Most car accident claims in San Antonio are settled out of court between the injured driver’s lawyer and the at-fault driver’s insurance provider. But when a fair settlement agreement can’t be reached, a jury trial sometimes becomes necessary. A car accident lawyer can then prepare and argue your case in court, seeking to persuade the jury to award you full compensation for your losses. A car accident lawsuit and trial usually entail the following steps.
What Should You Expect If a Car Accident Case Goes to Trial?
Your car accident claim may end up in court if the insurance company of the at-fault driver either disputes liability for the accident or disputes the value of your damages. A jury trial may also be necessary if your attorney thinks you could win punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.
Only about 4% of car accident cases make it to a jury trial. Even after you’ve filed a lawsuit, the defendant has several opportunities to agree to your damages and settle out of the courtroom. But they may also decide to fight you in court. Let’s begin with the lawsuit.
Preparing and Filing the Complaint
First, the complaint needs to be filed with the court. Preparing the complaint may take your attorney a few days, weeks, or even months in particularly complex cases. Once the complaint is filed, your attorney will serve a copy to the defendant. This may take a few weeks if the defendant is difficult to locate.
The defendant will then have about a month to respond to the complaint. They may choose to settle during this period, file a motion to dismiss the complaint, or offer a defense and proceed to discovery. The defendant may also file a counterclaim against you if they’re asserting that you were responsible for the collision.
Collecting Evidence During Discovery
There next begins the discovery phase. During discovery, each party’s legal teams will prepare evidence to support their respective arguments. The attorneys will also request and exchange information pertinent to the case.
Discovery can stretch on for months or even years if the injuries and damages are extreme, the facts of the accident are overly complicated, or there were multiple vehicles and defendants involved in the crash. Occasionally, there may also be disputes between attorneys over access to important information, which can also delay proceedings.
Potential Settlements After Discovery
During discovery, you may uncover evidence that would decide the case should it reach trial. For example, surveillance camera footage may show the other driver distracted by their phone when the accident happened, or a reliable eyewitness statement may say the at-fault driver broke a regulation of the traffic code. At the end of discovery, if you reveal potentially conclusive evidence to the defendant’s defense team, they may decide to accept liability and pay a settlement.
Likewise, discovery may allow your attorney to prepare sufficient evidence to prove the full value of your damages. Medical, vocational, or psychological expert witnesses may explain persuasively how much your medical bills, lost capacity to work, or emotional distress will cost you over your lifetime. Upon seeing this, the other party may change their tune and agree to pay your damages in full rather than face the additional expense of a jury trial they would probably lose.
The Day of the Trial
If discovery doesn’t result in a settlement or a motion for a summary judgment, the case will then proceed to the courtroom. The trial itself usually only lasts a day or two in most car accident cases.
In the beginning, the jury is sworn in. Then each party makes their opening statement, starting with the attorney of the plaintiff: the injured victim. The opening statement provides an overview of the case and claims.
Presentation of Evidence
The plaintiff’s attorney then presents the evidence to support their claim, explaining in detail the events of the accident, the injuries caused, the losses suffered, and the damages demanded. Evidence presented may include photos, videos, debris from the accident site, doctor’s records, eyewitness testimony, and expert witnesses such as accident reconstruction witnesses.
Next, the defendant’s attorney will present any evidence that may refute the plaintiff’s claim. This may also involve photos, videos, documents, and expert witnesses. The other driver themselves may take the stand to tell their side of the story. Each party’s attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses.
Once all evidence has been presented, both sides give a closing argument, repeating and emphasizing the key points of their claims. The jury is asked to decide if the defendant is indeed liable for the plaintiff’s losses and how much should be awarded in damages.
Jury Deliberation and Verdict
The jury then goes into the jury room to deliberate and decide upon a verdict. In Texas law, at least nine out of the twelve jurors need to agree on a verdict. It can take them as long as necessary to reach an agreement. If the jury cannot agree to a verdict, the judge may ask them to continue deliberating or declare a mistrial.
If a verdict is reached, the jury tells the judge, and the judge announces the final judgment to the courtroom. This is when you’ll learn how much money, if any, you’ll receive. The funds will usually arrive with your attorney within a few weeks. The attorney will pay any liens held on the settlement, deduct their legal fees and case expenses, and send you a check with the remaining funds a week or so later.
Potential Appeals After the Trial
When the trial is over, it’s possible for either party to appeal the decision. An appeal means the beginning of another drawn-out process that might take several months or even over a year. Fortunately, appeals are pretty rare following car accident trials with conclusive evidence.
Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer in San Antonio
As you can see, the full process of a lawsuit and jury trial is a long and complicated affair. It’s highly advisable to hire an experienced car accident lawyer in your state to handle the entire legal process for you. As you’ll be meeting your lawyer many times to prepare and try your case, it’s best to find an attorney in San Antonio, close at hand.
Not only will a local car accident attorney be familiar with the court system of Texas and San Antonio, but they’ll also have a database of expert witnesses and special investigators in the local area. If you hire an attorney shortly after your accident, they may also be able to help you find suitable medical care. And if you’re struggling financially, your attorney may be able to negotiate deferred contingency fee arrangements with your health insurer and healthcare provider.
Proving Damages and Liability
The crux of a successful car accident lawsuit is the evidence gathered to prove the liability of the at-fault driver and the value of your damages. The best trial attorneys excel at gathering and presenting sufficient evidence to persuade a jury to decide in favor of their clients. Without an attorney, you’re unlikely to win anywhere near as much compensation, and you may fail to recover anything at all.
Contact Gamez Law Firm today at 210-951-2024 for a free consultation and case evaluation. Over the past 50 years, we’ve helped injured accident victims in Texas recover over $100,000,000 in total settlements.