For the vast majority of our car accident clients, the last thing they dreamed they’d ever do is file a lawsuit because they were injured. But sometimes, when you are injured your world can spiral downward fast.
You may have to take off work for medical appointments. You may have had to go to the hospital and get X-rays or surgery. That’s expensive. You might have to miss work for an extended period of time. You may not even be able to go back to your regular job. But you still need to put food on the table, pay the light bill, and pay your mortgage or rent.
Are You in Good Hands Negotiating on Your Own?
You assume you are in good hands with your insurance company. After all, they’re on your side, so you see no problem trying to negotiate on your own. Unfortunately, you may not be in such good hands. Here are the depths some insurance companies have stooped to with our clients, based on actual accounts.
Sometimes insurance companies try to delay liability decisions.
Our firm represented a client who suffered a significant fracture in an accident and was out of work for a long time. She went through surgery, treatment and physical therapy and had very good coverage of $250,000 liability. Our hope was that once she was done treating and we sent the demand letter to the insurance company, it wouldn’t be any problem getting her full benefits. But as often happens with these companies, weeks went by and we heard nothing. Finally the insurance adjuster said he could not make an offer because her injuries were prior to the accident. The adjuster demanded we prove her injuries were accident-related, even though the doctor indicated in her notes that the injury was caused from the accident. We went into litigation with our client. She was angry with the insurance company because she had to wait so long, but she was not going to settle for just anything.
Sometimes insurance companies have wrongfully denied claims.
We had a client who was hit by a truck while she was riding a bike. Despite overwhelming evidence that their insured was guilty, the insurance company denied liability. It was our belief that one of the reasons the insurance company maintained their denial was because they were counting on a jury to penalize our client because she didn’t speak English. We hired an accident reconstructionist who concluded that the truck driver was at fault in the accident.1
We’ve seen some insurance companies try to trap claimants into a quick low-ball settlement.
When a colleague called to make initial contact with a new client, he said his insurance company sent him a check and that he cashed it that morning – not knowing any better. It was money in the mail and he didn’t think twice about it – so he took it to the bank. What people don’t realize is that once you cash that check, you’ve settled. The insurance company didn’t give him a chance, but what’s worse is the check was only for $500. Unfortunately we’ve seen this happen a lot.
Sadly, the injured person is often caught in the middle with little experience or knowledge of how to try to get the compensation they may deserve.
That is why we urge people who have been injured in a car crash through no fault of their own to call us and tell us about their situation. The case evaluation is free. Should you decide to retain us to represent you, in most cases, you will not go to trial. However, it is best to be prepared to go to court if that is what it takes to try to get the insurance company to compensate you fairly.
Claims Process from Beginning to End
Here is a brief step-by-step overview of what happens after you call our offices and we take your case. Most of the time it is not necessary to go to court. But sometimes, if the insurance companies aren’t willing to pay what we think your claim is worth after good faith negotiations, we will go to court. And they know that.
Negotiating Your Claim
The at-fault insurance company will contact us to offer a settlement amount. As you might imagine, it is rarely what the client really needs, so we negotiate for the payment we believe your case is worth.
If negotiations fail and the parties cannot come to a settlement agreement, the next option may be to file a civil lawsuit in court. Filing a lawsuit and preparing a case for trial is a methodical step-by-step process and must be done in precise order. Just because you file a lawsuit, however, does not necessarily mean you will go to court.
Filing a Lawsuit in North Carolina
The first step is to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. You, the injured person filing suit, are the plaintiff and the at-fault driver is the defendant (the person being sued). Once the lawsuit is filed, the suit must be served on the defendant. The defendant then has a certain amount of time to answer the lawsuit and the allegations in it.
After the defendant files an answer, both parties exchange what is known as discovery. Discovery occurs before trial, and it is the time for both sides to obtain information from each other. This includes interrogatories (a list of written questions) and requests for documents. There can be many sets of discovery back and forth between both sides, and sometimes this can go on for several months. The purpose is to get all the information needed to support your case and for the defendant to get information to defend himself.
Once written discovery is completed depositions come next. The deposition does not happen in a courtroom or in front of a judge. Rather, these are typically taken in an office setting. In an effort to prepare for trial, the defense attorney will ask you questions about the case, about medical treatment, bills, lost wages, and other things related to your claim. Your attorney is with you during the deposition and will have a chance to object to questions they feel are unnecessary. Deposition testimony is given in front of a court reporter, who prepares a transcript of everything said. Depositions work both ways, meaning your attorney will also ask questions and “depose” the defendant. Any witnesses are deposed in the same manner.
Your case will be filed in either District or Superior Court. In Superior Court, once discovery is complete, the parties are required to attend mediation. A mediation is a settlement conference which usually takes place in an office setting, not in court.
A neutral third party (who is also an attorney) tries to bring both sides to an agreeable solution. This person is called a mediator. During mediation, both parties begin in the same room and present their side of the case. The mediator then explains his role – to try to bring both parties to a satisfactory resolution. After both sides have been presented, the parties go to separate rooms. The mediator goes back-and-forth from room to room to discuss and negotiate the other party’s position, including offers and counteroffers. Many cases resolve in mediation.
If your case is filed in District Court the pretrial process tends to be a bit less complex. Some counties require that District Court cases go before an arbitrator. The arbitrator conducts a short hearing and then decides the case. The arbitrator’s decision is not binding and either party may appeal the decision and ask for a jury trial.
When the case does not settle at mediation or is appealed from an arbitration hearing, the last step is a jury trial. The court will set the trial date and both sides must be ready by that time.
We advise clients never to go into litigation under the assumption that their case will settle and bring them more money. Litigation is a rigorous process and we urge clients to assume that the case will go to trial and that they should be committed to the process.
By the same token, we will willingly go to trial to fight for what we believe our clients potentially deserve.
In fact, many of our clients have come to know us as their champions. Our lawyers have more than 450 years of combined legal experience. Many of our attorneys have at least 20 years’ experience, and some were formerly defense attorneys for the insurance industry – so they’ve seen the law from both sides.
Free Case Evaluation from North Carolina Auto Wreck Law Firm
If you have been injured in a car wreck, you will need compensation to help pay for your injuries. Filing a lawsuit does not mean you will necessarily have to go to court. Most cases can be resolved before it gets to that point.