Someone hit your car. Now what? Can you sue? If you follow legal dramas on television, the “now what” that follows a car accident often involves a dramatic court battle where everyone has something witty or engaging to say on the witness stand. While there are several circumstances under which you can file a lawsuit if someone has hit your car, the legal process rarely plays out in the dramatic fashion you see on television.
However, car accident victims often want to know what they can do after the crash to protect their rights to compensation. “Can I sue someone for damaging my car?”
You can file a personal injury claim and lawsuit after someone hits your car. However, it is best to speak to an experienced car accident lawyer to explore your legal options before you proceed.
What Is a Lawsuit, and When Can You File One After a Car Accident?
A lawsuit is a legal claim for compensation filed in court. In the case of car accidents, you usually file a lawsuit if the driver’s insurance company refuses to provide fair compensation for the expenses and impacts incurred from the accident.
Some of the circumstances that can lead to a car accident lawsuit include:
- The at-fault party struck your vehicle while it was unoccupied, parked in a lot, or legally parked on the street if the at-fault party’s insurer refuses to compensate a claim filed against their property damage insurance coverage.
- The at-fault party’s negligence resulted in an accident in which you were injured and sustained damage to your vehicle.
- Your insurance provider refuses to compensate you for a valid first-party claim filed against your personal injury protection (PIP), comprehensive, or collision coverage.
- Someone hit your car, killing a passenger in your car.
- Someone collided with your vehicle due to a vehicle defect that prevented them from being able to avoid the collision. If the defect involved the design, manufacture, or labeling, you could file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer or parties who sold you the vehicle or part.
In Florida, due to the state’s no-fault insurance rules, unless a claimant has suffered serious and permanent injuries, they must seek compensation for medical expenses and wage loss from their personal injury protection (PIP) policy.
All registered drivers in the state must purchase a PIP policy with at least $10,000 of coverage. If the expenses from your injury exceed the policy’s limits or the injury meets the state’s serious injury threshold, claimants seeking compensation for personal injury or wrongful death are permitted to seek compensation through the state’s personal injury claims process.
So bottom line: If someone hits your car, you must first file a claim with your PIP policy before you can file a lawsuit.
Can I Sue Someone For Damaging My Car After An Accident?
A car crash can cause damage to your vehicle, injuries, and other subsequent losses and financial impacts related to the aftermath of the collision. The severity of the accident and the injuries suffered by each victim can vary, and the costs of damages available will correspond to the totality of the losses. These damages can present financial challenges and difficulties for a car accident victim.
A lawsuit helps accident victims recover compensation for their losses through no fault of their own. Under the law, when a negligent party causes an accident, the accident victims can seek compensation for their losses from the at-fault party.
Insurance policies of either the at-fault driver or the injured driver often cover car accidents. However, these policies may not always apply, or disagreements or discrepancies prevent a resolution through an insurance claims process.
What Is the Personal Injury Claims Process After an Accident Caused by Someone Else’s Negligence?
The personal injury claims process generally begins when the injured party hires an attorney to assist them in seeking compensation for their injuries. The attorney submits a demand to the at-fault party’s insurer for the full value of the injuries.
You determine the claim’s value by looking at the at-fault party’s insurance limit, the severity of the injury, current and future costs of medical care, the presence of permanent disabilities, and the impact on the claimant’s ability to earn an income.
Upon receiving the demand, the insurer can opt to pay it, deny it, or make an offer to settle the claim for less than its full value. If the insurer offers a settlement, the claimant’s attorney can negotiate to convince them to increase their offer. If the insurer fails to offer fair compensation for the claim, the attorney can file a lawsuit in court.
Lawsuits generally must be filed within the statute of limitation, a certain amount of time after the accident, for the court to consider liability and compensation. In Florida, you must file personal injury and property damage claims within two years of the accident. If you lost a loved one due to the accident and want to seek compensation through a wrongful death claim for the expenses and impacts of your loss, you have two years to file that claim in court.
Just because you file a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that the case will go to trial. Insurers can make settlement offers from when the demand is submitted until the court rules on the lawsuit. While all lawsuits go to trial on television, in reality, studies suggest that up to 96 percent of all personal injury claims resolve outside of court.
What Happens if You Miss the Filing Deadline?
If you fail to file your claim in court before the statute of limitations has expired, you have likely lost your ability to receive compensation for property damage or injuries. Courts will generally not hear claims past the statute of limitations, meaning you can no longer use the court process to seek compensation. Without the threat of litigation, many insurers will refuse to settle a claim because they know you have no recourse.
One of the many services a car accident attorney will provide for you as you seek compensation for personal injury, wrongful death, or property damage is the management of this deadline, ensuring that your right to use the court system is protected.
Why Do Insurance Companies Settle?
If an insurance company disputes the value of the claim, why wouldn’t they invite the opportunity to go to court to dispute it? The fact is that litigation is extraordinarily expensive, and the outcome for the insurance provider is uncertain at best. They offer an amount of money in exchange for dropping the legal claim against them.
Insurance companies aren’t in the business to offer large payouts on claims resulting from their insured’s negligence. They are in the business to make money off of premiums. An insurance adjuster is assigned when it receives an accident claim or demand.
The insurance adjuster’s job is to determine how much—if anything—is owed to the claimant. They do this by investigating the details of the accident and interviewing the involved parties.
Unfortunately, they often engage in questionable tactics to keep payouts low, such as:
- Convincing claimants who an attorney does not represent to accept a lowball settlement offer by stating that it is the maximum amount of compensation available for the claim.
- Telling claimants that there is no compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
- Convincing claimants to authorize the release of all of their medical records to look for pre-existing injuries that could reduce the claim’s value.
- Perusing the claimant’s social media accounts in search of posts or pictures that indicate that the claimant is not as seriously injured as they said they were.
- Convincing the claimant that they were liable for the accident due to something they did.
In addition to managing the deadlines of your claim, your attorney will also manage communication with the insurance provider to protect your claim’s value from these tactics.
If the attorney has evidence to prove the insured’s liability, the insurance company will likely avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation through a negotiated settlement.
This route provides them the opportunity to retain some control over the outcome. However, you cannot know at the start of a claim whether the insurance adjuster will make a fair settlement offer. While a negotiated settlement is the likely outcome, an experienced attorney works on every claim as though it will go to trial.
Why Would You Need to Sue Someone After a Car Accident?
You may not need to sue someone for damaging your car except in certain circumstances. The driving force behind a car accident lawsuit can depend on the circumstances and facts of each case and claim.
Certain challenges in an insurance claims process can arise and may require a lawsuit to recover compensation or increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Examples of when a lawsuit might be necessary due to a car accident:
- No insurance – If a driver is uninsured and you do not have uninsured motorist coverage or the coverage available through your own insurer is inadequate, then your options to recover for your damages may be limited to a lawsuit against the individual responsible for the harm you have suffered. This may not always be a viable option based on the solvency and financial status of the party. A car accident attorney can best advise you on the options available to you for recovery in this situation.
- Insufficient coverage – Underinsured motorists can also present a challenge when a victim suffers extensive damage. In these cases, the policy limitations under the applicable coverage will restrict your recovery against their insurer and your own. When there is not enough coverage to reimburse you for your losses under a claim, it may be in your interest to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party for the difference.
- Disagreement as to liability – Who is at fault in an accident is not always cut and dry. Liability can sometimes accrue to multiple parties, and you can hold other parties such as employers or vehicle owners liable for the damages. In some cases, both drivers can bear liability, which can further complicate recovery. If there is any disagreement as to the liability in an accident and the attribution of fault made by the insurance companies, often the only recourse is to proceed with a lawsuit to have the court determine who is ultimately responsible for the monetary damages you have incurred.
- Disagreement as to damages – Sometimes, nobody contests liability for the accident. Instead, they question the extent of your damages. This is often more contested in cases that involve a catastrophic injury that can cause permanent disability or other lifelong consequences. In these situations, the insurance companies, the at-fault party, and the accident victim can’t agree to a reasonable compensation offer. When this occurs, the claimant may file a lawsuit with the help of an attorney for resolution through court.
- Insurance claim denials – It is not uncommon for insurance companies to find any potential grounds to invalidate or deny a claim. When an accident victim files a claim after a crash many steps in the process could trigger an insurer’s denial. Sometimes these denials occur because of simple errors, omissions, or lack of evidence due presented by an inexperienced claimant without legal representation. When an insurance company denies a claim, you can still reach a successful resolution in your case. Often, the only way to proceed in a case where an insurance company denies your claim is to file a lawsuit against the insurer.
Who Can You Sue For Damages After A Motor Vehicle Collision?
When someone hits your vehicle, you will likely begin to consider who will pay for the damage you have suffered. In most instances, when another vehicle strikes you, the other party was negligent in their actions. This is especially common in rear-end collisions, sideswipes, and front-end crashes.
If the party is found negligent in their actions that resulted in the accident, they will likely be liable for the damages and harm they have caused you. Who you can seek compensation against for your losses will depend on the insurance coverage that applies to the accident and the other parties involved, either directly or indirectly.
Liability for car accident damage can include:
- The other driver – Any accident caused by driver negligence creates a personal liability of that driver to the victims. Although most drivers contract with insurance companies to protect them from personal loss in the event of an accident, there are situations where the insurance coverage may be insufficient or not apply and open an individual to the possibility of a personal injury lawsuit against them for their actions.
- The other driver’s insurance – A driver pays for car insurance to cover accidents. When the other driver is at fault, their insurance is often liable to you for the injuries and losses you have suffered.
- Your insurer – When you are in a no-fault state such as Florida, you may file a claim against your own insurer regardless of which party is at fault. There are several situations in which it may benefit you to file a claim against your own insurer to resolve your case.
- An employer of the other driver – If another driver was fulfilling work duties or behind the wheel of a company vehicle at the time of a collision, the employer of that driver could also bear liability to you.
- A rideshare service company – Rideshare vehicles are common amongst the roadways of many cities and towns in the U.S. Rideshare accidents can create complex liability issues due to the nature of the relationship between a private driver and the rideshare application. Rideshare companies carry their own insurance coverage that will apply only in specific situations.
What about a Parked Car?
A parked car accident is aggravating, but these types of accidents do not result in injury. In terms of accidents, a parked car accident is relatively minor.
If someone hits your parked car, you must first find out who the “at-fault” driver is. If they fled the scene without leaving a note, there might be little you can do to seek compensation from them. If they stayed at the accident scene or left you a note, you might have more options. Inform your insurance company about the incident, even if you don’t plan on making a claim. They can guide you through the process and advise you on the best course of action. If the damage is significant or you encounter difficulties with the responsible party or their insurance company, it may be wise to consult with a personal injury attorney or a lawyer specializing in car accidents. They can provide you with legal advice tailored to your situation.
What Damages Could You Be Entitled to After Someone Hits Your Car?
The amount of damage available to you when someone negligently hits your vehicle will depend greatly on the injuries you have sustained and the consequences of those injuries in your day-to-day life. Car accident injuries can kill or leave severe impacts on a victim that make them unable to live their lives as before the accident.
If you survive a motor vehicle accident but suffer serious injuries, your life was probably affected in multiple ways. From your relationships to your ability to work and enjoy your favorite activities, a car accident can have physical, emotional, and mental impacts that interfere with your ability to live a normal life.
Under the law, you can seek compensation for the damages you have suffered because of a car accident caused by negligence. The damage in a car accident case can include both economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses are damages that can be identified monetarily and calculated relatively easily based on evidence such as bills, records, estimates, and receipts. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, can be much more complicated to value in terms of money. This is because non-economic losses are often tied to the personal experience of an individual after an accident and the impact the accident has on their own lives and individual abilities.
Damages in a car accident can include compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Future impacts to income and earning potential
- Future medical expenses
- Damage to your vehicle or other personal property
- Pain and suffering
- Lost quality of life
- Loss of companionship
- Wrongful death
Do I Have Other Options to Seek Compensation After a Car Crash?
A lawsuit should not be your first avenue of recovery after a car crash where someone hits your vehicle. Most car accident cases will resolve through a car insurance claim. It is only if a problem or challenge arises in this process that you may need to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party or parties.
Your priority after a car crash may be to work towards a successful resolution of your claim through a settlement with an insurer. If you reach a settlement agreement that is reasonable compensation for the losses you have sustained, you can avoid the need to file a lawsuit through the courts.
To have the highest likelihood of success in the insurance claims process, seek representation from a qualified car accident attorney. With the right attorney at your side that can represent your rights against the parties involved, you may be able to avoid unnecessary delays or complications in your claim that could result in a denial or prolonged timeline for recovery.
Do You Need an Attorney to File a Car Accident Claim?
While it may seem like seeking compensation for injuries or property damage is a simple matter of filing a few forms and submitting a few invoices, it is much more difficult than that. While individuals are not required to hire an attorney to seek compensation through the personal injury claims process, an attorney will be aware of the compensation needed to cover the expenses and impacts of the accident. In addition, an attorney can help with the following:
After a car accident, the police will often investigate whether any driver broke the law. While the police investigation can produce evidence for your claim, that investigation is not about the compensation you need to cover the expenses and impacts of your injury.
The insurance adjuster will also investigate as part of their review. Again, this investigation is not about your needs but their bottom line. Your attorney’s investigation focuses on you—what happened to you and the amount of compensation you need to address your injuries’ financial, physical, and psychological impacts.
Guidance as You Make Important Decisions About Your Claim
You make the major decisions in your case. Another important service your attorney offers is guidance about the process and knowledge about the law that you can use to make fully informed decisions in your best interests. One of the most important decisions in a legal claim is whether to accept an offered settlement. Your attorney can help you understand how your claim is valued and what constitutes a fair settlement to make this decision.
Collecting Your Settlement or Award
After your case, the compensation you receive for your negotiated settlement or court award will go directly to your attorney. The attorney will deduct their fees from the amount and pay any liens for medical expenses or insurance coverage as outlined in the agreement you enter when they begin working on the claim. After that, your attorney will pass the remainder of the award to you.
Affording an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
One of the biggest hesitations about hiring a car accident attorney to help with a claim is the fear of how much an attorney will cost. However, this fear is needless due to how personal injury attorneys typically charge.
Instead of requiring a retainer or working for an hourly rate as attorneys practicing other areas of the law do, personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. This method means that the payment for the work they do on your case is contingent upon you getting a positive outcome to your claim.
When the attorney begins working on your case, you will enter into a contingent fee contract. This contract outlines the services provided and the percentage of your settlement or award owed to the attorney.
If your lawyer cannot secure a settlement or award, you will not owe them for their services. Some fees fall outside the contingency agreement, like court fees and paying for expert witnesses. You may still owe your attorney for these fees whether your claim is successful or not, and this is something to discuss before signing the agreement.
In addition to the contingent fee billing method, personal injury attorneys also typically offer free case evaluations. The case evaluation allows you to discuss your case and obtain answers to your legal questions. It is also a time for the attorney to explain to you in further detail the personal injury claims process and to provide information about the firm and the services they provide.
When Should You Contact a Lawyer After a Motor Vehicle Collision?
If another vehicle hits you, make it your priority getting treatment for your medical needs and injuries. Once you are stable and in recovery from the harm caused in the accident, your attention can turn to how you will fight for the compensation you deserve against the parties potentially responsible.
Protect your legal rights from the outset of your claim and case. Insurance companies can begin to work on a claim rather quickly in the hope to resolve the claim with a low settlement offer or denial to prevent further losses to their company.
Some insurance representative tactics will be to pressure you to make a recorded statement or subject yourself to their questions while recorded with the guise that this will help your claim process faster. You are under no obligation to speak to the other driver’s insurance company, and doing so can ultimately jeopardize your case and the compensation you can recover.