This guest post is from Joseph A. Ginarte, a specialist New Jersey car accident attorney and proprietor of the Ginarte law firm. He enjoys writing and sharing his insights on various legal blogs. Visit Ginarte.com when looking for a qualified New Jersey Lawyer.
You’ve been in an automobile accident. You cooperated with the police when they arrived on the scene, answering their questions as honestly as you could. You also exchanged insurance information with the other driver. You received treatment for any injuries you suffered and you arranged for repairs to be made on your car.
You figured that would be the end of it. However, weeks or even months later, you discover that the other driver has filed a lawsuit against you. While this is a distressing development, it’s important not to panic. You may or may not actually be held responsible for damages. In many cases, you will not need to go to court at all. If the accident was not your fault, your insurance rates might not even go up.
DISCLAIMER: This article describes general circumstances associated with lawsuits filed as a result of an automobile accident. It does not represent legal opinion or advice. If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident, seek professional legal advice to determine the options available in your particular circumstances.
If You Are Not At Fault
If you are being sued for your role in an automobile accident, but you are not at fault, don’t assume the worst. Gather as much evidence as you can that supports your side of the story, including photographs, eyewitness testimony, doctor’s reports, car repair bills and a copy of the police and insurance claim’s adjusters’ reports. You should then contact your auto insurance company and inform them of the details you have gathered. In most cases they will appoint an attorney to go through your evidence and to represent you. You may feel that the attorney that the insurance company has appointed is working towards the best interests of the insurance company and not your own. At this point, you still have the right to arrange for an independent attorney to represent you.
Either way, once you have an attorney on the case, the attorney will set out to coordinate any actions taken in regard to your role in the accident or concerning the case. Describe the accident to the attorney as honestly as possible.
Many attorneys take automobile accident cases on contingency, which means that you do not pay an up front retainer. Instead, the attorney takes his or her fee from any award or settlement you may receive as a result of the lawsuit. If you don’t win, you don’t pay.
If You Are At Fault
If you were at fault, you, or at least your insurance company, may be on the hook to pay damages to the other driver, whether you settle the case out of court or if you go to trial. You may also take a hit in your auto insurance rates; although some companies have accident forgiveness options that would negate an insurance rate hike. In any event, an at fault accident may remain on your driving record for as many as seven years afterward.
You should still contact an attorney. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may be able to reduce or eliminate your liability if you can show that the other driver was at least partially at fault in causing the accident. In jurisdictions that allow contributory negligence defenses, the other driver may not be able to collect damages against you at all if he or she was even slightly at fault. (Texas is not one of those states.)
Negotiations and Settlements
In many cases, your attorney or your insurance company’s adjuster works directly with the insurance adjustor or attorney for the other party. You may not ever be called to go into court at all if your attorney or insurance claims adjuster can work out satisfactory terms with the other party’s attorney or insurance company.
Do not sign any documents pertaining to the accident without consulting your attorney. This includes paperwork from the insurance company, even if you believe you understand the content of the documents. You may sign away important rights without meaning to do so. If your attorney comes to an agreement with the other driver’s attorney or insurance company, inspect it carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that you don’t understand.
For Further Reading:
- Avvo.com: What to Do If You’re In a Car Accident – Ten Tips
- The Globe and Mail: What to Do – and Not Do – If You are In a Car Accident
- Nolo: Car Accident Defenses: Contributory and Comparative Negligence
- Nolo: Car Accident Lawsuits – an Overview
- Nolo: Car Accidents Caused By Negligence
- Nolo: Car Accidents – Proving Fault
- Nolo: What to Do After a Car Accident If You Are At Fault
- Traffic Accident Advice: Being Sued for a Car Accident
- Traffic Accident Advice: Legal Help After a Traffic Accident