What to know if you are being sued

Updated: May 29, 2020

What seemed like a relatively minor fender bender so many months ago is now a lawsuit for tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. You’re not a bad person and you certainly didn’t mean to run into someone. It is natural to feel defensive and become angry at the person suing you. And of course the darn lawyers get involved and everything just goes downhill fast.

So let me clarify some things for you. No one thinks you are a bad person. No one is saying you did anything on purpose. Honestly, the attorneys are more interested in getting your insurance company to do the right thing by paying what is reasonable on the case than they are in disturbing your life. Once you contact your insurer, you may not hear anything about the issue for a long time. You may have assumed that the insurance company paid. So what went wrong? Why is this coming back up now?

There are several reasons that cases move to the lawsuit phase. Firstly, the injured person has not finished with medical treatment. If someone is still treating it is hard to put a value on the claim. But the statute of limitations does not care about treatment issues, it will prevent a recovery after 1 year unless a lawsuit is filed.

The other primary reason for a suit to be filed is the insurance company and the injured person cannot see eye to eye on the value of the claim. Either side may have some very different opinions about what damage the injury has caused. As information is received and the facts start to develop, each side make focus on different things. That changes their opinion on the value. If the exchanges between the insurance company and the injured person are less than civil, each side may dig in making it harder for them to reach a common ground.

So where does this huge dollar figure come from? You may be thinking, if a fender bender is worth $100,000 then by gosh we have a serious problem with our judicial system. The reality is, a lawyer picks that number. The truth is that a jury can award you the moon, but if an injured person only asks for $1,000 then they don’t get the moon, they get $1,000. And then the attorney who picked a number too low gets sued by their client for malpractice. So while the number seems high, it is rarely what the injured party thinks the case would reasonably settle for. Lawyers are picking these numbers sometimes with very little information or only a portion of the story. It will be just over the highest amount a favorable jury could be expected to award.

So you’ve received a lawsuit, now what do you do? After the initial anger wears off, your next step should be to call your insurance company. Tell them about the suit, and get a fax number where you can send it to them. After that, they will hire an attorney for you. The attorney will contact you and walk you through the process. Rest assured that you will not be left high and dry so long as you have insurance.