a default judgment entered against you.
- Review the complaint carefully: Look at the specific allegations being made and the evidence being put forth. This will help you formulate your defense strategy.
- Gather evidence: Collect police reports, photographs, receipts, medical records, and any other evidence needed to build your case.
- Consult an attorney: An experienced attorney can evaluate the merits of the lawsuit and represent your best interests in the legal process. They may be able to get the case dismissed or negotiate a favorable settlement for you.
- Consider mediation: Many courts provide mediation services to help parties resolve disputes prior to trial. This can save time and money for all involved.
- File motions: Your lawyer can file motions asking the court to throw out weak claims or bar inappropriate evidence from being presented at trial.
- Challenge exaggerated demands: Refute any clearly inflated or fraudulent damages being claimed with evidence like medical reports.
- Prepare your witnesses: Get any witnesses who can corroborate your version of events ready to provide depositions or testimony at trial.
- Make a settlement offer: Once the facts are clear, consider making a reasonable settlement offer to avoid prolonged litigation. But don’t settle unjustified claims.
How to Settle a Lawsuit After a Car Accident
If a lawsuit has been filed against you, you may be eager to settle the matter out of court. Here are some tips for securing a settlement:
- Assess your liability honestly: If fault clearly lies with you, settling may be the best option. If there is strong evidence you are not liable, you may want to take it to court.
- Determine a reasonable settlement amount: Factor in the actual value of the injured party’s provable damages, not excessive or frivolous sums.
- Negotiate calmly and professionally: Emotional outbursts will not lead to a fair resolution. Use logic and facts.
- Make a formal offer: Submit your settlement offer in writing with specific proposed dollar amounts for each damage category.
- Be prepared to compromise: The other side will likely counter and negotiations may require flexibility on both sides.
- Consult your insurer: If the claim involves your auto policy, your insurance company will handle settlement discussions in accordance with your policy limits.
- Get settlement terms in writing: The agreement should stipulate that all claims arising from the accident will be considered settled.
- Don’t settle claims lacking merit: Only settle strong, substantiated claims. Fight in court if you are truly not liable.
What to Do If You’re Unable to Settle a Lawsuit After a Car Accident
If the plaintiff rejects your settlement offers and continues to pursue litigation, here’s how to proceed:
- Continue gathering evidence: Depose witnesses, obtain expert testimony, gather records to build the strongest case possible.
- Re-assess your position: Be open to re-evaluating your stance if new evidence comes to light showing you may be partially liable after all.
- Make reasonable counteroffers: If their demands are unreasonable, make counteroffers explaining why you believe certain amounts to be excessive.
- Prepare for mediation: Participate in good faith in any mediation procedures mandated by the court. Mediation can spark compromise.
- File motions: Seek summary judgment or dismissal of any claims in the lawsuit that lack legal merit.
- Comply with discovery: Truthfully respond to any interrogatories, requests for documents/admissions, and other discovery demanded by the opposing side.
- Hire experienced counsel: A seasoned trial lawyer can advise you of your chances at trial and represent your best interests during litigation.
- Consider your alternatives: Explore all options with your attorney, including arbitration, high/low settlement agreements, or even taking the case to trial if appropriate.
The Consequences of Losing a Lawsuit After a Car Accident
The fallout from losing a civil lawsuit can be significant:
- Monetary damages: You will be legally obligated to pay the judgment amount awarded, which may total hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
- Garnished wages: Your wages can be garnished if you fail to pay monetary damages awarded in a judgment against you.
- Seized assets: The plaintiff can seize your bank accounts or place liens on your property if you do not pay court-ordered damages.
- Lower credit score: An unpaid judgment becomes a black mark on your credit history and lowers your credit rating.
- Higher insurance rates: Car insurers will likely raise your premiums significantly after a car accident judgment against you.
- Reputational harm: Details of the lawsuit and judgment may become publicly available, harming your reputation.
- License suspension: In some cases, the Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend your driver’s license after a serious accident judgment against you.
- Bankruptcy: The financial burden of a high damages award could force you into bankruptcy if you lack adequate insurance coverage or assets.
How to Avoid Being Sued After a Car Accident
No one can fully control whether someone else files a lawsuit against them. However, you can take proactive steps to minimize the chances of being sued after a crash:
- Purchase ample coverage: Carry high enough liability insurance limits to cover potential damages to others. This gives incentive for an injured party to settle with your insurer.
- Document evidence: Take photos and videos at the accident scene, get witness contact info, and save other evidence that could prove your innocence.
- Report promptly: Notify your insurer immediately about any accident you are involved in, even minor fender benders.
- Show concern: Ask if the other driver and any passengers are okay. Offer to call an ambulance if anyone seems injured.
- Admit fault carefully: What you say at the scene can be used against you. Be polite and compassionate but avoid hastily admitting guilt.
- Cooperate with insurers: Provide all necessary documentation your insurer requests and comply with your policy terms. This shows good faith.
- Consult an attorney: Have an experienced personal injury lawyer review the incident just in case the other party later files a lawsuit.
- Don’t apologize excessively: Avoid apologizing in a way that could be construed as admitting liability, rather than just apologizing for the scary situation.
- Never flee the scene: Leaving the scene of an accident you caused makes you appear at fault and liable for damages.
Being sued after a vehicle collision can add major stress and complications to an already difficult situation. However, by responding thoughtfully, mounting a vigorous defense, and exploring reasonable settlement options, you can achieve an equitable outcome. In more clear-cut cases where fault lies principally with you, acknowledging this and settling promptly is usually the best approach. With preparation and persistence, even messy lawsuits can often be resolved satisfactorily. Keeping perspective and not panicking is key. With the help of legal counsel, you can navigate the litigation process and put the accident behind you.
Q: How long after an accident can someone sue me?
A: Time limits for filing personal injury lawsuits after car accidents vary by state, but are typically 1 to 6 years. The deadline is known as the “statute of limitations.” An attorney can confirm the precise limit that applies to your case.
Q: Will my insurance rates increase if I am sued after an accident?
A: Even if you are not liable for the accident, having a claim filed against you may still cause your insurance premiums to rise at renewal time. However, if you are found legally at fault for the accident, your rates will likely increase significantly.
Q: What is a deposition and do I need a lawyer for it?
A: A deposition is sworn pre-trial testimony given in response to questions from the other side’s legal counsel. You have the right to have your own attorney present to object to improper questions. Deposition testimony can be used as evidence at trial, so legal representation is advisable.
Q: Are most car accident lawsuits settled before reaching a trial?
A: Yes, the vast majority of accident lawsuits are settled through negotiation well before trial. Settlements avoid the risks and costs of a trial. But sometimes negotiations fail and a courtroom verdict becomes necessary.
Q: If I lose my car accident case, can I appeal or file a second lawsuit?
A: If you lose at trial, you may be able to appeal to a higher court on grounds the trial was unfair or the verdict was unsupported by evidence. Filing a whole new lawsuit over the same incident is usually barred under res judicata rules.