If the insurance company doesn’t want to settle a car accident claim, the next step is to file a personal injury lawsuit. Most consumers do not want to file a lawsuit, but are forced to file one if they want to get a fair settlement offer.
The Oklahoma City car accident lawsuit process can be a difficult process to navigate alone. Give us a call if you have questions. Your attorney can devote the time and resources necessary to achieve a positive outcome and get the case resolved by settlement or verdict.
Where is the lawsuit filed?
The main court where OKC car accidents cases are filed is the Oklahoma County District Court. This is in “state court.” For the case to be filed in “federal court,” two main requirements must first be met:
- The defendant (individual or company) in the case is from out of state, and
- The amount in controversy is in excess of $75,000.
If these two requirements are met, the suit can be filed with the Western District of Oklahoma. If the case is initially filed in state court, the defendant can “remove” the case to federal court if the requirements are met.
If the wreck was anywhere in Oklahoma County, or if the wreck was outside of Oklahoma County, but the defendant resides in Oklahoma County, the lawsuit can be filed in Oklahoma County District Court.
Filing a Car Accident Claim
“Filing a claim” refers to making a demand of the insurance company, but to file a case, or a legal action, is filing the actual lawsuit.
Writing the claim involves a demand packet, which summarizes the case for the insurance adjuster and then includes copies any helpful photos of the vehicles, the accident report, medical records & bills, and proof of lost income.
If the case does not settle, the next step in getting the claim resolved is to file a car accident lawsuit. In Oklahoma, this is called a “notice” pleading, which includes who (the parties), what, when, where, and why (the driver of the other car was negligence and cause the wreck) of a lawsuit.
The Discovery Phase
During the car accident settlement process, the claimant should include all the evidence, such as photos and medical opinions detailing the damages of the claim.
Everything should be gathered prior to filing the lawsuit, but this also gives a better chance of negotiating a fair settlement with the insurance company. All of this information is “discoverable,” and once suit is filed, the insurance company lawyers will quickly ask for copies of everything (evidence) related to the wreck.
After the lawsuit is filed, the plaintiff (his or her attorneys) must then serve the defendant driver, and the company if the driver was employed, and acting within the course and scope of employment, at the time of the wreck. Cases will sometimes settle at this point, since the insurance company knows the plaintiff is serious in pursuing their claim.
A common misconception is that the defendant driver’s insurance company will be sued; however, the named defendant in the case is the driver. The insurance company, and its lawyers, will defend the case.
After the defendant(s) is/are served, the insurance company has 20 days in state court to file an Answer with the court. Most insurance defense lawyers in OKC will issue discovery as soon as they file an Answer.
The Discovery will include Interrogatories, Requests for Production, and Requests for Admissions. The plaintiff will need to get these answered, and returned within 30 days after served. Cases will sometimes settle at this point, as this information gives the insurance company more information to fully evaluate the claim.
Likewise, the plaintiff’s attorney is following a similar timeline in issuing discovery to the defendant driver. This information comes in handy because it can’t be obtain prior to filing the lawsuit. This can include everything copies the driver’s cell phone bill at the time of the wreck, video if available, and admissions or denials of fault.
Once the insurance company reviews the discovery responses, the defense will then want to take the plaintiff’s deposition. A basic car wreck deposition of the plaintiff usually takes about 3 hours. This varies based on how organized the defense attorney is beforehand (some don’t appear to have reviewed the case heavily before the depo starts) to the extent of the medical treatment the plaintiff incurred due to the wreck, and any prior medical issues the plaintiff may have bad prior to the wreck. Cases will sometimes settle after the plaintiff’s deposition. The depo gives the insurance lawyer a chance to evaluate how well the plaintiff is going to look on the witness stand, and evaluate the claim as it gives them a chance to ask follow up questions regarding what the plaintiff went through due to the car accident.
Involvement of the Client in the Claims Process
Plaintiffs are typically not involved in a day-to-day process of the lawsuit. They sign off on getting a lawsuit filed or approve it and tell the lawyer to get it filed. After that, the insurance company attorneys will generally mail/email over discovery, which is discussed above.
The client will obviously need to be involved in giving detailed answers to the discovery requests and making sure their attorney has a full and complete list of all medical providers that they were seen at. The law firm will use the HIPAA release that the client signed to get all of the medical records and bills.
If the insurance company is unwilling to settle the case after the plaintiff’s deposition, the defense attorneys will then get a medical doctor involved to do an examination and written report of the plaintiff.
Depending on the facts of the case, the plaintiff’s attorney will take the defendant’s deposition at some point. The timing largely depends on how the defendant answers the discovery requests and how forthcoming they are. Cases will often settle shortly after the defendant’s deposition. This is yet another chance for the insurance company to weigh what it thinks a jury may award at trial, and evaluates it according.
Car Accident Mediation
If the case has not settled up to this point, the next step is to go to mediation. Depending on the insurance lawyer, the mediator, the plaintiff, and the plaintiff’s attorney, the mediation could last an hour, or all day. The mediator is generally paid hourly, and the cost is split between both sides. Some mediators don’t get to “the real work” (trying to get the case settled) until after lunch on a mediation that started at 9am that day. This can help the mediator bill more, but more importantly, ensures the mediator has all of the information to try to get the parties to compromise on a settlement amount.
The attorneys for both sides will agree ahead of time with the mediator if the mediation is booked for a half day, or a full day.
Prior to the mediation, the mediator will generally require a Mediation Statement from both sides that summarizes the case. The client should review this prior to the mediation.
Most cases, with some estimates as high as 90%, that go to mediation, settle at mediation. Some will settle shortly after mediation.
Personal Injury Trial
The next step in the case, for the client’s involvement, is if the case doesn’t settle, is trial. The client should expect to meet with the attorney at least a week beforehand to review.
The trial is either a “jury” or “bench” trial. Either party can file a “Motion to Enter on the Court’s Docket” to get the trial date, and specify if they want a jury or bench trial. The party requesting a jury trial is required to file the jury fee.
The main advantage of a bench trial is that the trial will not take as long, and the trial could easily go from start to finish in less than a day. If the scheduling lines up perfectly for both parties and the witnesses, a jury trial has a chance to get resolved in a day. Most “basic” car wreck trials take two days. In a bench trial, the attorneys can do their opening statements early on, but a jury trial will first require voir dire, which can push the opening statements to after lunch.