How Long Does a Car Accident Case Take?
A car accident can happen in the blink of an eye. Just a split second of distraction or inattention can turn a pleasant car ride into a tragedy. Any car accident can result in property damage, injuries, or even death. And even though a car accident can happen quickly, the resulting litigation may take months or even years to resolve. Depending on the facts of your case, there are factors that may prolong your car accident litigation. These include:
- Lack of insurance
- A defendant who is difficult to find or uncooperative
- Fundamental disagreements about key facts, such as who was at fault
- Not having an attorney represent you
These are some of the most frequent causes of unwanted delay in a car accident case, but there may be a variety of other factors that affect how long your litigation can take. When you have been in a car accident, the last thing you want is to spend weeks and months dealing with insurance companies, witnesses, and court hearings; you just want to heal and move on with your life. However, if you go to trial, it may take some time to get the closure you’re looking for. Continue reading to better understand the typical litigation process in a car accident case.
What's the First Thing you Should do When Filing a Car Accident Claim?
Immediately after you have a car accident, you should first seek medical attention, even if you do not think you have been seriously injured. Often, serious injuries like head trauma and internal bleeding may not present themselves for many hours or days after experiencing the trauma of a car accident. If such injuries do present later, it is important to have a record that you sought medical attention immediately after your accident.
After you have received any medical attention you need, the first step is to contact an experienced car accident attorney to protect your rights and to see that you are compensated for your injuries. The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, are ready and able to guide you through your entire case, as quickly and efficiently as possible. We will help you deal with the other driver’s insurance company and file a claim for the compensation you deserve. If the other driver was at fault and the damage to your car and person is well documented, you may receive a settlement offer from the insurance company. In fact, the majority of car accident cases are settled with insurance companies and never go to court.
However, in many cases, the process is not always that simple. When issues arise and the insurance company tries to deny coverage or refuses to offer a fair settlement, you may decide to file a lawsuit. Although it may seem easiest to try to work out a settlement with the insurance company, which may still occur, you also must be prepared for the possibility that you will not reach an agreement and, therefore, will have to take your claim to court.
What is the Process for Taking a Car Accident Claim to Court?
If you decide to take your car accident claim to court, you will need to hire an experienced car accident attorney. Your attorney will help you through every stage of the process and prepare you for trial. Your attorney will discuss all of your possible legal claims and make sure you understand what to expect and how the litigation process works. They will make sure all of the necessary paperwork gets filed correctly and that all relevant evidence is obtained, and they will help you present a persuasive case in court so that you receive full compensation for your injuries.
The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, have many years of experience litigating car accident cases just like yours. They will help you litigate your car accident case effectively and efficiently and they will make sure you receive the maximum compensation you deserve for your injuries. Once you have a Foster Wallace car accident attorney on your side, they will help you navigate the complicated litigation process outlined below.
Stage 1: The plaintiff files the complaint. A complaint is a legal document you file with the court that identifies the nature of your claim and outlines the basic facts of your case. This is the first step that begins the litigation process. To prepare your complaint, your attorney will discuss your case with you to determine what evidence will be needed to prove that the other party was at fault and that you suffered injuries as a result. This will require collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing medical reports. It may take a couple of weeks to prepare to file a complaint in your case.
Stage 2: The plaintiff serves a copy of the complaint on the defendant. By serving the complaint on the defendant, you make sure that the defendant has actually received notification that they are being sued and for what they are being sued. This step can sometimes be time-consuming. The defendant may be difficult to find because they have moved or even because he or she is trying to hide from service. In most cases, service can be accomplished in a few weeks or less. However, sometimes service can take months depending on the availability of the defendant.
Stage 3: The defendant answers the complaint. The defendant will have a specific period of time to submit an answer to your complaint—usually about a month. However, this stage can be complicated and may be delayed because the defendant can also:
- File a motion to dismiss. The defendant may file a motion to dismiss, arguing that even if everything in the complaint were true, you should not be allowed to proceed with your case in court because you failed to state a proper claim. If the defendant files a motion to dismiss, you will have the opportunity to respond to their motion. Then, the defendant will have an opportunity to reply to your response. This whole process can add several weeks to the pleading process. Assuming the court denies the motion to dismiss and allows the case to proceed, the defendant then will have additional time to file an answer to your complaint.
- File a counterclaim. Whether or not the defendant files a motion to dismiss, the defendant can include a counterclaim with their answer to your complaint. A counterclaim is the way the defendant raises a similar claim against you. For instance, if the defendant believes that you are actually the one who caused the car accident, then they will file a counterclaim alleging that you are at fault and should be the one to pay damages. If the defendant includes a counterclaim in their answer, you will have several weeks to file your own answer to the defendant’s counterclaim.
Discovery is the process that each party to a lawsuit goes through to “discover” the facts and evidence relevant to the case. Usually, discovery takes at least several months, but it may take much longer if the case is complicated or the opposing party is uncooperative. There are many ways to conduct discovery, which may include the following:
- Requests for admissions. Each party can submit to the other side a list of carefully-worded statements and ask the other party to admit or deny the statements as a means of establishing the facts in the case. The answering party may have up to thirty days to respond to requests for admissions.
- Interrogatories. Each party can submit to the other side a series of open-ended questions that request important information, such as the names and contact information for all people relevant to the case or information about the opposing party’s driving record. The answering party may have up to thirty days to respond to interrogatories.
- Requests for production of documents. Each party can request the other side to produce documents or other tangible evidence that is relevant to the lawsuit. This is one of the most useful discovery tools and can be quite time-intensive. The answering party may have up to thirty days to respond to requests for the production of documents. However, the requesting party may need additional months to go through the evidence they receive from the other party.
- Depositions. Each party can interview witnesses for their own side or those on the other side. Depending on the information each witness has to offer, depositions can be relatively short or may take several days for a single witness. Time delays during the process of taking depositions are very common because of scheduling difficulties. Depending on the number of witnesses required, it could take weeks or months to complete depositions.
If a car accident case is relatively straightforward, then discovery may go smoothly and only take a couple of months. However, most car accident cases that are simple will settle rather than go to court. If you’ve gotten to the discovery stage of the litigation process, most likely the case is not simple and the discovery process will be necessary and possibly complicated. Here are a few common delays that may occur during discovery:
- The opposing party objects to a discovery request and the court has to get involved
- The opposing party misses a deadline for providing documents or other responses
- Repeated rescheduling of depositions
- The opposing party requests the court to allow additional discovery time
In addition to these possible delays, the defendant may file a motion for summary judgment at the conclusion of discovery. A motion for summary judgment is similar to a motion to dismiss. However, instead of arguing that the claim is legally invalid, a motion for summary judgment argues that the discovery did not provide any evidence that would support the claim. Just like with a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff will have the opportunity to respond to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the defendant will have an opportunity to reply to your response. This can add several weeks to the litigation process.
Keep in mind that you, the plaintiff, also can file a motion for summary judgment after discovery. Your motion for summary judgment would argue that the discovery process showed that there are no disputed issues of fact and that the evidence proves your claim. Once again, the defendant will be afforded a response period. But in this case, if the court agrees that you have proven your claim and grants the motion for summary judgment, the litigation process ends here, in your favor.
Going to Trial
After the periods for filing pleadings and exchanging discovery, if no summary judgment has been granted, the case will go to trial. A typical car accident case may last one or two days. Depending on the seriousness of the accident, however, a trial could last much longer. The trial itself is usually not the time-consuming part of the case, however, and a decision in the case should come relatively quickly.
Filing an Appeal
Your trial may not be the end of the process. If you win the case at trial, the defendant may appeal the verdict. If you lose the case but still want to pursue the claim, you may appeal the verdict. There are multiple levels of appeals that take place in different courts and each one can take a year or more. Unfortunately, even if you win your case at trial, you may not receive your money award right away if the defendant appeals.
This litigation process can feel overwhelming and unending. Keep in mind, however, that not every car accident case will go through all of these stages or encounter all of the time-consuming issues that may arise. Even so, realistically, a car accident case that goes to trial without settling will probably take a year or more, from start to finish.
Are There Alternatives to Litigation?
Yes, there are. Remember that most car accident cases settle. Settlement can happen at any time in the process outlined above. You might get a settlement offer after filing the complaint, during discovery, or even in the middle of trial. Often, when the opposing party sees that you are willing to go to court, he or she might weigh the costs of litigation and decide to offer you a fairer amount to settle the case. Of course, a settlement will dramatically shorten the timeline for the resolution of your case.