Experts Speak

What Can You Be Liable For After a Car Accident?

Being involved in a collision with another vehicle is a stressful and terrifying experience. The victims must be concerned about the cost of repairing their car, insurance coverage, the possibility of missing work, and serious physical injury. As the person who caused the accident, there is, even more, to think about in this situation.

The victim will need compensation for damages sustained to the vehicle and themselves. Proper liability insurance, should cover any damages that occurred. But for some, there is not enough coverage from their insurer or, worst case, no insurance. So, who becomes responsible for paying? The one found liable for causing the accident.

In such a situation, knowing what the responsible party can be liable for following a vehicular collision is important to protect their rights and interests. In personal injury cases, the party who sustained car accident injuries will likely seek legal assistance from a reliable lawyer to prove the other party’s liability and recover the right amount of compensation. Hence, it’s essential for the defendant to work with a legal professional to advocate for them and ensure a favorable outcome. 

But for someone named as a defendant in a car accident case, what responsibilities might they have after being found at fault? Read on to learn more. 

What is the difference between a judgment and a settlement?

The victim has the legal right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the individual who caused the accident. The defendant must decide how to proceed once they have obtained all of the necessary legal paperwork. The majority of legal professionals would advise their clients to negotiate a settlement. 

An out-of-court settlement is reached when both parties can resolve the conflict for a sum of money agreed upon in advance. In most cases, this is a significantly lower amount than what a judge may order. If neither side can settle the dispute through negotiation, the matter will be placed before a judge for a decision.

The victim can be entitled to collect the total amount requested in their lawsuit once a judgment has been rendered. A defendant’s responsibility for damages can be pursued through the use of the post-judgment collection methods that the court provides.

When the defendant believes they are not responsible for the accident and wishes to prove their case, it is in their best interest to go to trial. However, if they are unsuccessful, there will be no further opportunities to negotiate or provide a reduced total amount. A settlement may be made at any time between filing the complaint and the appearance of the case in front of a judge.

Therefore, if the defendant believes they were at fault for the car collision, negotiating a fair settlement with the alleged injured victim would be beneficial. Given the often expensive and lengthy process of going to court, reaching a settlement can resolve the defendant’s dispute more quickly and without the need for a trial.

Also, when the defendant settles, they can negotiate the terms of the agreement. This means they can get what they want or as close to it as possible. Negotiating a settlement after a car accident can also help avoid the stress of litigation on both parties. 

Are there laws to protect my possessions?

The at-fault system is used in most states, but to varying degrees. This enables motorists to file lawsuits for damages. Suppose it is determined that one party was at blame for the vehicle accident. In that case, the other driver has the legal right to file a personal injury lawsuit and seek monetary compensation for their injuries.

The no-fault system is utilized in 12 states and the territory of Puerto Rico. Regardless of who was at fault for the collision, both drivers should file a claim for damages with their respective insurance companies.

The driver who was injured can still file a lawsuit, but to do so, they will need to go outside the insurance system and submit a personal injury claim against the party at fault. This only occurs when an individual sustains catastrophic or significant injuries that result in medical bills of $20,000 or more.

The primary purpose of homestead laws in many jurisdictions is to safeguard both houses and property. Additionally, protection is provided for vehicles, particularly those that are driven for business purposes. When it comes to the kinds of things that can be seized from private property, each state has its rules and regulations.

However, everything hinges on how severe the injuries were in the first place. In addition, every person must have auto insurance coverage on their vehicle. If there was none, the person who caused the accident is regarded as responsible for paying for it out of their pocket, regardless of whether they can do so.

Car accident

What can be taken?

After a judgment has been rendered, a complete inventory of assets will be done to determine payment sources. It is best to be truthful during these audits, as lying or concealing assets is illegal.

Vehicles – Depending on state legislation, a few thousand dollars of a vehicle’s worth may be exempt from garnishment. This sum is deducted from the vehicle’s value and any outstanding debts to determine if it is worth seizing.

Homes – Numerous laws protect an individual’s homestead. However, if the defendant owns many properties, they may be confiscated for payment. A lien may be imposed depending on the amount of equity available in the residence. Loans and mortgages are considered while calculating equity.

Household Items – Furnishings, clothing, art, and jewelry are all accessible to judgment creditors; however, the amount of the exemption may vary depending on the state’s laws where the property is located.

Bank Accounts – Any funds detected in personal bank accounts are subject to seizure unless they are from a specific source, such as social security. The contents of unregistered investments, bank accounts, and safety deposit boxes may be taken.

Garnished Wages – Depending on state legislation, if an individual’s income exceeds a specific threshold, pay may be garnished. A portion may be garnished until the judgment is paid in full.

Future Earnings – The inability of a defendant to pay a judgment does not exclude their ability to do so in the future. The victim’s attorney may investigate in the future to pursue any potential compensation.

What can’t be taken?

Social Security Payments – The law exempts all Social Security Act payments, including retirement and disability benefits. Survivors’ benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are also exempt.

Court-Ordered Payments – Numerous individuals receive monthly child support or alimony payments. Some states exempt certain payments from taxation if they are made according to a court order. However, that money is not excluded if given an envelope containing $500 to pay for a child’s clothing.

It is essential to maintain adequate coverage limits with your insurance provider. As there is so much personal risk, legal advice must be consulted as quickly as possible if facing a lawsuit. It is essential to be informed of all possibilities to collect evidence and prepare a defense if required. The assistance of an attorney is crucial in all legal proceedings.


Being involved in a vehicular accident can be a daunting experience both for the plaintiff and defendant. The plaintiff exercises their right to recover compensation, while the defendant does everything to refute the allegation of liability on their part. Indeed, being held liable for a car accident can be financially draining for the defendant. Therefore, those named as defendants should keep the above information in mind, as it could inform them of potential outcomes following a judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Author Bio:

Daniel J. Larson, Esq.  is the principal attorney at Larson Law. Larson Law is the premier Boston Personal Injury Lawyer specializing in business transactions, intellectual property, and civil litigation. Daniel has represented and counseled individuals, start-ups, and businesses on corporate formation matters, brand protection, and legal business strategies.  

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by Daniel J Larson

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