If you’ve had a car accident in South Carolina that wasn’t your fault, then you are likely going to need to hire a lawyer. Whether you’re dealing with medical bills, insurance claims, or the other drivers involved, you’ll need someone on your side to ensure your rights are protected and that you get the compensation you deserve.
But once you’ve hired a lawyer, do you know what happens next? Here are the four stages of a lawsuit after a motor vehicle accident:
Stage 1: Hire the Lawyer
To start your case, you need to hire an attorney. We recommending meeting with at least two experienced car accident attorneys who understand the laws of South Carolina. Many law offices, including Hodge & Langley Law Firm, offer free consultations. Talk to the lawyers (not the staff or “case handlers”) about your case, decide which lawyers seem to care most about you and give you the most honest information, and then arrange to hire them. Make sure you understand the terms of the relationship (will you pay the lawyers for their hourly fee, or only if you win the case?) and know who you will be in contact with (the lawyer, a paralegal or secretary).
Stage 2: Medical Care, Bills and Recovery
In this stage, you’ll need to ensure you’re getting the medical care you need. Your lawyer typically cannot make a complete demand to the insurance company until all your bills have come in, records are filed, and your treatment is complete. While you recover, your lawyer should be working on:
- Talking with your insurance company and the other drivers’ insurance companies to understand what’s covered and any limits on policies and payments
- Getting an accident report from the police
- Interviewing witnesses
- Gathering supportive evidence, such as 911 calls, road damage photos, police dash camera footage and on-site video (likely cell-phone) footage.
- Obtaining medical bills and records from providers.
- Instructing you on payment of co-pays, deductibles, or private medical bills and the gathering of records.
- Researching laws that apply to your case, as well as other similar cases.
Stage 3: Prepare the Demand
A demand is the letter your lawyer will submit detailing the compensation you’re requesting after the accident (in other words, how much money will be needed to recover your expenses, losses, and loss of enjoyment of life/pain and suffering). To prepare this demand, your lawyer will follow a few steps:
- Request all medical records from the doctor/hospital (this can take 45-60 days after your care is complete).
- Decide if you need a medical narrative, or a write-up explaining what happened to you and the types of treatment you needed (and why).
- Meet with you to decide your goals for this case (remember, you’re likely not going to make a lot of money on a car accident case, and shouldn’t view this as an opportunity to get rich. Also, many things affect the value of a car accident case).
- Write up and send the demand package.
Stage 4: Wait and Decide
After the demand is sent, the insurance company usually takes 30-60 days to respond. They will either accept your demand or, more likely, counter with another offer. After the process of offers and counter-offers finalizes, if you and your lawyer agree with the terms, then the case settles. It will take about a month after the settlement is agreed up for you to receive a check. If you and your lawyer don’t agree with the final proposed offer or your lawyer advises you to go court, then the case moves to litigation…
Stage 5: Litigation
If you’ve agreed to take the case to court, it’ll take about a month for the lawyers to prepare the motor vehicle accident lawsuit. The suit will be filed in the home county of the defendant or where the collision took place. The suit officially begins when the sheriff or a server give the lawsuit, by hand, to the defendant (or his/her guardians).
The defendant will then likely give the lawsuit to his insurance company, and the company will then use their lawyers to defend the case. Insurance companies employ law firms who do nothing but litigate cases – it’s an expense they plan for, so they’re willing to litigate to protect their interests and assets.
If the defendant or the insurance company haven’t responded within 30 days, it’s considered an admission of fault, which will make your case easier to win. If they do respond, though, it’s usually by sending your lawyer a series of questions.
Stage 6: Discovery
Discovery is the 6-9 month process within a lawsuit when the parties “discover” information about the case by sending and responding to questions (called “interrogatories”) and asking you to produce documents. After this process is done in writing, you’ll be asked to give a sworn statement, called a “deposition,” with a court reporter present. Your lawyer will also be doing this with the defendant. This whole process can take 8-12 months.
Stage 7: Mediation or Trial
In the course of discovery, the parties may find that the case can be settled with mediation. In some cases, the court may order mediation, but otherwise, mediation is optional. A mediator will help settle terms by working with both parties in private discussions to come to an agreement. This can be smoother and quicker than trial, but is not always the best solution for all cases.
If mediation fails or is not pursued, then the case will go to trial. It can take 8 months to almost 2 years to get a trial scheduled, so in many cases, the case may settle before it ever goes to court. You and your lawyer should remain in discussion about whether or not to go through mediation, accept settlement terms, or wait for the trial.
Car wreck cases in South Carolina can be long, exhaustive and challenging. But a good car wreck lawyer will be by your side throughout the process to help, to offer advice, and to aggressively seek out the compensation you need and deserve.