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by Brandy D. Rood, Esquire

I’ve been sued, now what?

It’s 7:00am, you’re sitting in your home, and you hear the door bell ring. You answer the door and it’s a process server handing you papers telling you that you have been sued and have 20 days to respond. You read the paperwork and realize that it is about a car accident you were in years ago. Often times, by the time a lawsuit has been filed, you have forgotten about the accident. You can receive notice about the lawsuit up to 4 years after the accident. After being told that you have been sued, you may not know the next step to take. We have outlined the steps you need to take and what this road may look like ahead of you.

Step 1: Contact your insurance company right away. After being served with a Complaint, you have 20 days to file a response called an Answer. One of the many benefits of auto insurance is that your insurance company will provide you with an attorney when you are sued as the result of a car accident. You insurance company has in-house counsel (attorneys employed by the insurance company) and they also have independent counsel, like our firm. If you have an attorney that is not employed by the insurance company, it will be an attorney in an office like ours. Insurance companies refer cases to our office and pay your attorneys fees.

Step 2: Your case will be assigned to an attorney by your insurance company and the attorney will contact you. Once you have been contacted by an attorney, they may want to discuss the facts of the case with you. They will file an Answer with the court and begin the discovery process.

Step 3: The discovery process can take many months. You will need to meet with your attorney to answer questions called interrogatories and respond to requests for production of documents. Your attorney will have most of the documents, such as the Declarations Sheet proving you have insurance, photos of the vehicles, and repair estimates. You may be deposed during this discovery phase. The most important thing to do in your deposition is answer the questions honestly and do not guess or speculate. Your attorney will tell you questions that will likely be asked and prepare you for your deposition. Throughout the discovery phase, your attorney will request medical records of the Plaintiff and develop a theory to your case.

Step 4: You will be asked to attend Mediation. At mediation, an insurance adjuster will be present as well as your attorney. Your attorney and the Plaintiff’s attorney will present the evidence as they see helpful to them. Each party will be separated and negotiations will take place. Many times, your case will settle at mediation.

Step 5: If you are unsuccessful at mediation, your case will proceed to trial. Your case will depend on 6 jurors and their decision is binding on both parties. Trials involving car accidents typically last between 3 and 5 days. Both attorneys will present medical records, photos, and testimony throughout the trial. At the end of the evidence, the jury decides if you were negligent and caused the accident, whether your negligence caused the Plaintiff’s injuries, and whether their injuries are permanent. If the jury decides you were negligent and that your negligence was a legal cause of injury to the Plaintiff, the jury will also determine the amount of reasonable medical bills in the past and in the future and also the amount of pain and suffering, if applicable, that the Plaintiff is entitled to.

If you have been sued as the result of a car accident, do not stress. Contact your insurance company right away. They will put an attorney in contact with you and your attorney will walk you through each step.