Car Accident: Is it Better to Settle or Go to Court?

July 26, 2023Kolton Opdahl
Auto Accidents

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Opdahl Regenerative Medicine is not a law firm. This blog post is from the perspective of a medical clinic that aids in providing care to those who have been in car accidents. The purpose of this blog post is to inform those who are in car accidents of their options and the overall process of what could happen on the legal side of a car accident case.

When you get in a car accident, it can cause physical and mental trauma, especially if you were not the driver at fault. There are usually a lot of expenses to cover such as medical bills, vehicle repairs, and more. If this applies to you, then you should consider either seeking a settlement or taking the car accident to court trial. In this article, we explain what happens when a car accident goes to trial.

Should I pursue a Settlement or Trial?

The answer to this question is really dependent on the case, and it can be a difficult decision. We strongly recommend you connect with an experienced attorney who can assist you throughout this process.

Car Accident Settlements

A car accident settlement is essentially an agreement between an at-fault party and a victim or insurance company, which highlights the payment that the involved parties are entitled to based on the case. These can either be a payment plan or lump sum. One of the primary reasons we recommend working with an attorney is so they can help negotiate a payment that is fair to you and compensates for the losses from the accident. In most cases, parties will settle things civilly before resorting to trial.

Ultimately, agreeing on a settlement is one of the fastest ways to resolve a legal dispute. The time and effort of actually bringing the case to court is being spared when both parties reach a settlement agreement. 

Car Accident Trials

When one or both parties disagree on a settlement & the dispute doesn’t get resolved, this is when the case will go to trial. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it is usually a very lengthy, expensive, and overall tedious process. An average trial can last between 2-3 months, while some can take years to resolve. Keep this in mind when weighing out your options. 

It is also important to note that car accident cases don’t commonly go to court. In fact, insurance companies typically want to resolve claims during settlements rather than trial. Here are the two main reasons why you might consider bringing your case to court:

  1. You disagree with the settlement / believe it is unfair
  2. Both parties cannot agree or make a decision about who is at fault

Insurance companies may try to undercompensate you because they want to give as little money as possible. Even if you are 100% not at fault, insurance companies might try their utmost hardest to put the blame on you. For instance, let’s say someone totals your car worth $150,000 and the insurance company compensates you $5,000. This payment is very unfair and would be necessary to take to trial. If the other party is totally at-fault, then you are more than likely entitled to an even greater compensation.

So which option is best?

It is clear that bringing a case to court is a longer process that will require more resources, so a settlement requires a lot less effort. This is also the most common option in a majority of car accident cases. However, if there is a real serious need to go to court or a negotiation cannot be met, then pursuing trial may be the better option. You shouldn’t settle for less compensation than you deserve, especially if it’s a drastic difference in money. When deciding whether to settle or go to trial, it’s best to meet with an attorney and allow them to guide you & give you professional advice. 

Car Accident Trial: Who is Involved?

  • The plaintiff: You (the individual requesting the trial)
  • Your attorney
  • The defendant: opposing party (person who you are requesting compensation from or the insurance company)
  • Opposing Counsel: Defendant’s attorney (if applicable)
  • The Judge
  • The Jury

Make sure you hire an attorney who has lots of experience, and is someone you can trust! If you have confidence in your attorney during the trial, then it is going to ease a lot of your stress. 

Trial Process for Car Accident cases

There are 5 steps involved in the litigation process of a car accident:

  • File a complaint and send it to the defendant
  • Defendant responds to the complaint
  • Discovery period begins, and evidence from both parties is analyzed
  • A trial takes place
  • If necessary, an appeal takes place (if one party is unsatisfied with trial results)

What Happens When I Go to Trial? 

Jury Selection & Trial Date: A group of jurors is randomly selected and they are asked multiple questions in order to reduce bias. When the jury is established, a trial date is scheduled. From this point, your attorney will gather evidence & witness testimonies to help build your case.

Opening Statements: The plaintiff and defense present their arguments, both of which defend their stance and specifically outline why they see fault in the opposing party.

Plaintiff & Defendant Present Cases: The attorneys on both sides will present their cases and present evidence and witnesses to support their stance. This evidence includes artifacts such as photographs, videos, medical records, vehicle repair bills, and more. The end goal is essentially to show that you are right. 

Closing Arguments: At this point, the plaintiff and defendant will provide closing statements that summarizes their case. This is a crucial step of the process because it is their chance to convince the jury that their argument is the strongest.

Deliberation: The jury will then decide the verdict, also known as the outcome of the case. This process can last between a few hours to a few days.

Reaching the Verdict: After the jury makes a decision, the judge is given this decision and presents it to the parties.

Working with a Car Accident Lawyer

Hiring a personal injury attorney is one of the best things you can do for yourself after a car accident. The trial process can be a drag. Being able to have an experienced lawyer to give you advice and access to resources is going to help you better understand the court dynamics and help build your case overall. They will be able to represent / fight for you in court to get your favored outcome. Even if your case doesn’t go to trial, insurance companies may try to negotiate compensation, so it would benefit you to be working alongside an attorney during this step as well. 

After Trial

Put simply, you will either win or lose the case at the end of the trial. If you win, then you will collect the compensation amount that was agreed upon. However, be aware that the defendant could file an appeal. Should you lose the case, then you won’t collect the compensation and the case will close. In this instance, you too could file an appeal, which would challenge the verdict.

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