What to Do When a Personal Injury Claim Is Filed Against You
After a car accident or other personal injury incident, it can be unsettling if a personal injury claim is filed against you. It is important to know your rights and how to protect yourself by contacting an experienced car accident lawyer.
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UPDATED: Jun 24, 2022
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No one wants to find out someone has filed a personal injury lawsuit against them. But if you find yourself on the defendant’s side of a claim after a car accident, you may not know what to do next.
You can take steps to protect yourself after being served with a personal injury lawsuit — here’s how.
1. Stay Calm
Your emotions might be running high after you learn a personal injury claim has been filed against you. Even though you may be upset, it’s crucial you don’t do anything that could affect the outcome of your case. You only have a few weeks to respond to the claim. Whether you choose to answer and go forward with the lawsuit or move to have it dismissed, seek legal advice before anything else.
Don’t discuss the lawsuit with any outside party. Some privileged (confidential) relationships include most communications with your spouse, attorney, doctor, priest, and therapist. However, anything you say to someone else can hurt your case if the information gets into the wrong hands.
Avoid posting on social media about the lawsuit and discussing the case over text or email with anyone except your lawyer. You never know who might see your posts or messages and use them against you.
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2. Gather and Safeguard All Evidence
You might be tempted to get rid of evidence if it points to your fault in a personal injury case, but doing so is illegal and can be detrimental to your case. Similarly, you can’t withhold evidence if your attorney or insurance company requests it. Turn over any documents or records you’re asked for in full, and be transparent with your lawyer. When in doubt, share the information or evidence with your lawyer so they can determine what to do next.
Document Your Memory
Even if you think you vividly remember the incident that led to the personal injury claim against you, your memory might not be as clear or accurate as you believe. It can take months or years to resolve personal injury claims, and your memories can get fuzzy as more time passes.
Once you find out about the claim against you, write down as much as you can recall about the situation and share it with your attorney and the insurance company. Keep the document in a safe place with the rest of the evidence and records you have of what happened.
3. Notify Your Insurance Company
You are obligated to disclose the lawsuit to your insurance company as soon as you are informed a claim has been filed against you. Depending on the details of your case, you might be surprised to learn that your policy covers more than you think. However, you can lose coverage if you don’t fully cooperate or reach out to your insurance right away.
Your Insurance Company’s Duty to Defend
Your insurance policy likely has a clause stating that the insurance company will arrange legal representation during a lawsuit if you are sued after an accident — but as with most legal clauses, the company has a few ways of getting out of their obligation to defend you in a personal injury case.
The company might not represent you if you didn’t promptly notify them of the claim against you. The time limit to report the claim should be stated in your policy and may be as short as five to 10 days. If you waited too long, the insurance company might claim it doesn’t have enough time to investigate the case (and minimize its losses) and refuse to provide a lawyer.
Your insurance company might also decline to provide a lawyer if the other driver’s car accident damages exceed your policy limits. The company has a duty to pay up to the maximum amount indicated in your policy, but no more. Your insurance may have your back to a certain extent, but you won’t be supplied with an attorney if the other driver sues you for more than you’re covered for.
4. Contact an Independent Lawyer
Your insurance company might provide you with an attorney in the event of a personal injury lawsuit, but you don’t have to go along with everything your appointed lawyer decides.
You have the right to consult with an independent lawyer about your case. An outside attorney can help you create a stronger defense, understand the details of your insurance policy (such as if you are entitled to legal representation from the company), and work to make sure your best interests are being represented.
When seeking an independent lawyer, do your research to find the right one for you. A seasoned car accident lawyer will be more helpful to your case than a general practitioner with less personal injury experience.
Resolving the Lawsuit
Once you have a lawyer on your side, you can begin the process of resolving the lawsuit. Whether your attorney is independent or from your insurance company, you should be made aware of the legal possibilities of your case — dismissal, settlement, or trial.
Your lawyer may be able to get the claim against you dismissed entirely by demonstrating that the other driver’s claim doesn’t prove your negligence or that the plaintiff was personally negligent. In some cases, the claim can be dismissed if the plaintiff waited too long to file.
Most personal injury claims settle out of court. If the case isn’t dismissed, your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf to point out weaknesses on the plaintiff’s side and minimize your share of negligence in the accident.
Finally, your case may proceed to trial if your attorney is unable to settle the claim filed against you. A judge or jury will decide the outcome of the case.
A personal injury claim can take time to resolve, but your lawyer should make every effort to protect you throughout the process. If you’d like to explore your options with a personal injury lawyer, use the search tool on this page.