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How does a car accident lawsuit work?

Herb: Generally, most clients and insurance companies want to work things out without going to court.  Once you file a lawsuit, it gets expensive on both sides.  It’s time consuming and you’re at the hands of a jury that you never know what they’re going to do.  Most cases settle without having to file a lawsuit.  However, if we cannot resolve the case with the insurance company, we’ll file a car accident lawsuit.  When you file a lawsuit, it’s generally against the driver of the other car.  In North Carolina, you sue the driver, not the owner of the car.  The only time the owner of the car is responsible is when they entrusted the car to a party they knew could not drive, when we are dealing with the Family Purpose Doctrine or the accident was caused by their employee while on the job.

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If someone’s driving a UPS vehicle, you serve the driver and the owner UPS.  Or if it is a minor and he’s driving a family vehicle, you can sue the parent if the minor was acting within the scope of the Family Purpose Doctrine.  Let’s say his parents send him out to drive his brother to soccer practice or to go to the grocery store.  He was doing something for the family, for the parents.  In that situation, you can sue the parents also.  If the youngster has a car and he’s just using it on a Friday night with his friends, you probably can’t sue the parent.  You sue the minor.

But either way, the insurance company covers both.  It’s all one in the same.  You file a lawsuit, and the sheriff will serve the defendant.  Shortly after that, you enter the discovery phase where both sides have the right to send interrogatories (questions) to the other side to answer and conduct a deposition if necessary.  A deposition is where the lawyer questions the other side with a court reporter.  We prepare our clients for the deposition just like we would for a recorded statement as I mentioned earlier.

The next step is usually a mediation or arbitration.  If you sue in district court, you go to an arbitration, which is binding.  They make a decision, they give you an answer, and you can appeal it and ask for a jury trial.

But for superior court when you’re suing for a larger sum of money, they don’t have arbitration.  They have a mediation where you sit down with a mediator, which is a lawyer that’s trained to mediate. Both sides sit down and they tell their side of the story.  And then they break up into different rooms.  The mediator goes back and forth and tries to hammer out a settlement where both parties are content.  If that doesn’t work, then you go to trial.  If in the arbitration, one side doesn’t like it, they appeal it, they go to trial.  It usually takes about a year from the time you file a lawsuit to the time you actually pick a jury and go to trial.  And trials, you know, can last anywhere from two days to three weeks, depending how large the case is and how much testimony there is.

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