Being injured in a motor vehicle accident can be incredibly traumatic for anyone involved. In the aftermath, injury victims may be further stressed by the prospect of taking legal action to recover compensation for their losses. Understanding what happens in a California car accident claim can make this process easier.
While each claim is unique, there is a general auto accident settlement timeline that most cases follow. The total time to resolve your case will depend on a number of factors, including the nature and severity of your injuries and the willingness of the insurance company to settle the claim. If your case goes to trial, it can take more than a year to resolve your claim.
As experienced California car accident lawyers, we understand that accident victims are often overwhelmed by the legal process. Below, we outlined the steps that are often involved in a car accident case. If you have additional questions or need help with a claim of your own, reach out to our law firm to schedule a free consultation.
Step One: Seeking Medical Treatment and Finding a Lawyer
After a car accident, perhaps the most important thing that you can do is seek medical care immediately. Not only will you get a prompt diagnosis and treatment for your injuries, but it will also create a record of when and how your injuries occurred. This can be incredibly helpful in the future when pursuing a claim for your losses.
While you are undergoing treatment for your injuries, you can begin the process of looking for a personal injury lawyer. An attorney can protect your rights, and advise you of your options for moving forward with a claim.
California has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases. This means that you have two years from the date of your car crash to file a lawsuit. For this reason, it is important to seek out an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your accident.
Be sure to keep track of your medical bills throughout this time. Your lawyer will use them to put together a demand for compensation, along with other evidence, such as lost wages and information regarding reduced earning capacity.
Step Two: Initial Investigation
Once you hire a lawyer, they will begin the process of investigating your accident. Depending on the facts of your case, this may involve collecting and analyzing police reports, witness statements, medical records, and other evidence. Your attorney may even hire a private investigator to seek out additional witnesses or evidence, such as surveillance videos.
At the same time, your lawyer will begin to perform legal research on your case. This will help them build the strongest possible argument as to why the other driver is responsible – and why you are entitled to the full amount of compensation for your losses (damages).
Step Three: Demand Letter and Settlement Negotiations
Using the information that they gathered during the investigation stage, your attorney will then draft a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. A demand letter sets out the facts of the case, the legal reason why their insured is to blame and makes a demand for compensation. This typically begins the negotiation process, as the insurance company will likely counter with a settlement offer of its own.
The vast majority of personal injury cases – 97% – settle out of court. The chances of settling your case without having to file a lawsuit increase when working with a car accident lawyer with a strong reputation and trial experience. If the insurance carrier knows that your attorney is ready, willing, and able to take the case to trial if they don’t offer a fair settlement, they will be more motivated to reach an agreement on your insurance claim.
Step Four: Lawsuit Filed
There are some situations where the insurance company refuses to pay you an appropriate settlement for your injuries. This often occurs when liability for the accident is disputed, or when the insurer challenges the severity of your injuries. When this occurs, your attorney may advise you that the best course of action is to file a lawsuit.
The actual car accident lawsuit timeline begins with the filing of the lawsuit. Once this occurs, your lawyer has a certain amount of time (30 to 60 days) to serve the defendant (at-fault party). Once served with the lawsuit, the defendant has 30 days to answer the lawsuit.
After a lawsuit is filed, the timeline is governed in part by deadlines set by the court. Your car accident lawyer will explain these rules to you, and how they may impact the time that it takes to resolve your personal injury lawsuit.
Step Five: Discovery
Next, the parties move onto discovery, which is the part of a legal action where each side seeks information about the case. Discovery can take many forms, including:
- Interrogatories: written questions that the other side must answer.
- Requests for Admission: written statements that the other party must admit or deny
- Depositions: oral questions asked under oath to a witness in the case
- Defense Medical Examination: in personal injury cases, the insurance company may request that you submit to an exam with a doctor of their choosing
The discovery process can be quite lengthy, depending on the issues at stake in your case and the number of witnesses involved.
During this time, referred to as the pretrial phase of litigation, your attorney may also consult with experts to strengthen your case. For example, if liability is disputed, your attorney may hire an accident reconstruction expert to prove that you were not at fault for the accident. Each side must disclose who their expert witnesses are (if any), and must be given an opportunity to take a deposition of the other party’s expert witness(es).
Step Six: Mediation
Settlement negotiations often continue throughout the pretrial phase. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, then the judge overseeing the case may order mediation, which is a type of alternative dispute resolution.
In mediation, a neutral third party (often a retired judge or an experienced lawyer) reviews the case and hears arguments from both parties. The mediator then tries to help the parties reach a car accident settlement. Mediation often occurs between nine and eighteen months after a lawsuit is filed.
Step Seven: Trial
If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case will go to trial. The length of the trial depends on the number of witnesses and the complexity of the issues in dispute. It may last as little as one to two days or as long as two months.
During trial, your car accident lawyer will present an opening argument, followed by the attorney for the defense. Next, you will have an opportunity to introduce evidence and call witnesses. Your attorney will ask questions on direct examination, followed by cross-examination by the defendant’s lawyer.
Next, the defendant will have a chance to introduce evidence and witnesses. Your lawyer will be able to cross-examine any witnesses for the defense. Finally, each side will present a closing argument, where they ask the judge or jury to find in their favor.
If it is a jury trial, the judge will then read instructions to the jury about the law that governs the case. The jury will then deliberate, and render a verdict. If the outcome is not favorable, you may be able to appeal the decision in certain circumstances.
Finally, if you do win at trial or are able to reach a settlement during mediation, your recovery will be disbursed to you. This usually happens within 30 days of a verdict or mediation.
The Insurance Adjuster Offered to Settle My Case Fast. What Should I Do?
After a car accident, you may be tempted to take the first settlement offered by the other driver’s insurance company. Getting money fast can help you pay medical expenses, lost wages, and other costs associated with an accident. In most cases, however, you should not accept a settlement offer – or sign anything – until after you have consulted with a personal injury attorney.
The insurance adjuster may seem friendly, and like they’re on your side. In reality, they are working for the insurer – with a goal of minimizing the amount of money that you recover (or denying your personal injury claim completely). Your attorney will fight for your right to compensation, and protect your interests throughout the process.
Do I Have to Pay Anything Up Front When I Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
Most personal injury law firms work on a contingency fee. The way that it works is simple: you pay nothing upfront, and only pay attorney’s fees if you recover compensation, either through a settlement or at trial. Typically, the fee is a percentage of your total recovery.
A contingency fee arrangement helps to align the interest of you and your lawyer. Because the law firm doesn’t get paid until you do, and their fee is based on a percentage of your recovery, they also want to get you the most money, as quickly as possible. Be sure to read the fee agreement that your lawyer asks you to sign, and ask questions about it if there is something that you don’t understand.
My Friend’s Case Settled in 2 Months. Why Is My Claim Taking So Long?
It can be hard to predict exactly how long it will take to resolve a particular car accident lawsuit. However, there are certain factors that can influence the process, such as whether the other driver claims that you were at fault and the severity of your injuries. If your friend’s insurance claim was settled quickly, it may be because liability was not disputed and the issues in their case were relatively straightforward.
Each case is different. Your attorney may be able to give you a general idea of the car accident lawsuit timeline in your case, but it may end up taking less time – or significantly more time, if your case goes to trial. If you have questions about how long it is taking to resolve your case, reach out to your lawyer and talk to them directly about what is happening with your claim.
Reach Out to a San Rafael Car Accident Lawyer to Learn More
While each case is different, the auto accident claim timeline typically follows the steps outlined above. Your case may be settled in as little as a few months, or take a year or longer to resolve. Throughout the process, your car accident attorney will keep you updated on the status of your case and help you decide how to proceed.
At the Kuvara Law Firm, our car accident attorneys represent accident victims throughout the Bay Area. Our legal team handles all car accident and personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you never pay a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a San Rafael car accident lawyer, call us at (415) 479-7070 or fill out our online contact form.