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Do Car Accident Cases Have to Go to Court in Los Angeles?

A car accident can leave the victims with a number of out-of-pocket losses, including medical bills and lost wages, not to mention repairing any damage to their vehicle. So when a car accident is the result of another driver’s negligence, the victim naturally wants to seek compensation for these and other damages. At the same time, however, accident victims are often reluctant to take legal action because they fear a lengthy litigation process that may end up in court.

While there are situations where a victim must file and litigate a personal injury claim in court to obtain compensation, that is actually not the norm for car accidents here in California. In practice, most claims for accident-related damages are resolved through a voluntary settlement process, usually with insurance companies. Only a relatively small number of Los Angeles-area car accidents lead to litigation, and even then, just a relative handful ever make it to a trial.

Negotiating an Insurance Settlement

You probably know that if you are involved in an even a minor car accident, it is customary to exchange insurance information with the other driver. This is critical as most accident-related claims are resolved by insurance companies rather than personal injury litigation. If the other driver was clearly at-fault for the accident, then their insurer will likely contact you and offer a settlement.

Of course, you are not legally required to accept an initial settlement offer. Indeed, in many accident cases the initial offer will be far too low to fully compensate you. After all, insurance companies are not in business to help accident victims. Their primary job is to minimize exposure and pay out as little as possible to make an accident claim “go away.”

One other thing to keep in mind is that even if an insurer is willing to settle without question, the amount of any offer is necessarily restricted to the maximum coverage of the underlying insurance policy. California law does require all drivers to carry auto insurance. But these requirements only specify a minimum amount of coverage. In California, these minimums are as follows:

  • $15,000 for injury or death to a single person;
  • $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person in the same accident; and
  • $5,000 for property damage.

So for the sake of illustration, Madeline is injured in a car accident caused by a driver who ran a red light. Madeline requires medical treatment for her injuries and ends up with a $60,000 hospital bill. Assuming the negligent driver’s insurance company agrees to settle, they are only obligated to pay up to the $15,000 policy limit for injury to a single accident victim.

Now, it is possible that Madeline could then turn to her own insurance company for additional compensation. California requires all auto insurance companies to offer uninsured/under-insured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage as part of their standard policies. Such coverage is not mandatory, however, so the policyholder may decline to purchase it. But if a driver like Madeline had such coverage, then her insurer would be on the hook for any additional damages above-and-beyond what the negligent driver’s insurer was required to cover.

All of this, again, is contingent on one or both insurance companies agreeing to pay the claim. And that is not always guaranteed. Insurance companies hire their own adjusters to review an accident and determine what they consider the full measure of the victim’s damages. This can, and often does, differ from what the victim’s actual damages may be. Of course, if the victim works with an experienced Los Angeles car accident attorney who can help them negotiate with the insurance company, the odds are often more favorable towards reaching an acceptable settlement.

The Numbers on Going to Court

But there are obviously some car accidents where an insurance settlement simply will not suffice. In these cases, the victim may instead opt to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent driver. So how common are such lawsuits? And how often do they actually end in a courtroom trial?

Based on the most recently published figures from the Judicial Council of California, the answers to these questions may be much lower than you think. The Council tracks “unlimited civil” cases–personal injury lawsuits seeking more than $25,000–filed in the state’s superior courts each year. During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, there were 17,339 such filings just in Los Angeles County. Now this number includes all personal injury cases, but auto accidents tend to make up a large part of this figure.

Out of these 17,339 filed cases, only 172–less than 10 percent–ever made it to trial. Most were resolved before trial. And most of those pre-trial resolutions likely involved some sort of negotiated settlement between the parties. Remember, even after you file a personal injury lawsuit, you can still continue to negotiate a settlement. In fact, you can also pursue alternative forms of dispute resolution short of a jury trial, such as mediation or even private arbitration.

Speak with a Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyer Today

Even if you have no intention of going to court following an accident, you can still benefit from skilled legal advice when dealing with an insurance company, either your own or the one representing the other driver. Insurance companies often rely on an accident victim’s lack of experience with the settlement process to push lowball offers. Merely having an attorney present can often be enough to get the insurer to make a fair offer.

And if your claims cannot be resolved through negotiation, an attorney can help you prepare and prosecute a personal injury lawsuit in court. As discussed above, such lawsuits are rare, but when they are necessary, you will benefit greatly from working with a skilled Los Angeles personal injury lawyer. So if you have been involved in an accident and need legal advice, contact the offices of Fisher & Talwar today to schedule a consultation. We represent auto accident victims throughout Southern California, including in Anaheim, Glendale, Compton, Long Beach, and Pasadena.