If you are involved in a Los Angeles car accident, the odds are good that somebody was at fault. Indeed, both drivers might share blame for the accident.
Don’t be surprised, then, if you receive notification that someone has filed a lawsuit against you.
You are now a defendant, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to fight back.
Review Your Insurance Coverage
California requires every driver with a car registered in California to purchase the following auto accident insurance, at a minimum:
- Bodily injury liability coverage at $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident;
- Property damage liability insurance at $5,000 per accident;
That’s a lot of insurance. But if you carry that much, you are probably glad that you do now that you are a defendant in a car accident lawsuit. If you have purchased the mandatory minimum amount of liability insurance coverage (or hopefully more), this coverage represents your insurance resources in case you lose. Anything more than this, and you might have to pay from your own pocket.
Understand California’s Fault-Based Personal Injury Compensation System
Like most states, California is an at-fault state when it comes to car accident compensation. That means that if you believe someone else is responsible for your injuries or property damage, you can immediately file a third-party claim against their liability insurance policy. You can also file a personal injury lawsuit. As you no doubt realize by now, the other side can do the same to you if they have a credible claim of liability against you.
A fender bender might not require the assistance of an attorney. Even a more serious accident might not require a lawyer if liability is not in dispute. This state of affairs is relatively unlikely, however, if someone is going to the trouble of suing you. In most cases, you’re going to need an experienced lawyer on your side.
Just any experienced personal injury lawyer won’t do. Some law firms are “settlement factories” that settle almost all their claims. You need a personal injury attorney with extensive experience representing defendants at trial.
File a Response
You will probably learn of the lawsuit when a court officer personally hands you two documents: the official complaint and a summons to court. This is known as “service of process.”
Once service of process occurs, you have 30 days to file a response. If you fail to respond, the judge will order a default judgment, which means you lose automatically. Ask your lawyer to help you prepare the response.
Engage in Pretrial Discovery
Once the lawsuit is underway, both sides can take part in the pretrial discovery procedure. This procedure gives you access to the following four legal weapons:
- Depositions: Cross-examination of a hostile witness, under oath but outside of court.
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the opposing party must answer under oath.
- Demands for production: A demand for access to documents and physical evidence for copying and examination.
- Requests for admissions: A request that the opposing party admit certain assertions to simplify the proceedings.
These legal weapons can generate powerful evidence.
There are dozens of ways to defend yourself against an allegation of liability for a car accident. Some of these ways offer partial immunity from liability, some offer full immunity, and some even allow you to claim against the plaintiff. Below is a description of some of the most common defenses.
Expiration of the Statute of Limitations Deadline
In most cases, California requires you to file a lawsuit, if ever, within two years of the accident that caused the injury. If you are filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the deadline is two years after the victim’s date of death. A judge will immediately dismiss any lawsuit filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations deadline.
There are exceptions. If the victim’s injury is not obvious, for example, the start date of the two-year period can be delayed until the date that the victim discovered or should have discovered the injury. This might apply if, say, a doctor accidentally left a surgical instrument inside a patient’s body.
The expiration of the statute of limitations deadline is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant must initiate and prove the defense.
Failure To Mitigate Damages
A plaintiff fails to mitigate damages if they decline to take reasonable steps to minimize the harm done. Failure to mitigate damages usually refers to behavior that took place after the accident occurred. It might mean:
- Not seeking prompt medical treatment;
- Not following doctor’s orders; or
- Neglecting to faithfully take your medication;
A plaintiff may not receive compensation for any portion of damages that they failed to mitigate through the use of reasonable care. Acts or omissions that occurred before the accident are usually not characterized as failure to mitigate damages but are instead characterized as comparative negligence (see below).
Failure to mitigate damages is also an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant must initiate and prove the defense.
Under California’s comparative fault doctrine, a court will assign each party a percentage of fault for the accident. Accident victims recover compensation in proportion to their assigned percentage. For instance, a victim who is assessed 25% of the blame would have their damages award reduced by 25%.
Comparative negligence is also an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant must initiate and prove the defense.
Absence of Causation
No matter how serious the defendant’s misconduct was, there is no liability if the defendant’s misconduct was not a substantial cause of the accident.
The absence of causation is a direct defense, not an affirmative defense. You do not have to initiate this defense, and you do not have to prove it. Instead, the plaintiff must prove the presence of causation. The defendant’s only job is to deny the plaintiff that proof.
Seek a Negotiated Solution
After pretrial discovery, both sides are likely to have access to evidence that they previously lacked. You can use this to seek a negotiated solution. In a best-case scenario, the discovery process could allow you to collect so much favorable evidence that the opposing party will have no choice but to withdraw the lawsuit. Even if not, the evidence might allow you to win the lawsuit or settle on more favorable terms.
A Good Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer Can Make All the Difference
Successfully defending against a car accident claim could save you thousands of dollars even after you pay legal fees. In a best-case scenario, you might be able to turn the tables on the plaintiff and demand compensation from them.
Schedule a free initial consultation with a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer from M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers at your earliest convenience. Give us a call at (877) 300-4535.