Top 10 Tips if You Have Been Sued for Causing a Car Accident
One of the main goals of current traffic laws across the country is to hold all drivers up to a reasonable standard of care to ensure that the roads are safe for other drivers, as well as pedestrians. If you have acted recklessly or negligently and an accident occurred in which people have been injured or property has been damaged, you may be sued for that accident and end up in court. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind if you end up in the middle of a lawsuit.
- You usually can’t be sued if you live in a no-fault state: There are 12 no-fault states in the United States: Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, and the District of Columbia. In some auto insurance policies, a “no fault” policy is also referred to as personal injury protection (PIP). With no fault/PIP rules, liability claims and lawsuits aren’t allowed and rather the injured person’s insurance company is responsible for direct payment of medical bills and lost wages up to certain dollar amounts.
- There are several different factors considered in determining who is at fault in a car accident: This includes whether any traffic laws were broken, the angle of collision, the speed of both vehicles at the time of the accident, and even the time of day.
- 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.
- Your insurance company’s interests may not be aligned with your own: While insurance companies are most often on the same side as the insured, your insurance company’s primary interest lies 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. If you and your insurance company have a clear conflict of interest, in most cases the insurance company is required by law to appoint an independent attorney advocate for you who can help navigate through the legal issues on your behalf.
- You can still be liable even if the plaintiff was partly at fault: In “comparative negligence” states, you can be legally held responsible for an accident, even if the plaintiff contributed to causing that 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 or she cannot recover damages in a lawsuit at all.
- You may be responsible for economic and noneconomic damages: If you were to lose a lawsuit, 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, suffering, emotional distress, and other noneconomic damages.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 or she recovers, and he or she gives up his or her 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.
- The plaintiff has to prove your negligence beyond a preponderance of the evidence: 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 or she 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 cause the accident and damages. This is a less stringent standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applied in criminal law cases.