When a negligent driver injures you in a car accident, you expect them to take actions that wipe the slate clean. You want an apology and visible signs of the other guy’s remorse. You must know that the police officer wrote a traffic citation acknowledging their recklessness. You want a call from a liability insurer who treats you fairly. Even if everyone meets your post-accident expectations, you still want to know, how often do car accident claims go to court?
The answer is pretty simple. Your car accident attorney can file a lawsuit to protect your legal interests, but you’ll probably never have your day in court.
Car Accident Victims Don’t Always File Lawsuits
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent annual Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes documents 2,282,015 crash-related injuries nationwide and 38,824 fatalities. Many car accident victims never consider filing a lawsuit or claiming liability.
Some injured people choose a non-confrontational path because they sustain only minor injuries. If their health insurer pays their bills, some people don’t realize they qualify for a settlement. Others don’t want to deal with claim complications. These people resume their everyday lives, and the liability insurer closes their claim file.
A Car Accident Attorney Can Settle Your Claim Without Filing a Suit
Personal injury lawyers protect your legal interests, even if you don't want a day in court. They investigate your accident and determine if the negligent driver owes compensation for your injuries. When it's time to negotiate your claim, your car accident attorney relies on complex legal knowledge and strong negotiation skills.
In many situations, a personal injury attorney can handle your claim without filing a suit.
If you do this yourself, you may encounter unanticipated obstacles.
- Sometimes a negligent driver won’t admit liability, so their insurer won’t pay.
- Liability insurance companies rely on unresolved negligence issues to limit their responsibility.
- They sometimes deny claims even after the other driver’s liability becomes clear.
- No matter how serious your injuries are, liability insurers won’t necessarily offer you the settlement you deserve.
- They don’t tell you if you’re close to your statute of limitations and might lose your right to make a claim.
- If you handle your claim, insurance companies use your lack of experience against you.
Why Most Car Accident Lawsuits Never Go to Court
When a personal injury attorney handles your car accident claim, they seek the settlement option that’s most beneficial to you. If the responsible parties and insurers respond fairly, this usually means presenting your evidence and negotiating your claim.
Regardless of ongoing insurance company interactions, attorneys prepare your case early, so they're ready if circumstances call for a lawsuit.
- The negligent party’s insurer won’t negotiate fairly.
- Your deadline for settlement (statute of limitations) is close.
- The insurer or negligent parties refuse to make an offer.
Once your attorney files a lawsuit, they must prepare as though they will be in court someday. They begin a discovery process that involves formal depositions, document requests, medical records production, and court-ordered hearings. After taking these preparatory steps, many cases never see the inside of a courtroom for several reasons.
Too Many Lawsuits
Attorneys file lawsuits, but judges must manage them. Statistics consistently confirm that courts have far too many cases to handle. The most recent annual data sampling from the Court Statistics Project shows 418,508 incoming tort lawsuits pending in the 35 states that reported their cases.
Attorneys file civil tort lawsuits to recover damages from a responsible party. CSP lumps car accident lawsuits in with the overall civil suit data. This sampling of five states’ annual incoming tort lawsuits demonstrates how courts manage their high caseloads.
Annual Incoming Tort Lawsuits
- Texas: 73,333
- Georgia: 26,398
- Missouri: 15,127
- Nevada: 11,233
- Ohio: 20,884
These statistics reflect a recent trend toward slightly lower case numbers due to COVID-related issues. Statistics for pre-COVID cases trended slightly higher.
Twenty states reported a combined total of 227,015 tort case dispositions. This category includes filed cases that left the docket due to trials and non-trial events. The statistics below show disposition results from the same states listed above.
- Texas: 53,482 dispositions
- Georgia: 9,736 dispositions
- Missouri: 11,002 dispositions
- Nevada: 9,568 dispositions
- Ohio: 18,492 dispositions
Non-trial dispositions occur due to actions such as change of venue, dismissal, uncontested (the defendant doesn’t respond), and others. Courts also encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution processes that encourage case resolution without a trial.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Helps Keep Cases Out of Court
Mediation is a popular ADR. In this facilitated negotiation, a neutral party coaches adversaries toward a settlement. The process requires participation from plaintiffs, defendants, legal representatives, and insurers. Some jurisdictions require mediation.
Effective mediation requires that someone on each side has the authority to negotiate. A neutral mediator moves between group interactions and private conversations held in a neutral location. Mediators encourage evidence sharing and negotiation. The process doesn't always lead to a settlement but often inspires better communication among adverse parties.
Arbitration operates similarly to a jury trial. The defendant and plaintiff attorneys present evidence and liability theories to a panel of arbitrators. The arbitrators decide the cases.
Parties usually participate in two types of arbitration.
- Binding Arbitration: The disputing parties agree to accept the decision.
- Non-Binding Arbitration: The disputing parties may either agree or reject the decision.
Most courts have mandatory settlement conferences, and attorneys must prove they made settlement attempts. Other courts establish mini-trials, settlement weeks, and other case settlement programs.
Some Cases Do Go to Court
Based on these recently documented tort case dispositions, some plaintiffs get their day in court. Courts try their cases either by bench trial or jury trial. The judge hears the evidence during a bench trial and decides the case.
In a jury trial, a judge presides over the court, and a jury hears the evidence and decides the outcome.
- Texas, 2,208 Trials: 1,872 bench trials, 336 jury trials
- Georgia, 628 Trials: 541 bench trials, 87 jury trials
- Missouri, 1,008 Trials: 964 bench trials, 44 jury trials
- Nevada: 95 Trials: 31 bench trials; 64 jury trials
- Ohio, 675 Trials: 623 bench trials; 52 jury trials
Tracking Court Statistics
Accident injury cases rarely go to court, but locating uniform data supporting this conclusion presents challenges. Court data remains scattered among multiple sites, although you might find comprehensive local data on your state courts' website. National court data projects rely on individual states for relevant data, and states don't always report their results.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics
Based on years of court data, BJS concludes that “Civil bench and jury trials are rare.” Their site provides historical insight into state court statistics, but they no longer collect this data. Their last published Civil Justice Survey of State Courts shows court trends that have remained relatively consistent.
The report documented 7.4 million civil cases filed in all state courts nationwide. They disposed of only 26,950 cases by bench or jury trial. These include torts (car accidents and other damage claims), contracts, and real property cases. BJS statistics show that attorneys went to trial in approximately 3 percent of civil cases. Of the 26,950 civil cases tried, 35 percent were auto injury cases, more than any other type.
Court Statistics Project
The Court Statistics Project publishes more recent court documentation. They rely on individual states to report their pending and resolved cases. Their records don’t represent all states but serve as a strong sampling of national trends. This site breaks down tort case statistics but doesn’t show which cases involved auto accident claims.
Talk to your car accident attorney if you need more information about local court statistics.
Do You Need an Attorney to Handle Your Car Accident Claim?
Few car accident cases go to trial, but you need an attorney to get the best possible accident claim results. Contact a personal injury attorney who investigates your accident, confirms the negligent driver and places them on notice.
They deal with insurance companies on your behalf and negotiate your injury claim. If necessary, they may resolve your case by filing a lawsuit and presenting your evidence before a judge and jury.