When a person is injured in an accident, they will normally contact an insurance company to file a claim for compensation. California is a tort state, which means that the person who caused the accident is responsible for paying the bills associated with the crash. It is a pure comparative fault state which means each person is responsible for the portion of the collision that they caused.
A driver may call their own insurance company to report the accident. Their insurance company will then call the other party’s insurance company. The company will have 15 days to acknowledge a claim and forty days after that to approve or deny the claim. They will then offer the injured party a settlement amount. The settlement amount will often be less money than is really fair.
When an insurance company tries to lowball an accident victim, the victim will generally hire a personal injury attorney to negotiate with the company on their behalf. Most of the time a reasonable settlement can be worked out, but sometimes the two parties cannot come to an agreement. When this happens the injured party will sue the insurance company.
Filing a lawsuit
If the amount of money for which you are suing a company is under $10,000 you will file the suit in small claims court. If the amount is for over $10,000, you will file the suit in civil court. Your attorney can file the paperwork for you. The insurance company will be served with papers and they will file an answer to the lawsuit.
A person has two years to file a personal injury case in the state of California and three years to file a claim for damage to property.
A plaintiff attorney and an insurance company representative may continue to negotiate but if they cannot reach a settlement you will proceed to court. Each side will be given time for discovery, where they will collect the necessary evidence to make their respective cases. The plaintiff may be asked to give testimony in a deposition. A deposition involves being questioned by the opposing sides’ attorneys under oath.
Your case will be assigned to a judge and either that judge or a jury will decide if the plaintiff is entitled to damages and if so, how much. The plaintiffs’, attorney and the insurance company will select jurors.
Both sides will present opening arguments and then they will present their cases to the judge or jury. This may include the testimony of both expert witnesses and witnesses at the scene. It may also include photographs of injuries, damages to vehicles and professional reconstruction drawings and photographs.
The attorneys will then present closing arguments. The judge or jury will be saddled with the task of deciding if there is a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence presented must be convincing and clear. It must also leave the jury or judge with no reasonable doubts. After deliberating, a jury or judge will come back with a verdict. If they decide in favor of the plaintiff, they must then decide on the amount the plaintiff is to receive. The amount will be based on medical bills, time away from work and pain and suffering.
Personal injury cases almost never go to trial, but if yours does, you should find an attorney who has lots of endorsements and a great reputation with the state bar. A good lawyer can make all the difference in getting the money that you deserve.