Resources & FAQ's
What to Expect Now that You've Been Sued: A Guide for the Car Accident Defendant
Auto accidents are a fact of life. Fortunately, the vast majority of accidents are minor fender benders and are easily resolved. But from time to time, a person may bring a lawsuit against another driver after an accident. While a lawsuit is a very important procedure that requires legal expertise, it is usually much less stressful than people imagine.
In Michigan, all drivers must carry car insurance. Under the No-Fault Act, certain expenses are paid automatically by a driver's own auto-insurance carrier without regard to who was at fault for the accident. These expenses include medical (including emergency hospital treatment, follow-up medical treatment, and in-home care) and up to three years of wage-loss payments. So when a person brings a lawsuit against another driver, that person is suing for injuries or wage loss above and beyond what the No-Fault Act requires their insurance carrier to pay.
Many people who have been sued worry that they will not be able to pay for a lawyer. This is usually not a problem. All drivers who maintain appropriate auto insurance are protected because the insurance agreement says that the insurance company will pay for the reasonable costs of a lawsuit. This means the insurance carrier will hire an attorney to defend the lawsuit at no additional expense. The attorney hired has a duty of confidentiality and loyalty to the insured driver, not to the insurance company. So even though the insurance company has hired the attorney, the attorney's relationship with the insured driver is the same as any other attorney-client relationship.
Once a lawsuit begins, the plaintiff and defendant's attorneys take part in a process known as discovery. During discovery, the attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant investigate the cause of the accident and the injuries and other damages caused by the accident. Typically, both attorneys will prepare written questions (called interrogatories) that must be answered in writing and under oath. The attorneys may also request the plaintiff and defendant to produce certain documents regarding the accident or claimed injuries. The attorneys usually respond to these questions with the help of the client.
Another common investigative technique used in discovery is known as a deposition. A deposition is an oral statement under oath. Depositions may be taken of the plaintiff, defendant, and any witnesses involved in the lawsuit. Depositions are taken in person and sometimes are videotaped. During a deposition, the attorneys will ask questions related to the lawsuit so they can gain more information. A court reporter is always present to record every word said during the deposition.
Many drivers worry about having to go to trial. Today, most lawsuits are resolved prior to trial. A lawsuit may be resolved for any number of reasons. Michigan courts require all parties to a lawsuit to attempt to negotiate a settlement of the lawsuit prior to going to trial. This is commonly known as Alternative Dispute Resolution and it can involve a number of different techniques.
If the plaintiff and defendant cannot agree to a settlement, the lawsuit will proceed to trial. Trials are rarely the long, drawn out procedures that people imagine. Many trials may last only a day or two. The plaintiff and defendant are required to be present at the trial, but the attorneys handle the entire process. The attorneys will select the jury before the trial begins (unless both parties have decided to have a judge hear the case). The trial presentation begins with both attorneys presenting an opening argument that gives a brief description of the evidence that will be introduced during the trial. Then the attorneys present evidence, which usually involves questioning witnesses and producing documents. The attorneys will end by giving a closing argument. After that, the judge or jury will deliberate and will decide the outcome of the case. The decision is binding on both parties, but either may choose to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. Even if the judge or jury determines that the defendant was at fault for the accident, it will not effect the defendant's driving record. Driving records are not influenced by lawsuits; the appropriate police department makes the decision whether a driver is issued a citation.