Wondering What Happens During The First Stages Of An Auto Accident Lawsuit?
There is a lengthy settlement negotiation process that happens before an auto accident attorney ever files an auto accident lawsuit on your behalf. Filing an auto accident lawsuit is rarely the first step. More on this website
Once the plaintiff files a Complaint, which gets the ball rolling in court, the insurance company must respond, assuming they received proper notice, or be held in default (meaning they automatically lose, although cases can be re-opened in certain situations even after a default). The insurance company responds, on behalf of the “at-fault driver” (who becomes the Defendant, along with the insurance company), in a document called the Answer. The Defendant files this Answer in the court for the judge to read. There are time limits within which the Defendant must respond, and they generally always meet that deadline. Alternatively, the insurance company can file something called a “Motion to Dismiss.” This is as bad as it sounds or maybe worse. There are a number of complex grounds upon which an insurance company can basically argue that your auto accident lawsuit either cannot be filed in any court or cannot be filed in the particular court where your attorney chose to file your suit. In extremely broad terms, they can argue things like your facts do not amount to a viable claim or they can argue that the court where your attorney filed your auto accident lawsuit does not have jurisdiction or is an improper “venue” for your auto accident claim.
What Happens If the Defendant Files a Motion to Dismiss Your Auto Accident Complaint?
If they file a motion to dismiss in your auto accident case, then your auto accident attorney must respond and argue (on paper and during a subsequent hearing before the judge in person) the reasons that your claim is viable. Responding to this one particular type of motion can involve an extensive and unbelievable amount of research and careful thought. Statutes and cases that only partly comprise the “law” fill libraries with books (now housed in computers via online research, but certainly capable of filling entire brick and mortar libraries). These statutes and cases are indexed and one of your attorney’s many jobs is to spend the time to find the cases and statutes that best help you, and then present those to the court. This particular undertaking is far from obvious. The facts of each case are unique. Your attorney must fine the cases in that big library that are most similar and most helpful to your case, and persuasively present those similar cases to the judge. Meanwhile, a strong advocate on the other side (working for the defendant) is going through the same process to try and defeat your claim. Sound fun yet?
Motions to Dismiss Can Eat Up A LOT Of Time Or Can Make You Lose Your Case Entirely
I recently had a case in which the plaintiff filed their lawsuit, then the defendant opted to file a motion to dismiss instead of an answer. I drafted the documents in that case. Then several replies (all written replies related to the initial motion to dismiss) were exchanged between the parties. I read hundreds of cases to draft our reply. (Each case can be many pages long, from one to hundreds of pages of complicated legal discussion and technicalities of immeasurable number.) Then the defendant did the same thing and replied again. Then we replied again, the night before the hearing. It was craziness. I spent literally weeks working on those documents. When the defendant lost at the trial court level, they filed an appeal, which started an even lengthier process of drafting ever more complex documents to be submitted to the appellate court. These documents took months to prepare. I cannot recall the exact time frame after we submitted the appellate court documents, but many months later the defendants again lost at the appellate court. The next stage, believe it or not, was them FINALLY filing a simple answer!! Mind you, in most cases the complaint and answer are filed in relative quick success but nothing is ever guaranteed in a big auto accident lawsuit. The process felt like a year but actually was many months. I can’t really recall the exact time frame. But that particular motion process led to victory. The outcome could have been much different, which would have caused the entire case to be dismissed, and led to ever more complex questions about the viability of re-filing or continuing that case in another state.
What Is The Role of An Answer in An Auto Accident Case?
In the defendant’s answer, they typically admit or deny the allegations that the plaintiff has made in their auto accident complaint. They also lodge things known as “affirmative defenses,” which are basically all of the legal reasons why they think your claim has no merit. These come into play in various ways later in the lawsuit–and hopefully your attorney knows how to effectively respond to these defenses because they are important. More on this website
What Happens After the Defendant Files Their Answer?
Once the Defendant files their Answer, both parties typically begin another very lengthy process known as “discovery.” The purpose of discovery is to allow both parties to learn the facts of any given auto accident case (which might include learning information from witnesses and/or documents, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of documents in bigger personal injury cases). Discovery includes the exchange of numerous documents, which include questions that each side poses to the other (crafted by the attorneys themselves, not cookie-cutter, but what they really want to know about the other sides’ auto accident case). The parties may also request documents from each other or from third parties unrelated to the lawsuit. Discovery also includes the taking of depositions, which are oral questions posed by the attorneys to the parties themselves and any relevant witnesses (which the attorney needs to know how to choose properly). Each party might also hire various experts, who are also subject to the discovery process. One example might be an accident reconstruction expert, who can tell what the tire skid marks mean, or a medical expert, who can explain the severity of your injuries.
If you would like to know more, please give me a call. I am available to speak for free by phone about your potential auto accident lawsuit anytime (unless you already have an attorney, in which case I cannot talk to you).