You may have heard it said that most car accident cases never make their way to a courtroom. That’s true. The overwhelming majority of car accident claims are resolved through a private settlement agreement between the victim and the responsible insurance companies, usually after a period of intensive negotiations between the parties.
If you hire a New York car accident lawyer to handle your case, he or she will likely focus their efforts on settling the case for the largest amount of money possible, fighting to get you the full and fair compensation you deserve without going to trial.
Court cases cost money, take time, and can cause everyone more hassle and frustration than they would like. In most cases, both sides want to avoid court if they can. Indeed, the threat of going to court can sometimes give you considerable leverage over the insurance company, and hiring an aggressive attorney can help you make the most of that leverage.
But sometimes the insurance company just won’t cooperate. Or your lawyer may feel confident that taking your claim to trial is the best strategy for getting you the robust compensation you deserve.
So what happens when you go to court for a car accident? And why would that happen in the first place? We explain below.
What Would Cause a Car Accident to Go to Court?
Insurance companies are in the business of making money. They never pay money to victims merely out of a spirit of generosity. Rather, if the insurance company makes a settlement offer, it’s because they’ve done the math and determined that the settlement is a better deal for them than going to trial.
As New York auto accident lawyers, part of our job is to persuade the insurance company that giving our clients a full and fair settlement is a better choice than forcing us to trial. More often than not, we’ve been successful in making that case.
But insurance companies are aggressive, and sometimes they just won’t budge. Alternatively, there may be genuine disputes about major issues in the case: who’s at fault, whether the accident caused the injuries, the severity of the injuries, and so on. These issues might lead to a jury trial.
If the defendant was extremely negligent and caused devastating injuries — or if the insurance company has handled your claim in bad faith — your attorney may believer that you are entitled to much larger sums of money than the insurance company would ever agree to pay. In these cases, you and your lawyer might choose to take your case all the way to a jury trial.
What Happens When You Go to Court for a Car Accident?
Every lawsuit is different. Below, you will find a general overview of the pre-trial and trial process. Please understand, however, that your individual legal matter might involve slightly different steps, and they might overlap or arise in a slightly different order than is presented below.
1. Filing a Lawsuit
To officially file a lawsuit, your attorney will draft a complaint, which is a formal (and often lengthy) legal document that makes your case to the court, informs the court about all the procedural requirements relating to your claim, and makes a demand for relief (stating how much money you believe you’re entitled to, as well as any other resolution you want to ask of the court). The complaint gets filed with the county clerk and certain fees are paid.
Your lawyer will then ensure that the defendants receive notice and service of process as required by local law, formally informing them that they are being sued.
At this point, it is likely that your lawyer has already thoroughly investigated the car accident from your point of view. Now it’s time to find out what the other side knows — and to learn more about the defendant’s side of the story. As New York auto accident lawyers, we utilize a wide range of tools, resources, and procedures as part of discovery. This may include:
- Requests to produce
- Requests to admit
3. Trial Preparation
Your claim will best be served by attorneys who are effectively ready for anything on the day of trial. This requires extensive preparation. As New York auto accident lawyers, we work tirelessly to prepare a claim for trial so that we have a thorough and compelling case to present to the judge and jury.
Throughout this stage, we continue to:
- Investigate the accident
- Review records
- Search for evidence
- Conduct legal research
- Prepare evidentiary exhibits
- Consult with expert witnesses & eyewitnesses
- Respond to requests or motions from the other side
- Anticipate likely objections or challenges and prepare accordingly
- Engage in negotiations as an attempt to settle the matter outside of court, even as we prepare for trial (it still isn’t too late)
4. Pre-Trial Motions & Proceedings
Both sides may make various motions to the court, before and/or during trial. The pre-trial process may involve hearings, pre-trial conferences, pre-trial court appearances, mediations, or other alternative dispute resolution proceedings.
Your lawyer will generally handle these matters for you, making sure you know when your attendance or participation is required. (Once a lawsuit has been filed, it is critical that you be willing to comply with a court’s instructions and orders.)
5. Jury Selection
When you see juries on TV shows, it’s usually for a criminal trial. But did you know that civil car accident lawsuits often involve a jury too?
Choosing who will be on your jury is an extremely important matter. Your lawyer will have a chance to talk with potential jurors during a formal pre-trial process, asking strategic questions to determine who should (and shouldn’t) be allowed to join the jury.
Both sides are allowed a certain number of jury dismissals, subject to court guidelines. There are also strict legal rules that may disqualify certain people from serving on the jury.
6. Opening Statements and the Presentation of Evidence by Both Sides
What happens when you go to court for a car accident? The actual trial itself begins with each side’s opening statement (a chance to present a broad-view argument to the jury directly). Then each side will present its evidence in turn, calling witnesses and presenting exhibits to the court. Witnesses can be cross-examined by the other side.
Your lawyer will prepare you for this stage extensively, well before the date of the trial.
Even at this stage, it is still possible for the parties to reach a private settlement agreement outside of court if they choose to. Indeed, if the case isn’t looking good the insurance company, you may have an opportunity to reach a favorable settlement just before the jury begins deliberation.
7. Closing Statements
Similar to opening statements, each side’s attorney will present a closing statement — one last chance to summarize the case and make a persuasive argument directly to the jury.
8. Jury Deliberation, Verdict, and Court Order
The judge will instruct the jury about their duties and limitations, including what they can and can’t consider. Then the jury will leave the courtroom to deliberate in private, carefully reviewing all the evidence and attempting to reach a decision. It is the jury’s job to determine the facts of the case based on the evidence and then reach a verdict solely on the basis of fact, not their personal opinions. The judge will then make a court order, as a matter of law, based on the jury’s verdict. All sides must comply with the court’s order.
9. Appeal If Necessary
Either side will generally have the option to file an appeal if they disagree with the verdict or court order.
Why You Don’t Need to Worry About What Happens When You Go to Court for a Car Accident
If you’re like most people, the idea of going to court doesn’t seem very appealing, and it might even sound downright scary. But you don’t need to be scared. Here’s why:
- Most car accident cases never go to court. Even once when the formal lawsuit process has begun, many claims still resolve before the trial or during the early stages of trial.
- Even if your case goes all the way through trial, your lawyer will be handling everything for you. True, you may need to attend certain court proceedings, and you may even need to provide testimony. But your lawyer will prepare you so extensively for this that it won’t seem as scary to you when the time comes.
- You may be new to courtrooms, but your lawyer is not. (When choosing a New York auto accident lawyer, it’s important to look for someone who has significant trial experience.)
- Above all else, know this: lawyer will be by your side at every step, fighting for your rights and protecting you against the other side’s tactics all along the way. You’ll never be alone or fending for yourself.
Schedule a Free Consultation with our New York Auto Accident Lawyers
We hope this article has given you a sense of what happens when you go to court for a car accident, and why that possibility isn’t something to feel anxious about.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, we want to help. Lever & Ecker, PLLC is a New York personal injury law firm located in White Plains and serving clients throughout the state, including New York City’s five boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island), as well as Westchester County, Rockland County, Long Island, and beyond.
While we have successfully settled the majority of our cases outside of court, our law firm can and does try cases in court.
Please do not sign a settlement agreement with an insurance company or any other party until you have talked with a lawyer. Doing so can permanently impact your legal rights. You and your family may be entitled to more compensation than you realize.
We are proud to offer bilingual legal representation for our Spanish-speaking clients.
We will not charge a fee for our services unless and until we get you money. Your initial consultation is completely free with no obligations whatsoever.
To schedule your confidential consultation, please call 914-288-9191 (in White Plains) or 212-766-5204 (in Manhattan), or simply contact us online.