How Often Do Car Accident Cases Go To Trial in California?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Most people have heard that the vast majority of lawsuits that are filed never go to trial.  That’s generally true, with one of the most common claims being that more than 90% of cases are resolved outside of a courtroom.  But the actual statistics can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including what kind of claims are involved and where the relevant incidents occurred.  These variables make pinning down exact statistics on how often car cases go to trial difficult, but California tracks and publishes data that can be helpful for creating an estimate.

Despite these facts, if you have been injured in a car accident, it is imperative that you contact a personal injury attorney to help guide you through the process. These cases do not go to court because attorneys are not involved. They do not go to court because attorneys typically negotiate settlements before trial.

Major Motor Vehicle Cases

One of the most helpful data sets California provides relates to cases involving motor vehicle accidents that causes upwards of $25,000 in damages.  According to the most recent data published, California’s courts receive approximately 30,000 of these cases each year, and issues rulings or “dispositions” in about as many.  Over the past several years, California courts have decided roughly 700 major motor vehicle cases each year, with those cases being more or less evenly divided between jury trials and bench trials.  That means that approximately 2% of major motor vehicle lawsuits that get filed in California actually go to trial.  Some areas may be slightly higher or lower (for example, the figure in Contra Costa County is less than 1%, while the figure for Sacramento County is closer to 6%), but the majority of counties are very close to 2%.

Minor Motor Vehicle and Small Claims Vehicle Cases

California does not specifically track statistics on motor vehicle accidents with damages totaling less than $25,000, which are known as “limited civil” cases.  Similarly, California does not track vehicle accident cases in small claims court, where damages are less than $10,000 and parties are not represented by attorneys.  On the other hand, California does publish data on those types of cases collectively, which includes all of the motor vehicle accident cases.

For limited civil cases generally, only about 8% of cases went to trial.  Of those cases, the vast majority (98%) were decided by a judge; only 2% were jury trials.  Small claims court is very different, however.  Small claims cases are more likely to go to trial than not, with 57% of small claims cases being decided by the court.

What Happens to the Other Cases?

As the above estimates suggest, even if you file a lawsuit odds are very good that you will never go to trial.  Cases are dismissed for a variety of reasons.  For example, a statute of limitations creates a timeline for how long after an accident a claim can be filed.  Suits that are filed after the deadline will be dismissed.  Many other cases are resolved when the parties negotiate a settlement agreement and request the case be dismissed.

What that means for you is that if you’re planning to file a lawsuit, it’s at least as important for your attorney to be a skilled negotiator as he or she is an expert attorney.  Our firm’s attorneys have helped hundreds of clients successfully resolve their car accident cases both inside and outside of the courtroom, and would be happy to help you sort through your own accident.  If you’ve been involved in a car collision and have questions about your legal rights, please contact J&Y Law today for a free consultation.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.