Litigation for Insurance Agents
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
A client calls you because he or she was just served with a civil summons and complaint for an auto accident, or a slip-and-fall, or something of the like that happened months ago. They've been sued. According to the complaint, the claimant/plaintiff suffered permanent damages and seeks $10,000,000.00 in damages. You know that it needs to be reported to the insurance carrier, but your client needs to know exactly what happens next.
In Tennessee, most personal injury litigation, as it pertains to insured defendants, follows a general pattern.
Reporting and Assignment of Counsel:
· A complaint is filed by a plaintiff against a defendant (here, your client).
· You or your client reports the claim to the insurance carrier, who then sends the matter to an attorney to defend. It is likely the carrier is already aware a complaint has been filed. You or your client may have some say in who the attorney is, but most carriers reserve the right to make that decision.
· Your client will be contacted by the attorney regarding the matter. Your client will meet with the attorney and discuss the facts, gather information, etc.
Complaint and Answer:
· The complaint contains the plaintiff’s allegations of what happened, what injuries were suffered, and the amount sought. Note that the amount sought is often highly inflated and not indicative of the value of the claim – your client will be focused on the number.
· The assigned attorney will help prepare an answer to the complaint – generally admitting or denying the various allegations. There may also be additional defenses raised, such as it was the plaintiff’s fault the accident happened or the case was filed outside the statute of limitations.
· Under Tennessee law a defendant has 30 days to file an answer to a complaint. My experience was that it was common for an extension to be granted by the plaintiff’s attorney.
· Your client will have to respond to written discovery – a written list of questions and requests for documents. This can be burdensome and time consuming depending on the nature of the case. The plaintiff will also have to respond to written discovery.
· The parties, any witnesses, and usually any medical providers will likely be asked to give a deposition. The attorneys, the person being deposed, and a court reporter will be present. Both attorneys will ask questions. These usually take several hours.
· The discovery process can take several months up to several years. There are frequently disputes about sufficient responses to the written questions, and scheduling depositions with multiple calendars can be a challenge.
· Most lawsuits settle. I’ve heard 98% are settled, but don’t recall the source. Most settlements occur after completion of the discovery phase.
· Many lawsuits settle by informal means – the attorneys talking on the phone and agreeing to a number. It is not just the lawyers agreeing, your client’s carrier must also agree. Some policies allow an insured to refuse to settle, but most leave that decision to the carrier.
· Other lawsuits settle by mediation – the attorneys and parties gather at one location and hire a mediator, usually another attorney, to help them arrive at a resolution of the case. The mediator helps each side understand the value or lack thereof of the case.
· After discovery, and if the case is not settled, you proceed to try the case.
· For most run-of-the-mill car wrecks and slip-and-falls, it is about 18 months from the time the complaint is filed until you have a trial date. Your client needs to be aware that litigation moves very slowly.
So hopefully, when your next client is sued, you can generally describe to them the process ahead. If you have more specific questions about litigation, give me a call.
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.
Whether you are a Haven client or not, I’m always available to discuss.