Car Wreck, Insurance, and Litigation
You accidentally struck the rear of a vehicle about a year ago. It was relatively minor and everyone seemed fine. You reported it to your insurance carrier and agent. Maybe you had a teleconference with your insurance carrier about what happened. Your vehicle was repaired. You never heard anything else about the matter. Now, there is a deputy at your door with a civil summons and complaint. You’ve been served.
The complaint states the plaintiff, the person you rear-ended, has life altering physical and mental injuries and is no longer able to work. The demand is for five million dollars. What happens next? How did we get here?
This scenario played out countless times in the lawsuits I defended during my time as a practicing attorney. You are confused, worried about your assets, maybe worried about the plaintiff, and wondering what happens next.
What has likely transpired is that the plaintiff hired an attorney some time after the accident. The attorney contacted your insurance carrier and demanded a sum of money to the settle the claim. For whatever reason – demand too high, claimed injuries unreasonable, other driver at fault, etc. – your insurance company has not been able to resolve the claim. So, the plaintiff and his or her attorney have sued you.
Report the service of the complaint to your agent and carrier. Most policies provide that the insurance company will select an attorney to defend you against the lawsuit and pay that attorney’s fees and expenses. You may know the attorney, you may not. Some policies allow for you to pick an attorney of your choosing, but you will need to check with the carrier or your agent. The assigned attorney will contact you to discuss the case.
What happens next depends on the nature of the case. But your attorney will likely file an answer to the complaint and then you will proceed with discovery, which requires responses to written questions and usually a deposition. If your attorney is unable to resolve the case, then you will proceed to a trial. My experience was that most cases linger for two years before they are tried. A recent car wreck case, Golden v. Powers, E2019-00712-COA-R3-CV, took thirteen years before it was tried. These cases are generally not resolved quickly, and you need to be prepared for that.
Are your personal assets at risk? That depends on your liability coverage. If you have a 25/50 policy, the insurance company will pay the first $25,000.00 to any individual, and you would be responsible for any remainder. The insurance company will pay a total of $50,000.00 for the accident, regardless of how many claimants, but only $25,000.00 to one person. Obviously, the more coverage you have, the less likely your personal assets are at risk. Also, a personal umbrella policy may provide additional protection.
The first two questions I was usually asked were 1) will the case go to trial?, and 2) do I have personal exposure? I’ve heard a stat that only two percent of filed lawsuits make it to trial. That means that 98% of lawsuits settle. And settlements almost always are within the liability limits of insurance, so there is no personal exposure. But each case is different.
What should you do after an accident? You need to take photos of all involved vehicles. Take a video if you can. Get contact information for any witnesses to the accident. Look around the location and see if there are any video or security cameras that may have captured the accident. Give all this information to your insurance carrier and save it on your phone or computer.
LEGAL JARGON DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is not legal advice. Even if you construe it that way, it’s probably only worth what you paid for it. I am an attorney but am not yours. Each accident, lawsuit, and policy of insurance is unique. This is provided as my recollection of the most common scenarios and sequence of events.
Whether you are a Haven client or not, I’m always available to discuss.
Agency Principal, Producer