Car Accident Lawsuit Defense Strategies

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Throughout most of the states in the US, a car accident lawsuit may be used in any situation in which one party causes damage to another by negligently driving a vehicle. In a certain subset of states (Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah) a car accident lawsuit may be brought only when a victim's injuries are "serious," as defined by that particular state.

When a car accident lawsuit is brought, the damage awarded can be significant. Damages may include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and emotional distress, which can add up to huge amounts of money. If the car accident leads to death, then the damages for wrongful death may be even higher than in standard personal injury car accident cases. If you find yourself being sued for a car accident that you allegedly caused, it is therefore essential to know what potential defenses you have to avoid this significant financial responsibility. 

Car Accidents and Insurance

The first thing to be aware of when it comes to car accident lawsuits is that your insurance company in most cases is going to be pretty heavily involved in your defense. The reason for their involvement is because you are required, as a driver, to have liability insurance coverage. The purpose of this liability coverage is to pay for your legal costs and to pay damage awards to another party if you get into an accident. Therefore, your insurer will be on the hook for the amount of damages awarded, up to the policy limits, and is going to want to have a strong say in managing the case. 

Despite this insurance company involvement, you do also need to remember that the insurer is not your friend and that you need to watch out for your own interests. This becomes of paramount importance when the claim starts to approach the policy limits, because anything over-and-above what the policy limits are would have to be paid by you. If you get into a situation in which you could actually face real potential liability from your own pocket, then you need to have your own lawyer because your interests and those of the insurance company may not align. It also means that you should be proactive in exploring your defenses to car accident claims made against you. 

Car Accident Claims and Defenses

Some possible defenses to a car accident claim brought against you include the following:

  • An assertion that there was no negligence: A plaintiff has to prove negligence in order to be able to collect damages from you. This means proving that any reasonable person would have been more prudent/cautious than you were. If you can show that what you did was reasonable, then you may have a valid defense to the claim. 
  • An assertion that the plaintiff was negligent: In pure contributory negligence states (there are only a limited few in the US), any negligence on the part of the plaintiff is an absolute defense for the defendant. In most states, however, comparative fault rules have become the norm. In pure comparative fault states (again, there are not many of these), a plaintiff can sue if the defendant was even 1 percent responsible and can collect the specific percentage of the damages equal to the level of responsibility. In most comparative fault states, however, a modified 50 or 51 percent rule is in place. Respectively, this means you can be sued if you are at least 50 percent responsible, or you can be sued if you are at least 51 percent responsible. You will pay only for the portion of damages equal to the percentage of your responsibility. 
  • An assertion that the plaintiff didn't prove his/her case. Plaintiffs in a personal injury action for a car accident lawsuit have the burden of proving negligence and further proving that the negligence caused harm. Defendants don't have a burden of proving that they are innocent. If a plaintiff doesn't prove the elements of the case, the defendant simply has to make the judge or jury aware of that fact in order to not be liable. 
  • An assertion that the injuries are not real/compensable: Sometimes, people exaggerate car accident injuries for the sake of collecting damages. If you as a defendant can prove that a plaintiff is making things up or exaggerating, then you may either be able to walk away without any responsibility or you may be able to pay a lot less since you'll only have to compensate for legitimate losses. 

Getting Help

There is great potential liability and risk of financial loss arising from a car accident in which you are found to be at fault. As such, you should not try to defend yourself from a car accident claim or civil lawsuit on your own. Instead, you should make sure you have an experienced lawyer on your side to help you understand your rights and to make sure those rights are enforced.