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 would rather not file a lawsuit but are forced to file one if they want a fair settlement offer.
The Oklahoma City car accident lawsuit process can be difficult 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 resolve the case by settlement or verdict.
Where is the lawsuit filed?
The main court where OKC car accident 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 over $75,000.
The suit can be filed in the Western District of Oklahoma if these two requirements are met. Likewise, the case can still be initially filed in state court, but the defendant can “remove” the case to federal court if these requirements are still 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 includes copies of 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 resolving the claim 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 negligent and caused 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 before 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,” once the 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 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 about pursuing their claim.
A common misconception is that the defendant driver’s insurance company will be sued; however, the defendant 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 when they file an Answer.
The Discovery will include Interrogatories, Requests for Production, and Requests for Admissions. The plaintiff must get these answered and returned within 30 days after being served. Cases will sometimes settle at this point, as this information gives the insurance company more information to evaluate the claim fully.
Likewise, the plaintiff’s attorney follows a similar timeline in issuing discovery to the defendant driver. This information is helpful because it can’t be obtained before filing the lawsuit. This can include everything, such as copies of 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 attorney wants 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 insurance attorney is beforehand (some don’t appear to have reviewed the case heavily before the depo starts). The extent of the medical treatment the plaintiff incurred due to the wreck and any prior medical issues the plaintiff may have had before the wreck. Cases will sometimes settle after the plaintiff’s deposition. The depo allows the insurance lawyer to evaluate how well the plaintiff will look on the witness stand and evaluate the claim. It also allows them 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 the day-to-day process of the lawsuit. They sign off on getting a lawsuit or approve it and tell the lawyer to get it filed. Thereafter, the insurance company attorneys will generally mail/email over discovery, which is discussed above.
The client will need to be involved in giving detailed answers to the discovery requests and ensuring their attorney has a full and complete list of all medical providers they were seen. The law firm will use the HIPAA release that the client signed to get all the medical records and bills.
If the insurance company is unwilling to settle the case after the plaintiff’s deposition, the defense attorneys will 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 evaluate it accordingly.
Car Accident Mediation
If the case has not been 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 settle the case) until after lunch on a mediation that started at 9 a.m. that day. This can help the mediator bill more, but more importantly, it ensures the mediator has all the information 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.
Before the mediation, the mediator will typically require a Mediation Statement from both sides to summarize the case. The client should review this before 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 a trial if the case doesn’t settle. 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 can get resolved in a day. Most “basic” car wreck trials take two days. In a bench trial, the attorneys can make their opening statements early on, but a jury trial will first require voir dire, which can push the opening statements to after lunch.