When should you file a civil suit for a car accident?
There are a number of ways to answer this question.
First, it’s important to note that filing a civil lawsuit is not always necessary after a car accident. A lot of car accident cases are resolved through the filing of an insurance claim -- under the injured person’s own coverage or against the at-fault driver’s car insurance carrier.
Depending on the complexity of the case, there may be some back-and-forth negotiations, but the end result will be a settlement agreement. In this agreement, the injured person accepts an agreed-upon amount of money, and signs a release of liability agreeing to give up any right to take future legal action over the car accident. Most car accident injury claims are resolved in this manner -- especially cases where liability is clear and injuries are fairly minor -- and in many of these cases a personal injury lawsuit is never filed. (Take a look Inside the Car Accident Settlement Process.)
But filing a car accident lawsuit can be a good idea for a number of reasons. First, it shows that you mean business and are not shying away from exercising your rights. In this way, filing a lawsuit can give you a fair amount of leverage in settlement negotiations. No insurance adjuster wants to see a case make it all the way to trial and end up in the hands of an unpredictable jury. So, the insurance carrier may be more motivated to settle the case, the closer the prospect of trial becomes.
Second, getting your lawsuit filed lets you preserve the valuable option of having a court hear and decide your case. Remember, your case could settle at any time before or after the lawsuit is filed, but in the rare case that settlement talks stall and the two sides are just too far apart to come to an agreement, having the lawsuit filed keeps all your options on the table.
You’ll need to file your lawsuit within a certain amount of time after the car accident, under a law known as the statute of limitations. These laws set deadlines for the filing of civil lawsuits, and in personal injury cases, the time window is usually somewhere between two and six years, depending on the law in place in the state where you want to file the lawsuit. (Check the accident statute of limitations laws in your state.)