The majority of car accident cases do not go to trial. That is because it usually is not worth the hassle. In at least 75% of cases, you can settle the car accident between yourself and the other party, your insurance companies, and your lawyers.
However, in rare cases, your accident legal battle may go to a lawsuit. Sometimes this happens if the insurance companies cannot decide who is at fault. Other times, the case may have to go to trial if someone was seriously harmed or even injured.
You may be wondering about the worst-case scenario: what happens if you lose a car accident lawsuit? That depends on a few factors, including the extent of the damage, whether you were at fault, and whether anyone was injured. Here is what to expect and what you should do in a few of these scenarios.
How Much Money Will You Have to Pay?
The first thing that many unsuccessful plaintiffs or defendants worry about is money. After all, legal fees do add up. In addition, the other party may also be seeking compensation.
If you lose a car accident lawsuit, usually, you are not on the hook for paying your lawyer. Most lawyers only take payment if they win your case because they know that the average person cannot afford the cost of a lawsuit unless they win.
You may also be required to pay case costs for your own lawyers and the opposing side as well. However, most lawyers and insurance companies choose to waive case costs because they do not expect someone to afford it.
If you are the party found at fault in the car accident, you will have to pay damages to the injured party. The fees you have to pay may include lost wages, economic damage, property damage, and medical expenses that the accident victim has suffered. Some courts may even charge you punitive damages, which are extra fees with the only purpose being to punish you for reckless behavior. Usually, the jury decides how much money to award to the victim.
However, these damages may not have to come out of your own pocket. Immediately after an accident, be sure to contact your insurance company. If your plan includes liability coverage, then the company will cover those fees for you in case you lose a car accident trial, providing that they are under a certain dollar amount. In this way, your assets will be protected even if you lose the trail. If you live in an at-fault state, you are probably required to have liability insurance.
Are There Ways to Minimize How Much Damages You Pay?
If you know going into a trial that you are likely to lose, you can take steps to protect your assets from your initial insurance claim to your meetings with your lawyer.
For example, your attorney could use one strategy to minimize damages is to argue for contributory negligence. This is a legal principle that states that even though the plaintiff may be at fault for an accident, the victim still contributed to the accident (for example, if you rear-ended someone at a stop sign but they did not move in time because they were on their phone, that could be contributory negligence). So then, the final damages that you have to pay would be reduced by the percentage that was deemed the car accident victim’s own fault.
What If Someone Got Hurt or Killed?
If your accident resulted in the accident victim suffering physical or psychological injuries, you could wind up as the defendant in a personal injury case. A personal injury claim is a process of getting compensation for harm caused by another person.
If you are the guilty party in a personal injury suit, you can expect to pay additional damages and any property loss or damage to the other car you caused. In addition, some suits cover rehabilitation, time missed from work, and even emotional damage.
If the car accident you were involved in resulted in a death, then the consequences of the lawsuit will be far more severe. What will happen to you will depend on the kind of lawsuit that you face. A district attorney may decide to bring criminal charges against you if you were seriously at fault during the accident, for example, if you were driving under the influence or egregiously violated traffic rules.
If you lose a criminal suit and are found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, then you can serve up to four years in prison, pay thousands of dollars in fines, lose your driver’s license, and have a strike on your criminal record.
However, not all car accident deaths result in a criminal charge. If the district attorney declines to press charges, the victim’s family can file a civil wrongful death suit. This lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit, except a family member files on the deceased’s behalf. Usually, families sue for medical expenses before death, funerary expenses, pain and suffering, and financial damage that the loss of a victim’s income caused the family.
If you lose a wrongful death suit, you will be expected to pay damages, just as you would with a personal injury claim. However, your lawyer can try to minimize the damages you are liable for by finding other guilty parties. For example, your legal team can argue that your car manufacturer was partially responsible for making faulty parts or the local municipality for not putting up appropriate signage.
Can You Appeal?
If you lose a compensation suit following a car accident, you may be able to appeal. However, the rate of cases that can get appealed, let alone successfully, is below 1%. That is because the burden is on your car accident lawyer to prove that the judge made a mistake in the trial that affected the results. Unless you can prove an obvious mistake, the courts will not waste their time with an appeal.
If you decide to appeal, you have a very narrow window of time in which to do so. You usually have a short window to request a new trial and only a few months to challenge the initial verdict. Be sure to communicate with your attorney immediately if you believe that you are the victim of a mistrial and want to take the case to an appeal.
What Will Happen After the Trial?
Unfortunately, the consequences for losing a personal injury case may last long after the judge bangs the gavel.
You will probably have to pay more money to your insurance company for a while. After all, your driving just costs them a lot of money, and the company now looks at you as a liability. So you may need to grit your teeth and pay higher rates for a while.
Some insurance companies offer accident forgiveness, which is a plan that helps you reduce your rates if you manage to go a certain period of time without causing another accident. However, you usually need to pay extra for this coverage.
The crash will also stay on your driver’s record for a few years. If it was nothing serious, this might not be a problem. However, if you are applying for a job that involves driving, it may turn up on your background check.
Why a Good Personal Injury Lawyer Is Important
The consequences of losing a car accident settlement depend on the extent of the damages and the type of suit brought against you. If the damages were minor, the only consequences you face might be a few days dealing with legal headaches and higher insurance rates. However, if you are found at fault for a serious accident, you could pay thousands of dollars in damages to victims if their compensation exceeds your insurance coverage. Sometimes, you could even face jail time if you are found guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
If you were the injured party in an accident, losing a suit adds insult to injury as you are missing out on compensation that you may be entitled to.
These reasons explain why it is important to hire a quality car accident lawyer who specializes in these kinds of legal battles. The right lawyer will work with you from the beginning to the very end of the suit. Your legal team should help you communicate with the other party and the insurance adjuster. If at all possible, your lawyer should try to settle your case out of court.
If your case goes to trial, your lawyer should do whatever is possible to minimize the damages you are held liable for. This could take the form of finding other guilty parties, such as a neglectful employer, sharing the blame with the plaintiff using contributory negligence, or other strategies.
If you lose a car accident lawsuit, it should not be because you hired a shoddy lawyer. That is why you should only work with the best!