In 2019, nearly 270,000 Californians were injured in car accidents. Many of these car accidents were easily preventable but resulted due to the negligence of another driver.
If you are injured in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, filing a personal injury lawsuit may be necessary in order to recover compensation. However, many accident victims are unfamiliar with civil court proceedings and how to file a personal injury claim. Here are the basics of filing a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident.
1. Understand the Basics of Personal Injury Law in California
Every car accident victim should be aware of the California statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits. You will have two years from the date of the accident or one year from the time you discovered the resulting injuries (if the latter happened at a later date) to file your personal injury lawsuit.
In order to file a personal injury lawsuit, you will need to prove the following by a preponderance of the evidence:
- The accident you were involved in was caused by another driver’s negligence or malicious intent.
- The accident left you with serious and/or long-term injuries.
- These injuries and other damages sustained in the accident have created significant financial strain.
You cannot put together a case by establishing one or two of these factors. You will need to establish all three in order to have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
2. Compile Evidence for Your Personal Injury Lawsuit
While you won’t need to present your evidence to the defense until the discovery phase, it is still useful to start compiling key evidence before filing your lawsuit. This evidence should establish the three factors listed above.
The first step is to establish the scene of the accident and produce any evidence that the defendant was responsible for it. Examples include:
- the police report
- witness statements
- photos and videos of the accident and resulting damage
- expert witness testimony from a car accident reconstructionist
You will also need to establish evidence of the type and extent of your injuries, including:
- relevant medical records (surgeries, physical rehabilitation, pain management, etc.)
- testimony from medical professionals
Finally, you will need to establish evidence of your resulting financial strain. Examples include:
- medical bills for all procedures and medical treatment
- pay stubs documenting lost income
- bills or payments connected to other related damages (car repair bills, receipts for property damage replacement)
By beginning the process of gathering evidence early, you can prepare to put together your complaint for damages.
3. Establish Damages
In addition to the evidence supporting your lawsuit, you will need to establish the amount of money you are demanding from the defendant. It is useful to remember that while the defense includes the at-fault driver, you are technically filing a lawsuit with their insurance company. In other words, you are suing an insurance company, not an independent person.
The amount of money you are demanding is referred to as “damages.” Damages should account for the financial strain you are now facing, including current and future medical bills, as well as current and future lost income. It also includes less tangible damages like emotional pain and suffering. The purpose is to compensate victims for financial losses and for any harm that was caused to them.
Keep in mind that it is rare for the defense to settle on this first demand. During the discovery and settlement process, they will work hard to lower that number. As a result, it’s a good idea to demand 75-100% more than you believe your lawsuit is truly worth. This prepares you for a settlement offer that is less than expected and works as leverage during negotiations.
4. File a Complaint for Damages
Next, put together a complaint for damages (aka a petition). A complaint for damages is a document that identifies the facts of your case and the legal basis for filing a personal injury lawsuit.
A complaint for damages consists of three sections:
- The first section is called the caption, which identifies you as the plaintiff as well as the defense, and the court where you are filing your lawsuit.
- The second section is the body of the complaint, where you will include, in numbered sentences or paragraphs, the grounds for your complaint, the legal theories you are relying on to make your case, and the facts of your case. It will conclude with the damages that you are demanding from the defense.
- The third section simply contains your signature as well as the signature of your personal injury attorney.
You must file this complaint for damages with the Superior Court of the county where the accident occurred.
5. Serve the Summons and Complaint
In the state of California, the Superior Court will issue a summons in response to your complaint for damages. The summons and the complaint for damages must then be served to the defendant.
Anyone over the age of 18 that is not involved in the lawsuit can serve the summons, but it must be done in person. Many plaintiffs rely on a sheriff or registered process server to complete this process. Whoever serves the summons must then fill out a Proof of Service form and file it with the court.
From this point forward, you will move into the discovery phase, wherein both sides present and examine evidence to establish or refute the claims being made. This is your opportunity to prove the legitimacy of your claim and the defense’s opportunity to deny that legitimacy.
After the discovery phase comes the settlement phase, wherein both sides will attempt to come to an agreement about the damages you will receive. If a settlement cannot be agreed upon, the case can be taken to court. However, only 3% of personal injury claims go to trial, while the rest are settled outside of the courtroom.
Get the Best Legal Representation for Your Personal Injury Case
If you need to file a lawsuit, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney, first. While you can complete the above steps without legal representation, navigating a personal injury lawsuit without legal expertise presents unnecessary challenges.
The Promenade Accident Attorneys understand the power of knowledge. Our goal is to educate California car accident victims on their rights and help them fight for the settlement they deserve.
If you are the victim of a car accident caused by another driver, contact Promenade Accident Attorneys in Downey, CA. We offer a free case evaluation to get started.