Most of the time, if your claim is good, a negotiated settlement can provide the best opportunity to compensate you for your injuries. Of course, money never makes what happened to you okay, but for the most part, it’s all the law has to offer, and it certainly can help. Sometimes, however, the insurance company refuses to make a fair offer to settle your claim. In those cases, we have little choice but to file a lawsuit. In this chapter, I will discuss how a lawsuit gets filed, and we will explore the risks and benefits of taking your case toward trial.
The act of starting a lawsuit in Washington is really quite simple. You need a Summons and a Complaint. Depending on the court you are filing in, you can start the lawsuit by either filing the papers with the court or having the papers served on the defendant. Whichever one you do first, you will ultimately need to do the other as well.
A Summons is a legal document that notifies the defendant that he or she is being sued, and it instructs the person on how to respond to the lawsuit. This is a generic form and does not contain any facts about the particular claim. In Washington, as in most states, you are not allowed to sue the insurance company. Instead, the actual defendant must be served. If he has insurance, he will probably just forward the papers to his insurance company, which will hire a lawyer to prepare a response. Lawyers usually forward a copy to the insurance company themselves just so the insurance company knows a lawsuit has been started and that the insurance company has a limited amount of time to reply.
While the Summons gives notice that a lawsuit is being started, the Complaint sets forth what the claim is about. Washington is a notice pleading state, which means the Complaint need only state the barest facts necessary to let the defendant know what he is being sued for and what is the remedy sought. I remember a multiple choice question on the bar exam asking which of the following was a valid Complaint. The correct answer was: “He stole my skateboard. I want it back.” This answer identifies a defendant (he), alleges what he did wrong (stole my skateboard), and proposes a remedy (I want it back).
In a typical auto case, the Complaint is a bit more comprehensive, but not by much. It states who the parties are, where they reside, and where the incident took place in order to establish jurisdiction of the court. It states what the defendant did; in most cases, he failed to exercise reasonable care in the operation of his vehicle resulting in injuries to the plaintiff. Finally, a remedy is sought. In negligence cases in Washington, a specific amount of damages is not set forth in the Complaint. Rather, an amount of money is asked for that will compensate the plaintiff for her damages, both past and future.
Once the Summons and Complaint have been filed and served, the lawsuit is officially underway. In King County Superior Court, the entire pre-trial calendar is set immediately upon filing. This contains deadlines for all kinds of events that take place before trial. In other jurisdictions, the calendar is more flexible. In every jurisdiction, though, the filing of the lawsuit is just the beginning of what can be a long and difficult road to trial.
If you have questions about filing a lawsuit for a car accident or other personal injury claim, or if you just want to talk about personal injury claims in general, please give us a call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you.