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Top 10 Tips If You Have Been Sued For Causing A Car Accident

Accidents and Accident Attorneys
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All drivers have a duty to behave with a reasonable standard of care. If you breach that duty and act recklessly or negligent, you can be held legally liable for the other party's damages resulting from the accident you caused. Read on for the top 10 tips if you have been sued for causing a car accident.

  1. You usually can't be sued if you live in a no-fault state: There are 12 no fault states in the US - Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah. If you live in one of these states, the victim of a car accident usually has to recover his medical bills and damages from his own insurer, except in certain situations such as if your behavior was so reckless it went beyond mere negligence and/or if the injury was so great that the plaintiff cannot be fully compensated by his own insurer. This means that if you live in a no fault state, you likely will not be sued for a car accident you cause. Your own insurance rates may go up though.
  2. Your insurance company usually has to foot your legal bills: If someone sues you, your insurance company generally has to pay not only the costs of defending the lawsuit, but also the damages the plaintiff receives in settlement or trial, up to your policy limits.
  3. Your insurance company's interests may not be aligned with your own: While insurance companies and their insureds are most often on the same side, your insurance companies primary interest is in keeping costs down and not in clearing your name. If they can settle with the plaintiff, they may do so even if you believe you are innocent of causing the accident. Likewise, if your insurance company believes you did something to void your coverage, they may be focused on proving that you aren't covered instead of on defending you.
  4. Your insurance company may need to provide you with separate counsel: If you and your insurance company do have a conflict of interest - such as the insurer believing the accident isn't covered - the insurance company generally has to appoint an independent attorney advocate for you who can help navigate through the legal issues on your behalf.
  5. You can still be liable even if the plaintiff was partly at fault: In some states, called comparative negligence states, you can be legally held responsible for an accident even if the plaintiff contributed to causing the accident. If you were 80 percent responsible, for example, you will have to pay 80 percent of the total damages the plaintiff suffered. In other states, called contributory negligence states, if the plaintiff was partly at fault he cannot recover in a lawsuit at all.
  6. You may be responsible for economic and non-economic damages: Not only will you have to pay for medical bills and lost wages that you caused by your accident, but in some cases you may also have to pay for pain and suffering and emotional distress and other non-economic damages.
  7. You may even face punitive damages in rare cases: If your behavior was so negligent and reckless that it was almost guaranteed to cause injury, you also may be assessed punitive damages if the case goes to trial.
  8. Your civil damages are monetary in nature only: In a private lawsuit, the only award the plaintiff can receive is money. This means you can't be sent to jail on the basis of a person filing a car accident injury lawsuit against you. However, if you were breaking the law somehow in your actions - such as diving drunk - you may face a separate criminal trial with charges brought by a prosecutor.
  9. Settling may be a wise bet: Most personal injury lawsuits settle out of court. This means you or your insurance company make an offer of a sum of money to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff accepts the money, that is the full amount he recovers and he gives up his right to sue. The case does not go to trial and a judge and jury do not get to make the decision on your guilt or on how much you must pay. Settling allows you to limit the potential risk to you, since you will know up front exactly how much you have to pay. Most insurance companies will try to settle a case within the limits of the insurance policy's coverage.
  10. The plaintiff has to prove your negligence beyond a preponderance of the evidence: In order for you to be legally liable, you must have behaved unreasonably and breached the duty of care you owe to your fellow drivers. The plaintiff has to prove both this fact, and that he suffered damages as a result of it. The standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, which means the judge or jury has to believe it is more likely than not true that you did in fact cause the accident and damages. This is a less stringent standard than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard applied in criminal law cases.

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