Car accident claims in Small Claims Court
Car accidents are a relatively common cause of action in Small Claims Court. Usually, car accident cases come to small claims court when one of the drivers wasn’t insured at the time of the car accident, so the insurance companies can’t address the matter between themselves. If this is the case, the insurance company of the insured driver would typically file what’s called a “subrogated claim” against the uninsured person. This means that formally, the plaintiff (claimant) is the individual driver, but the substance of the matter is handled by the driver’s insurance company. The claim is filed so the insurance company can recover the compensation it paid for car loss or repair (up to $25,000), usually in a situation where it believes that the uninsured driver was at fault.
Being uninsured at the time of the car accident doesn’t automatically mean that you will lose in small claims court
It is a common fear that driving without insurance at the time of a car accident makes the uninsured driver automatically liable for the damages to another driver’s car. In reality, however, the small claims court will consider a number of issues before deciding whether the uninsured defendant must, in fact, compensate the other driver.
The first and most important issue is who is at fault of the car accident. There is no presumption that the uninsured person caused the accident, and if the other driver’s at fault, the uninsured defendant will not be liable. This issue is very fact-driven, so persuasively presenting a wide variety of evidence will be important here. Where available, the small claims court will consider the testimony of both drivers, passengers, independent witnesses and police officers, the police accident report, expert opinions, photographs and other materials the parties may bring. If the Small Claims Court finds the defendant was not in fault of the car accident, it is likely to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim in its entirety.
The other question that remains in car accident claims in small claims court is the extent of damages
Even if the small claims court comes to the general conclusion that the car accident was the defendant’s fault, even this does not mean that the defendant’s case is completely finished.
First, it is possible to raise what’s called a defence of “contributory negligence.” This defence must be established with the evidence, and essentially seeks to show that although the defendant was at fault, the plaintiff did something that contributed to the occurrence or the seriousness of the accident. For example, they may have kept their own vehicle in disrepair, which made the accident worse than it should have been and resulted in more damages. If this is proven, then the amount the defendant must compensate for car loss or damage may be significantly reduced to reflect the fact that the plaintiff is partially to blame for his or her own loss.
Second, the defendant can challenge the amount of damages which the plaintiff claims in itself. In order to receive compensation, the plaintiff must prove the exact extent of losses he or she suffered. With this in mind, the defendant can challenge the amount spent by the insurance company on vehicle repair. This can be done in several ways, such as showing that repairs could be done for a smaller amount, that some repairs weren’t necessary, or that some of the damages repaired weren’t actually the result of the car accident at issue in the case.
If you are being sued by an insurance company in small claims court via a subrogated claim, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free case assessment!