When a serious automobile crash leaves you or a loved one injured, the last thing on your mind may be filing a lawsuit. When an injury is caused by the negligence of another, the victim may be entitled to recover damages for lost wages, medical treatments, and more. In catastrophic injury cases, these can be significant. It is possible in some cases to negotiate a fair settlement with the responsible parties. In some cases, however, litigation may become necessary to enforce one’s legal rights and recoup the financial losses incurred as a result. In this article, we will discuss the circumstances under which a lawsuit may be filed after a car accident. We recommend contacting an attorney as soon as possible in order to understand your rights.
I Was Injured. Should I Retain an Attorney?
As we have previously discussed, the process of negotiating a settlement with the defendant’s insurance company after a car crash can take a long period of time. This is true for several reasons. First, serious injuries, such as paralysis, traumatic brain injuries, or spinal cord damage, require significant medical treatment. The long-term effects of such injuries on a person’s lifestyle can be difficult to ascertain. This information is an essential element in determining the financial damages to which the injured party may be entitled. Second, it may be necessary for the victim’s attorney to engage other experts, such as accident reconstructionists, to establish the defendant’s liability. While necessary to ensure that any settlement offers accurately reflect the amount of damages to which the victim may be entitled, these steps can delay settlement negotiations. In particularly complex cases, this process may take years. Because the statute of limitations after a car accident expires two years after the incident, it may become necessary to file a lawsuit, even during settlement negotiations, to preserve the victim’s right to sue.
Consider the following example. A Fort Worth car accident victim suffers a severed spinal cord in the crash. After several surgeries and subsequent months of physical therapy, his physician determines that he will never walk again. They also determine that he will likely need additional surgeries and ongoing therapy throughout his life. Vocational experts review his case and believe that he will not be able to return to his job. During his medical treatment, his counsel works with accident reconstructionists to establish that the defendant was responsible for the crash. It takes the experts and attorney twenty-two months to arrive at an estimation of damages to present to the insurance company. The adjuster’s settlement offer is far lower than what the attorney believes his client should receive and that it may not be possible to settle the case before the expiration of the statute of limitations. He, therefore, files a lawsuit to preserve his client’s right to pursue legal action. In the meantime, the parties continue settlement negotiations during the litigation process. If they are unable to reach an agreement, the case will proceed to trial.
Many accident victims do not understand why their attorney may wait to file a lawsuit while settlement discussions are pending. Some believe that litigation should be initiated immediately after the incident to expedite the resolution of the case. In most instances, however, it is financially beneficial for the victim to postpone litigation as long as possible while attempting to settle the matter. This is because litigation can be extremely expensive. Once the case is filed with the court, costs begin to accrue related to depositions, hiring court reporters, expert witnesses, and more. These can add up quickly and ultimately reduce the plaintiff’s recovery. Most personal injury attorneys are paid a contingency fee at the end of the case, meaning they will receive a percentage of a victim’s damages award. This percentage does not include attorneys’ fees and additional costs, which are then deducted from the gross settlement amount, before the plaintiff receives their payment. Postponing or avoiding litigation costs during settlement talks can significantly increase the amount received by th