What to do if you are sued.
After an accident you may receive a letter from an attorney or an insurance company saying that they intend to make a claim against you. You may also receive a "Summons," or "Summons and Complaint." To protect your property and your rights, it is important that you act immediately.
If you haven't already done it, call your insurance company immediately. It is not enough to just call your broker - you should call the insurance company directly using their claims number which will be on your policy or insurance card. If you can't find your insurance company's number, you can get it from the NYS Insurance Department's insurance company search tool. Failure to notify your insurance company quickly can result in them denying your coverage under the insurance policy.
Send any letters or legal papers you receive to your insurance company. If your insurance is in place, the insurance company will be required to hire a lawyer to represent you. Even though that attorney is hired by the insurance company, and paid by the insurance company, the attorney represents you and is responsible for looking out for your best interests.
DO NOT speak about the case directly with the party suing you. Do not threaten them or try to talk them into dropping the claim. Let your insurance company and the attorneys they hire handle all communications with the other side.
Give your insurance company and attorney all the information you have about the accident. This includes photographs and the names and contact information of any witnesses. Always tell the truth to your insurance company. Don't try to change the facts to make it look like you were not at fault (if you were at fault). This can put you at a personal risk if the case does not settle or get dismissed.
If you feel that the attorneys provided by your insurance company are not looking out for your best interests, speak to a private attorney - preferably one that does accident cases. There are times when the lawyer assigned by the insurance company may have a conflict (such as representing multiple parties in a lawsuit) and you should have a separate attorney. In these cases, you are likely to be able to choose your own attorney and have the insurance company pay for him/her.
If you believe that your insurance company is not looking out for your best interests, speak to a private attorney - preferably one that does accident cases. Some insurance companies prefer not to settle cases even where you are clearly at fault. It may be to their best interests not to settle but doing so may put you at a personal risk. The insurance company is only responsible for the amount of their policy. You are personally responsible for any amount over the policy. If, for example, you have a $25,000.00 auto policy but you're sued for $500,000.00, the insurance company is only responsble for the $25,000.00. If the case goes to trial and a jury awards $500,000.00 you would be responsible for $475,000.00.
At some point during a case, usually before trial, the Plaintiff's attorney will offer to accept the full amount of your insurance to settle the case. Your insurance company is obligated to let you know that such an offer has been made and to tell you that you have the right to hire a "personal attorney" at your cost if they are not going to settle the case. Do not take this notice lightly.
Speak to a knowledgable attorney about your rights. He or she is likely to send your insurance company a "bad faith" letter putting the insurance company on notice that you will ask that they be made to pay the full amount of any judgment if they do not settle the case. While it is best to have a lawyer send this letter for you, you can use the following bad faith form to protect your rights.