Filing an Auto Accident Lawsuit
If you’ve suffered out-of-pocket expenses, physical pain and mental stress, or permanent injuries, don’t face the insurance company alone. The North Carolina auto accident attorneys at Henson Fuerst are here to protect your best interests.
As your attorney, it’s our job to present your case to the insurance company, resolve it as fairly and quickly as possible, and get you the maximum value for your claim. Find out how we can help with your claim today by calling (919) 781-1107 or completing a free initial consultation form.
Before We File
While we never begin a case with the intent to file a lawsuit, we do take all cases with the understanding and expectation that we may be forced to file a lawsuit against the insurance company if its offer doesn’t cover all of your expenses.
In the event that we are unable to reach a resolution with the insurance company, our North Carolina auto accident lawyers will typically roundtable the case. That means, prior to filing a lawsuit, we’ll meet with you—either at our office or at a location of your choice—and review the litigation process. Once you are informed and comfortable, we will file a lawsuit on your behalf.
When To File A Lawsuit
If the offer from the insurance company does not compensate you fairly, then we will meet with you to explain all of your legal options. Before we file a lawsuit, we must consider a number of factors, including the:
- costs of filing,
- expected time of completion,
- strengths and weaknesses of your individual case,
- likely range of verdicts from the jury,
- risks that you may receive less from a jury award than the current offer,
- and available insurance coverage for the at-fault driver.
In most personal injury cases filed in North Carolina state court, the case must be filed in the county where either the plaintiff or the defendant resided at the time of the accident. If the case involves plaintiffs or defendants who are from states other than North Carolina, then we may be able to file a lawsuit in federal court.
Filing a lawsuit in a personal injury or wrongful death case can be a complicated and difficult decision. Henson Fuerst has more than 35 years of experience, and our North Carolina auto accident lawyers take the time to meet in person with you about your claim.
The Filing Process
Lawsuits generally follow a distinct process:
Our first major step is to research the applicable laws as they relate to the specific facts of your case. At this point, your North Carolina auto accident attorney will draft the paperwork to file a lawsuit in your case—this is called the complaint. The complaint is then filed at the courthouse and the court issues summonses to the defendant. Filing the formal lawsuit usually takes two to three weeks to complete.
From the time the defendant is served with the summonses and complaint, he or she has 30 days to file an answer to the complaint, which is usually extended to 60 days by the attorney who is involved on behalf of the defendant’s insurance company.
Once the defendant files an answer to the complaint, we proceed to discovery. During the discovery phase, each side takes time to learn the basic facts of the case. There are typically two parts of discovery—written and oral.
- Written discovery involves the exchange of written questions known as interrogatories between your lawyer and defense lawyer. Each side has 30 days to answer those interrogatories, which is usually extended to 60 days as well.
- Oral discovery typically involves setting dates for depositions of the parties. Prior to your deposition, your North Carolina auto accident attorney will advise you in detail about what to expect.
Once depositions are completed, a mediation date is set. This is a court-ordered process during which someone who is appointed as a mediator by the court or agreed upon by the attorneys, becomes involved in the case to see if settlement discussions can be facilitated in an effort to get the parties to resolve the case.
The mediator doesn’t make any binding decisions but simply determines if negotiations can be made. Many cases settle at mediation, but if your case is not settled by that time, we will pick a trial date and prepare your case for trial before a judge and jury.
How Long Does a Lawsuit Last?
It is reasonable to expect a one-and-a-half to two-year period before your case is heard in court by a jury. While the North Carolina auto accident lawyers at Henson Fuerst try to move each case as quickly as possible, unfortunately, the legal system in North Carolina has intricate rules and requirements that frequently prevent a case from moving any faster.
As your attorney, it’s our job to make sure that we move your case as quickly as possible, but more important, to build the strongest case possible so that all parts of your injury claim can be considered by the court and you may be fully compensated for your injuries.
A successful investigation is all about the details. When the North Carolina auto accident attorneys at Henson Fuerst investigate a disputed liability or large injury case, we preserve as much physical evidence from the collision as possible through a variety of methods:
- Evidence from the Scene
Our investigation team will visit the crash scene as soon as possible to take photographs or videos of any other evidence that could help prove your case, such as skid marks, debris, gouge marks in the pavement, yaw marks, etc. We also document facts about the scene, including: lane configurations, traffic signal cycles and patterns, traffic flow, and any visual obstructions such as trees or shrubbery.
- Damage to Vehicles
Taking photographs and videos of your vehicle and the at-fault drivers’ vehicles before they are repaired or salvaged helps us document the damage and mechanical conditions of the vehicles. We can then recreate and preserve what happened, which is invaluable in the event a lawsuit must be filed in your case.
- Accident Reconstruction Engineers
In some cases, our investigation team will retain an accident reconstruction engineer to investigate the wreck. Accident reconstruction engineers have specific training and expertise in analyzing factors that help us determine and prove exactly what happened in a collision. These engineers are often used to provide testimony about speed, timing, perception, and reaction times; the sequence of events leading up to and during a collision; and the severity of impact. While these experts can be costly, in some cases, it is the only way to ensure that your claim is protected and that you will be able to present sufficient evidence at trial if necessary.
- Consult Investigating Officials
We may also talk with the police officers, state troopers, or deputies who investigated the wreck. It’s critical that we collect their reports, which contain statements from eyewitnesses and measurements from the time of the wreck.
- Physical Injuries
In a serious car wreck, we also consider the full medical impact of your accident. Some injuries can have long-term or permanent effects, and considerations must be made not only for your current medical bills and lost wages, but also for likely future needs, including additional medical costs, future lost wages, other costs of permanent disabilities, and emotional and physical suffering.
Our North Carolina auto accident lawyers are trained to evaluate all of these factors in counseling you and resolving your case.
How A Jury is Chosen
A jury is selected through a process called voir dire. In North Carolina, prior to a case being called for trial, the clerk of court will issue jury summons to certain residents of the county, chosen by random, to appear for jury selection. To be a juror in North Carolina, you must:
- be 18 years or older,
- be physically and mentally competent,
- be able to hear and understand the English language,
- and never have been convicted of a felony or pleaded guilty to a felony (or had your citizenship restored).
The pool of potential jurors will likely reflect the demographics of your county and include a variety of people from all different social, economic, racial, religious, age, employment, and educational backgrounds.
Jury Selection Process
Once the actual trial begins, the second part of the jury selection process begins. There are a number of ways that a judge selects jurors, but typically, the clerk of court will randomly call up 12 jurors at a time to the jury box for questioning. Through a combination of written or oral questions from the judge and the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant, jurors are interviewed to determine whether they can be fair and impartial to both sides of the case.
As your North Carolina auto accident lawyer, it’s our responsibility to ensure that you have an impartial group of jurors deciding your case. If you or either of the lawyers decides that a particular juror on the jury panel should not be selected, you are allowed to make a peremptory challenge. That juror will be returned to the jury pool and will not be allowed to participate in the case.
Final Jury Selection
Once the final jury is selected, the jury is empanelled—or given the legal right to determine the outcome of the case for both sides. In North Carolina, all automobile wreck cases must receive a unanimous verdict, which means that all 12 jurors much reach an agreement on all of the issues in the case and the amount of damages to award.
For careless or reckless driving cases, you may also be entitled to make a claim for punitive damages. In North Carolina, our auto accident lawyers may consider filing a lawsuit for punitive damages when the defendant (at-fault driver) acted with “conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the rights and safety of others, which the defendant knew or should have known is reasonably likely to result in injury, damage, or other harm” (North Carolina General Statute 1D-5).
Punitive damages: money damages that are designed to punish the defendant and to deter similar conduct in the future and are awarded by a court or paid by an at fault defendant.
Can You Make a Claim?
In North Carolina, punitive damages are frequently considered in cases that involve:
- drag racing or racing on public streets or highways,
- driving at speeds far in excess of the speed limit,
- driving while intoxicated,
- driving while under the influence of drugs or impairing substances,
- and more.
If you have been involved in an accident where the at-fault driver acted with careless or reckless conduct, call Henson Fuerst at (919) 781-1107 or complete a free initial consultation form. Our North Carolina auto accident lawyers can help you determine if you have grounds for a punitive damages claim.
Put the HensonFuerst team to work for you today. We will investigate every detail of your accident at no cost to you and fight hard to ensure that your rights are protected. You will never pay an attorney’s fee up front, and we don’t get paid until you do.