After you’re in a car accident, you may have a lot of questions. You may want to receive compensation for your injuries, but how do you know where to get started?
First, it’s important to understand how the legal process works in these situations and also who the relevant defendants are when you file a claim.
The following are key answers to the question of who you sue after a car accident.
If you want to sue after a car accident, the first thing that will be done is a determination of liability. Liability means who’s at fault for the accident.
If you’re completely at fault for an accident, then trying to sue someone else for your injuries or the costs of your medical bills will likely be useless.
If you aren’t sure of who’s at fault, a lawyer can help you.
You’ll need to understand not just what happened during the accident itself but also the negligence laws in your state.
States follow either comparative, contributory, or modified comparative models of negligence. If you live in a state with contributory negligence laws, and you’re even a small percentage at fault for an accident, you likely won’t be able to recover any damages. However, in other states, damages are awarded in proportion to your percentage of negligence.
Once there’s a determination of fault, and you know about the negligence laws in your state, you will need to determine if the driver who is at-fault has insurance coverage. Some states have no-fault insurance, so the insurance company covers medical expenses no matter who caused the accident.
If there are severe damages, even in a no-fault state, you may be able to sue the other driver’s insurance.
Negotiating with the Insurance Company
There’s often the misconception that after an accident where someone else is at-fault, you automatically file a lawsuit.
Not the reality.
Instead, you’ll first try to settle the case out of court. If you work with a personal injury attorney, they will negotiate with the insurance company. It’s almost always best to try and work out a settlement with the insurance company without going to court.
During the negotiation process, if you have an attorney, they will gather evidence that they will then show to the insurance company of the at-fault party or parties. Negotiation evidence will include documentation proving fault, medical treatments, time off work, and information about pain and suffering.
Your attorney will gather all of these things and then put them into one sum, which is presented as a settlement offer.
The insurance company likely won’t accept that initial offer, which is when negotiations begin.
In most states, you can’t sue an insurance company directly. Instead, you sue the driver who’s at-fault in the accident. Then, their insurance coverage pays for the damages. You’re suing the at-fault driver in a technical sense, but it’s their insurance company that pays the settlement.
Can There Be Multiple Defendants?
It’s not uncommon for a car accident to involve multiple vehicles. If you’re an injured plaintiff, as such, you might have multiple claims against different defendants.
In some states, such as Arizona, there’s something called several liability. That means that a court would evaluate the fault contribution of each of the involved defendants, and then liability would be determined proportionally to their level of fault.
There’s something called employer liability, and that may be an option if you were hurt in a car accident and the driver was an employee who was operating a vehicle within the scope of their employment. If that’s the case, you may have a claim in some states against that employer.
There’s another term to be aware of in some states called vicarious liability. Vicarious liability means that an employer is automatically liable for the negligence of their employee when that employee is within the scope of their employment.
Also related to these concepts is independent negligence. If an employee was hired negligently and then they hurt you in an accident, you might have another claim against the employer.
Ultimately, it can all get complicated, and the rules of who you actually can sue when you’re in a car accident vary depending on the state you live in.
An attorney can help you understand the laws in your state and what the process might look like if you’re going to file a claim against an at-fault driver following an accident.