If you were recently injured in an auto accident and someone else was at fault, you will likely try to hold the liable party responsible for any injuries you sustained or damages you have suffered. One way to hold that party responsible is to file a personal injury lawsuit. As such, this article will provide some FAQs regarding the typical car accident lawsuit.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
In Illinois, the statute of limitations for any personal injury claim or wrongful death claim resulting from a car accident is generally two years after the date the accident occurred. There are several exceptions to this rule. For example, the statute of limitations for bringing a case against a municipality or other governmental entity is one year, while minors generally have until after they turn 18. Furthermore, if the lawsuit concerns vehicle damage only (or if you are seeking the repair or replacement of some other kind of damaged property), the amount of time during which you must file a lawsuit is five years after the date of the accident.
What types of damages can you receive from a car accident lawsuit?
There are various types of damages that accident victims can expect to receive from a car accident claim, some of which include:
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Disfigurement/ permanent disability
- Loss of consortium/companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
Why should I hire a car accident attorney?
A car accident attorney is a personal injury attorney who specializes in litigating car accident cases. A car accident attorney can help you in your lawsuit in some of the following ways:
- An attorney will zealously represent your best interests. During the lawsuit process, an attorney will be constantly representing you. This person will fight to ensure that you receive proper compensation for any injuries you have suffered, as well as for any property damage you have sustained.
- An attorney is able to conduct a thorough investigation of your case. Experienced car accident injury lawyers conduct thorough investigations in order to identify every party that may have a legal liability to their client. In fact, in some cases, parties may have more of a liability to the victim than the victim originally anticipated.
- An attorney can help maximize your recovery. An attorney can help you “think outside the box” when it comes to recovery. For example, they may be able to seek certain damages from the liable party that you were completely unaware of. An experienced attorney will let you know of all of the damages you are entitled to and will attempt to obtain compensation for these damages from the lawsuit.
What does the car accident lawsuit process entail?
Though every case is different, a typical car accident lawsuit will proceed in the following manner:
- The injured party hires a personal injury attorney. After receiving appropriate medical care for her injuries, the injured party will hire a personal injury attorney to take her case.
- The attorney will file a personal injury complaint with the appropriate court. Once the injured party (now plaintiff) provides specific details about the incident that caused her injuries, the attorney will file a personal injury complaint in the proper civil court. The complaint will contain information about the allegations the plaintiff has made, including who the liable parties are and what specific injuries the plaintiff suffered.
- The attorney will ensure that the complaint is served on the defendant. After the complaint is filed with the court, the plaintiff's attorney will locate the liable party (now defendant) and serve him with a copy of the complaint. Serving (physically delivering) the complaint to the defendant in a way that can be verified is imperative because it means that the defendant cannot later claim that he never knew about the lawsuit.
- The parties will conduct discovery. During the pre-trial process, the plaintiff and defendant will request certain evidence from the other party to strengthen their own cases, which is referred to as the “discovery” phase.
- The case will go to trial. Lastly, the trial will take place. This is the phase where the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney will present all of the evidence in their respective cases in order to help the court determine whether or not the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and any other related damages. The trial process can be extensive and may last up to several months. It is important to note that many personal injury cases do not go to trial, and are instead resolved through settlement.
What is the settlement process?
A settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal claim for injuries or damages. In a typical car accident settlement, the injured victim agrees not to sue for damages, or to end any lawsuit that has already been filed, in exchange for a payment from the at fault driver. Most of these cases are resolved via settlements rather than with a trial. In most of these cases, the settlement process proceeds in the following manner:
- An attorney representing an injured victim will request a compensation amount from the liable driver's insurance company that will cover medical bills and any other applicable damages. The insurance company will then propose another, lower amount, and the parties will go back and forth trying to convince each other that their amount is the right one until they reach a fair and reasonable settlement amount. During this back and forth, the attorney will communicate with the client to determine whether or not the client is willing to accept any of the insurance company’s settlement offers.
- Once the attorney and the insurance company agree to a settlement amount, the client and the liable party will sign a written settlement agreement. The terms of the settlement agreement will specifically state the amount and timing of the payment; the legal rights the victim gives up by agreeing to the payment; and any other actions the parties agree to take to resolve the legal claim.
- After the parties have signed the settlement agreement, the case has been officially resolved. It is important to note that once the parties sign the agreement, the settlement is final and binding and as such, neither party can revise the terms of the agreement.
Are there any tips for a successful settlement?
If you plan negotiate your settlement after a motor vehicle accident on your own, there are a few tips you should follow, which include:
- Have a settlement amount in mind. When you draft your demand letter, you should determine what you believe is a proper settlement range (for example, $10,000 to $15,000). Then, prior to speaking to a claims adjuster, you should decide on a minimum settlement amount that you will accept. Keep in mind that this is not a figure that you should ever share with the adjuster. Also keep in mind that this figure can change, especially if the adjuster points out some facts you had not considered that clearly make your claim weaker. Additionally, if the adjuster starts with an offer at or near your minimum figure, you may want to increase the amount.
- Do not be tempted to jump at the first offer. It may be tempting but try not to accept the very first offer. For the most part, an adjuster’s first offer will be very low, with the hope that you will accept it right away. If the offer is way below what you believe the settlement is worth, make a counteroffer of a slightly higher amount. It may take some bargaining, but the two of you should eventually be able to come to an amount that is reasonable and fair.
- Require the insurance company to justify a low offer. If an adjuster makes an extremely low first offer, you should ask the adjuster to give you specific reasons why the offer is so low and make note of these reasons. Then, you should write a brief letter responding to each of the individual factors the adjuster has noted. Depending on the strength of any of the adjuster's reasons, you may choose to lower your demand slightly (though before you decide to lower the amount too much, you should wait to see whether the adjuster will budge after receiving your letter).
- Make sure that you emphasize emotional points. During the negotiation process, make sure that you emphasize the strongest emotional points of your case. This could include evidence of a specifically painful injury, permanent physical effects, and other evidence of pain and suffering. This type of emotional evidence is very persuasive in these kinds of negotiations.
- Make sure that the settlement is in writing. When you and the insurance adjuster finally reach a settlement agreement, make sure that the relevant terms are in writing. It may be helpful to immediately confirm the terms in a letter to the adjuster. These terms should include the amount for which you settled, what injuries or damages the settlement covers, and the date by which you expect to receive settlement documents from the insurance company.
Have additional questions? Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today
If you need more information to help you decide whether to file a lawsuit, please contact the Palermo Law Group. Our Oak Brook personal injury law firm has over 25 years of experience handling personal injury cases and obtaining fair settlements. As a car accident lawyer, I will do my best to ensure that you receive fair compensation for your injuries. Please contact us today to schedule a free consultation appointment.