Yes, you can sue after a car accident. However, you might want to attempt settlement negotiations first. Before you get to that step, you need to prove the other driver was negligent. And you will need a car accident lawyer to do that.
The proof starts at the accident scene. Whatever else you do or do not do, never admit guilt, even if you think you are partially at fault for the accident. And never discuss the accident with anyone other than the police officer at the scene and that includes the insurance company.
The First Steps in Proving Negligence
If you can move without further injuring yourself, you can help your case by documenting the accident scene.
After calling first responders and checking on others in the accident:
- Take pictures of the accident. Be sure to take photos from all angles. Include damage to the road, such as skid marks, and damage to nearby property, including yards, fences, mailboxes, trees, and utility poles.
- Ask others involved in the accident for their contact information, insurance information, and registration. If possible, take pictures of their drivers’ licenses, insurance cards, and registration documents. If another driver involved is driving a commercial vehicle that requires a commercial driver’s license, get the information from the driver’s CDL.
- Ask witnesses for their contact information. You can also ask witnesses what they saw. Passengers in other vehicles are also witnesses.
- Allow the emergency medical technicians to check you over. This is the first step in documenting injuries.
- Give the police officer the events that caused the accident as you witnessed them.
- Seek medical assistance as soon as possible after the police release you from the accident scene.
- Contact a car accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident.
Car Accident Investigation
A car accident attorney works with an investigative team to investigate the accident. After a free initial case evaluation, your legal team will start investigating the accident. Investigators will go to the scene to take photos. Thus, you must contact a car accident lawyer right away before the weather erodes any evidence left at the scene and before the defendant repairs his or her vehicle.
Your legal team will also start collecting evidence, including your medical records, medical expenses, and witness testimony. People tend to forget what happened, so this is another reason to contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Finally, if you wait too long, you give the defendant reason to believe that your injuries are not as bad as you claim.
Once the attorney has gathered as much evidence as possible, he can start settlement negotiations with the insurance company. If the insurance company offers a fair and reasonable amount, you do not have to go to court.
However, if the insurance company refuses to offer the compensation you deserve, you have the option to file a lawsuit against it.
When Should I File a Lawsuit?
Litigating is very expensive. You will most likely receive more money in your pocket if you can settle the case. However, that is not always possible. Sometimes the insurance company forces your hand into filing a lawsuit. If you win, the court will order the defendant to pay attorneys’ fees and costs in addition to the damages due to you.
Another reason to file a lawsuit is to ask for punitive damages. You can only recover punitive damages if you can prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional. The court sees certain actions as gross negligence, which is worse than negligence.
For example, a driver going 60 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone on the highway gets into a crash. The court will most likely consider this plain negligence. However, the driver driving 120 mph on surface streets while running away from the police because he has a warrant might be found grossly negligent.
An example of intent is when a driver has a grudge against you because she thought you were following too closely, even though you were at least six car lengths behind the driver. The driver intentionally slams her brakes, but because the road is wet from the rain, you slide into the rear of the driver with the problem. The court could find that the driver in front of you intentionally caused an accident.
You can recover compensatory damages, which come in two forms, in settlement negotiations or a lawsuit. The court orders both types in an attempt to make you whole again. While the money does not eradicate injuries or bring a loved one back, it significantly reduces the financial stress of having less income coming into the house.
Economic damages have an objective monetary value.
Most people who suffer injuries because of another driver’s neglectful actions can recover economic damages, including:
- Past and future medical expenses.
- Personal property.
- Lost wages.
- Loss of future earning capacity.
- Death-related expenses.
Non-economic damages are more subjective, thus, more challenging to determine.
In most cases, only those who lost a loved one in an accident or suffered catastrophic injuries can recover non-economic damages, including:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make major lifestyle changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part.
- Loss of use of a bodily function.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as lawn maintenance, grocery shopping, home repair and maintenance, and house cleaning.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Excessive scarring or disfigurement.
An experienced car accident attorney can help you determine how much compensation you’re entitled to, and fight to make sure you recover what you are owed. Most car accident firms offer free case evaluations and work on a contingent fee basis so contact a lawyer as soon as possible.