What should I do if I’m being sued for a fender bender?

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What should I do if I’m being sued for a fender bender?

I rear-ended a vehicle. My car was damaged but drivable; the other car got a 5 inch scratch on the tow hitch and an alignment needed to be done. The other driver filed a claim with my insurer and has filed a lawsuit against me for over $25,000. I can’t afford this as I live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Asked on July 18, 2014 under Accident Law, Nevada

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

1) Check the limits of your liability policy (your insurer will defend and/or indemnify, or pay for claims against you, up to the limits of your policy) and contract your insurer to see what their plans are: are they defending against the claim? Are they confident of winning? Do they recommend you get your own attorney, too? Etc.

2) Even if your insurer does not resolve this for you, you would only have to pay if the other side wins its lawsuit *and* proves its damages. To get some judgment against you, they would need to prove you were at fault, and you can assume they will do this--the law assumes that the rear driver in a collision like this  is at fault (since you should have been alert and had a safe following distance); while you can overcome that presumption and show that you were not at fault despite being the rear driver, that is very difficult.

But proving you were at fault is only half the battle. The other side must also prove that you caused damage to their car (or personal injury to them) equal to their claim. If there is no personal injury but only slight car damage, it's difficult to see how they could possibly prove $25,000 in damages unless you had the bad luck to hit an Aston Martin or Ferrari. So if they can only prove, for example, maybe $3,000 of car damage and $1,000 of personal injury (maybe they had some tests or MRIs done to make sure they were ok), then that's all they could get from you, even if they won.

3) If at the end of the day you end up with a judgement for more than you can afford, you have the option of filing for bankruptcy.


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