UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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If you are involved in an auto accident and the other party decides to take legal action and sue you, the first thing you should do is stay calm. Being sued is a scary situation with significant implications, yes, but if you are intelligent about it, you can limit your legal liability to almost nothing. Before you panic, read our guide below to determine the smartest course of action.
A typical scenario goes something like this: I was involved in an accident a year ago, and was found to be at fault. At the time, my insurance company paid off the claim, but an additional lawsuit has recently been filed, which would be outside the limits of my policy. What should I do?
The first thing most people do in a situation like this is panic. But there are some things to keep in mind, and when the panic attack ends, you probably won’t be any worse off than you were going into the situation.
How To Know If You Are Actually At Fault
In many instances, the fault is evident by looking at the damage and the environment in which the accident happened. In other cases, how to determine who’s at fault in an accident depends on local laws. How to determine who’s at fault in an accident is a complicated question with many facets. In some states, where No-Fault insurance is the legal requirement, your insurance company is responsible for you and your property regardless of who is at fault. In this last instance, who is at fault becomes a consideration for determining points on your driver’s license and other regulations regarding your driving privilege.
One consideration is simply whether either car was parked, or stopped. Road conditions are also a significant factor in deciding how to determine who’s at fault in an accident; heavy fog or rain, or even high winds could play a part in the fault involved. In many states, running into the rear of another vehicle is an automatic fault, because you are supposed to always have time to stop in the distance between your vehicle and the one you are following. However, if a vehicle were to back out of a blind drive into your path, there’s little you can do. How to determine who’s at fault in an accident entails comparing the factors involved and establishing a ranked list of the causes involved. Failure to yield the right-of-way to through traffic is always a fault.
If you live in a No-Fault state, your insurance will be responsible for your damages regardless of who’s at fault in an accident. In some ways, this can be beneficial to a driver, but for others, it can be a frustrating situation. The theory of No-Fault insurance is that we are all responsible for our own problems, and one driver cannot hold another liable for property or injury damage. The problem with No-Fault is that your car insurance will fluctuate, usually going slowly upwards, as claims filed by the company are reflected on the group of people they cover. No-Fault is in many ways to a cooperative insurance where all of the members participate to cover other members of their insured network.
But aside from No-Fault, you’ll probably need to know how to determine who’s at fault in an accident, before one happens. The angle of collision, speed of both vehicles, and even the time of day can be critical in making the decision. How to determine who’s at fault in an accident will sometimes provide a mixed result as well, and what at first appeared to be the fault of one driver or the other, no fault is determined when all of the facts have been investigated.
What To Do If You Are At Fault And Are Being Sued
First, contact your insurance company. If you have changed companies since the accident, contact the one who handled the original claim. (It might also be wise to mention that if you’ve jumped ship, the insurance company is likely to be willing to help you. Loyalty is a two-way street.) Unless there are mitigating circumstances that justify a new lawsuit being brought, your original coverage is still valid, and the insurance company is still responsible for providing the coverage afforded in that policy at the time of the accident. Contact the insurance company, and make sure they are on the job.
For one thing, find out what the statute of limitations is for your state. If too much time has passed, filing a new claim is a fruitless quest. Now, lawyers know about the statute of limitations, and if the suit if being filed by a reputable attorney, this is not likely to be an issue. On the other hand, if the lawsuit is being used as a way to pressure you into paying more money that you are not actually liable for, disreputable representatives are subject to try anything.
As a general rule, the limits of your policy will be the limits within a claim is settled. It is rare for additional amounts to be levied beyond the policy coverage. In fact, the idea has been put forth that this generally only happens when the circumstances indicate that the defendant is likely to have assets that can be easily liquidated. This can be a tricky area, as it involves calculated loss risks in an endeavor to make additional gains. For this, it is probably in your best interest to make sure your insurance company is providing counsel, or contract for a lawyer of your own.
In a vast majority of accidents, the policy of the person found at fault is sufficient to cover the penalties and injuries involved. In those few circumstances when this is not true, you will generally know very shortly after the accident and will be able to begin making allowances for coming up with the additional funds. For a lawsuit to be filed more than a year later, a great deal of causative effect has to be shown, and a reasonable explanation for such a long delay in bringing the suit. Your insurance company is your first line of defense, and putting a lawyer of your own on retainer is the next step. Don’t attempt to represent yourself in such a situation, as it is likely to be a skilled legal battle, and the facts of the accident will be of little regard.
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