Many car wreck cases can be settled without having to file a lawsuit. Insurance companies have whole divisions of workers set up to process and resolve car wreck claims. Though you are trying to get as much money as you can for your claim, and they are trying to pay you as little as they can, you both typically have the same goal, resolving your claim without a lawsuit. For both sides, lawsuits bring added expense, added time and added uncertainty.
An insurance company looks at three main things in deciding whether to settle a claim. First, was their insured at fault? Even if they decide the first one in your favor, they will then look at the second issue – are the injuries you are claiming related to or caused by their insured? And finally, what is the value of those injuries? Obviously, someone with mild back pain has a claim that is worth much less to them than someone who has suffered a broken leg or who has had to have back surgery as a result of the wreck.
If you or your lawyer are not able to get the claim resolved, then a lawsuit will have to be filed. Once this happens, a typical case in Alabama state courts is not set for trial, until at least 9 months to a year after being filed. Oftentimes, most cases will not be tried at the first setting, either due to other cases being set before them, or difficulty for both sides in having the case ready for a jury trial.
Filing the lawsuit.
In order to initiate a lawsuit, a “complaint” must be filed by the plaintiff. This filing sets forth the basic facts of what happened, identifies the court you are suing the defendant in, sets forth the legal theories of why the defendant is liable to you, sets forth your damages (how the defendant hurt you) and asks the court for relief, in other words, what you want a judge or jury to do to help you.
Defendants have thirty days in state court and twenty days in federal court to answer the allegation. They will typically ask for and be given an extension. Shortly after all of the defendants answer, the judge will enter a scheduling order setting out deadlines for the parties meet in preparing their case for trial and setting the trial.
Discovery is the part of litigation where the lawyer and parties set about finding out what the other side’s position and evidence in support or in defense of the lawsuit will be at trial. Discovery is made basically of both sides asking each other questions about what happened and what they expect to tell the jury. These questions can be written (Interrogatories, which each side will have to answer in writing), oral (Depositions, where each party or witness is asked questions in front of a court reporter who records everything that is said during the deposition) and Requests for Documents, which are requests that require the other side to produce documents supporting their position at trial.
At the end of discovery, a party may file a motion with the court, asking the judge to decide certain issues. In these motions, the parties can ask the court to decide certain legal or factual issues, which they believe are not in dispute. They may even ask the court to dismiss the case or throw it out of court for lack of evidence.
While most everyone knows what trials are, few people other than lawyers have a good understanding of what goes on at a trial. Few trials have what lawyers call, “the Perry Mason” moment, where one side breaks down crying on the stand and admits it was all their fault.
Each side presents their evidence and testimony before a judge and jury. This can take several days or several weeks for long complicated trials. The judge manages the trial and makes legal ruling on the evidence and law. At the end, the jury considers the evidence and rules in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant in the form of a judgment.
If either side is not happy with the trial, they have the right, within the time limits set out by court rules, the ask the judge to vacate the judgment or to appeal the judgment. The appeals are also costly and can be very time consuming. Many appeals can take from six months to a year before the appellate court rules and the case is resolved.
We hope this little summary has been helpful to you. If you have any questions or want more information feel free to call us at 205-879-2447 or fill out the contact sheet on this blog to the left of this post.