You were in a car accident caused by someone else. You know it wasn't your fault, but what to do next isn't entirely clear. You're dealing with mounting medical bills and struggling to make ends meet, and you need compensation for the accident. How does that work? Do you have to sue?
The short answer is "it depends." While some car accidents in Texas do result in litigation, others are resolved without filing a lawsuit. It varies based on the situation, the size of the claim, and perhaps most importantly, how difficult the insurance company chooses to be.
Texas uses a fault-based car accident compensation system
As in most states, Texas' car accident laws set up a "fault" system, which essentially means that the person who causes the accident (and by extension, their car insurance company) is responsible for paying for the injuries caused. Typically, this means you have to file a third-party claim with the other driver's insurance company, and they will pay for your injuries up to the applicable policy limit. If the other driver doesn't have insurance, then your uninsured/underinsured motorist protection, if you have it, stands in for their insurance.
If the insurance company cooperates and offers to pay full value for your injuries, then the third-party claim is as far as it needs to go. Of course, it's important to review any settlement offer with an attorney to ensure that it really does cover the full cost of your injuries.
Car insurance companies are notorious for offering "lowball" settlements. Even worse, some insurance adjusters settle cases with victims even if the victims have outstanding medical bills. The problem is once you accept a settlement offer and sign a release, your case is closed and you can't go back and ask for more money. That means if you aren't careful, you could get stuck footing the bill for expenses you didn't create.
If the insurance company refuses to pay or refuses to pay the full amount you need, that's when it may become necessary to file a lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit for a Texas car accident
This is where it gets confusing. Even though your dispute is with the insurance company, and even though your goal is to get the insurance company to pay, you can't sue the insurance company directly for a car accident. You have to sue the insured person — that is, the driver who caused the accident — and in the lawsuit, they will be represented by their insurance company.
The other thing to keep in mind is that just because you file a lawsuit doesn't mean you'll have to go to trial. When we file a lawsuit for a car accident, we keep negotiating with the insurance company to try to reach a settlement before trial. A case can be settled at any point before the jury reaches a verdict.
Here's the key takeaway: even though most cases settle out of court, it's important to be ready to file a lawsuit and potentially take the case to trial if that's what it takes to win. The insurance company isn't going to pay up voluntarily. It's the threat of a lawsuit and potential trial that gives us leverage to bring the insurance company to the negotiating table. That's why our policy is to prepare every case for trial: it's the only way to get real results for our clients.
An experienced attorney can protect your rights throughout the process
Ultimately, whether you need to file a lawsuit or not depends very much on the circumstances, and only an experienced car accident attorney can assess the situation and determine the right strategy to move your case forward. The key is to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. The car accident statute of limitations in Texas (the legal time limit to file a lawsuit) is generally two years from the date of the wreck, but it's in your interest to talk to a lawyer much sooner so we can investigate your accident, take over communications with the insurance company, and start building a winning legal strategy.
When you meet with us in a free consultation, there's no cost, no obligation, and no pressure to file a lawsuit or take any other legal action. We just want you to know your rights and options. If you've been hurt in a car accident in or near Laredo, TX, schedule your free consultation with John R. Solis, Attorney at Law today.