What to Do If You're Getting Sued: Coping With Stress
What Happens When Someone Sues You?
There's a first time for everything, right? Back in April 2018, I was involved in a car accident. A man in a Prius entered into my lane to make an illegal maneuver and I T-boned him. My SUV received a lot of cosmetic damage, but his Prius was in pretty poor shape. Nonetheless, we were both able to pull into a parking lot, exchange info, and everyone was "okay."
Much to my surprise 2 months later, my insurance company gave me a heads up that the other driver was suing me for injuries. I thought that was absolutely insane because no one was hurt at the scene and he was clearly at fault (he also wasn't even driving his own car). The scary part? The at-fault driver determination was still open.
I soon received a letter giving me advice on what to do if I get "served" in the next weeks or months. So here I was waiting on another 4-6 months as the decision went into arbitration. I know the situation could have been MUCH worse, but suddenly I was pitched into months of anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Here's what I learned.
Getting Sued Will Cloud Your Reality of Life If You Don't Stop It
Here are the exact emotions I went through:
- Shock: How could this be happening? The other driver was clearly at fault and how did my statement and the images I provide of the accident not show that?
- Suspicion: Something isn't right here. He wasn't injured on the scene, how could he have been injured?! Is he fishing for money?
- Anger: How dare he lie about this! I can't trust insurance companies! Why did this have to happen right now? I have too much going on!
- Fear: That's it. It's over. I'm going to lose all of my savings, I'm going to be stuck paying off this guy for uncapped injury bills for years.
- Stress: I can't sleep, this is all I think about. How can I enjoy this moment when I don't know what will happen tomorrow? When will I hear about the determination? What can I do?
- Shame and Doubt: Maybe it was my fault. I'm a horrible person, who am I kidding? This will ruin my career.
- Depression: I don't want to do anything. No one knows what I'm going through. I can't enjoy the moment.
- Acceptance: All of what's happening is beyond my control. I have to do the best that I can do with the day and focus on the now.
Don't Let a Lawsuit Change What's Most Important to You
Several things happened to me when I was waiting to get word of the determination. Some of which were detrimental and some of which were helpful.
Damaged Relationships: My relationships began to suffer. I wanted to be alone, I was low energy, I was preoccupied, I couldn't enjoy the present moment either—as though I was punishing myself.
- Tip: Do not take your stress and frustration out on others. See the people in your life as your advocates. My family member used to say "Oh, you'll be fine. That's what insurance companies are for," but I didn't take that advice and instead made myself suffer. Try to stay positive.
Insomnia: My sleep cycle was absolutely destroyed by the stress of the lawsuit. I had dreams about the car accident during which I was acting out and replaying the events. I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, I lost sleep.
- Tip: If you are having a hard time sleeping get help. Losing your sleep will only pitch you further into despair. Not only does sleep loss impact your mood, it affects your immunity. You cannot afford to be sick on top of all of the stress.
Rumination: This is a big one. You replay the events in your head, you wish you weren't so trusting, weren't so nice, were more aggressive, were more careful, were more insightful enough to see what was going to happen.
- Tip: Do NOT read lengthy blogs where one person poses a question and several people answer and the conversation fizzlers. Try to get your facts from one source. At one point I was reading anything and everything online and on blogs. E.g, an Uber driver told me to take the other individual to small claims court first (like a chess game), I learned about countersuing, read about frivolous lawsuits, was even offered to go on a legal tv show to have my bills paid if the decision wasn't in my favor. You have to stop fantasizing . . . only work with your lawyer. Trust me.
You Learn to Surrender: I'll admit it. I'm a huge control freak. I couldn't handle not knowing the outcome of my case. At some point I was so miserable I wasn't sleeping, had difficulty concentrating, and couldn't handle additional stress. I finally had a real talk with myself and just surrendered to the universe. Seriously. Surrender. It feels a lot better.
You Need to Journal: At first I was convinced that I would need to keep a journal of all of my life interruptions from the accident so that when I was called upon for a statement, I could point to dates and all the times I woke up at 4 am because the stress was overwhelming. Eventually, this really just turned into a therapy session. If you're not into journaling, do talk to a therapist. It will help a heck of a lot.
You Feel for Others: You learn that innocent people get sued all the time. I used to think oooo, that person must've done something really bad to deserve that. A lot of the time, yes, but some of the time, no. I finally stopped being so naive when it happened to me.
You Learn to Believe in Justice: I started to have faith. Although our justice system has clearly failed a lot of people, on issues that are more straightforward, you just have to believe in the process. Everyone told me the guy would be found at-fault and I would be off the hook, I just couldn't believe it. I sure made myself suffer a lot.
You Mature: I don't like dealing with erratic traffic and stay away from sketchy drivers. I'm more defensive as a driver now.
You Learn to Appreciate the Experts: I called my claim representative multiple times expressing my stress level, my fear, my upset, and how unjust I felt the situation was. Whether or not that helped my case or not I'm not sure. It did feel good though, however, to vent to a professional. I have to say the claims representatives were really good about reassuring me—"This happens more often than you'd think." It was hard for me to believe it but they were right.
How to Protect Yourself From Getting Sued in a Car Accident
I did one thing that day that saved me from being found at-fault: I took pictures while in my car at the time of the accident. Why did that help? For one, the other driver told a totally different story than me. Little did he know, as soon as the accident happened, I took a picture from my driver's seat before our cars moved out of position. The pictures showed that he had clearly entered my lane. In addition, I had my blinker on (magically showed up in the photo). His story also didn't match up with the pictures. Case closed.
You Can Use Google Maps to Diagram an Accident
I went on Google maps to find the intersection/site of the accident and took an aerial screenshot of the site (there were no live cameras around). I then went into a basic computer program and drew arrows to document the driving patterns. Tip: Use color theory. I used red for the other driver and blue for my vehicle. If you can provide the insurance companies with a diagram of the accident scene and it supports your story, you're golden.
The Best Advice: What to Do If You're Getting Sued
In retrospect, I was a little disappointed that I had tortured myself for 6 months over something that was beyond my control. Here's what I learned:
- Be grateful for what you do have. At one point I realized that this whole fiasco couldn't take away my partner (my love), the air I that breathe, my spirit and body, and my loved ones.
- Have faith. Most oftentimes the universe aligns. Justice is served (not always, but often). Have a little faith. It might just help you get through a hard time.
- Be proactive. Plan ahead for what might come. Don't take lousy advice or indefinite advice (e.g. don't hold onto really specific advice that was posted 5 years ago in a dead forum).
- Respect people and what they do. I have a deeper respect for people who understand the ins and outs of the legal system. When you feel totally confused about a situation, they may be there to help you out and give you peace of mind.
- You will be ok. Take a step back. So someone wants your house, your license, your profession, your money, your business. You are flesh and blood. Your suffering is founded on superficial items fabricated by society. It will hurt, suck, life will be hard if you lose it all. It may "ruin you" but better alive and here and now than not at all.
- Keep moving: You still have the human experience. I know that doesn't help much in the thick of it, but you're not alone. Don't let the bad things define your sense of self. You're more resilient than you know.
I Had Finally Had Enough of Waiting for a Decision
I had been depriving myself of joy just waiting around for 6 months on edge to get word of the case determination. Finally, I decided it was time to take a vacation and get out of town. I needed a break and didn't want to think about things. While I was gone, the decision letter arrived in the mail. When I got back home, I opened it frantically—I was shaking. There before was the determination: Other driver 100% at-fault. I was so elated!
Remember: Don't feel "doomed" until you know the outcome of your situation. It's simply not worth the suffering. Life moves on and one day you will too.
Video: Personal Injury Lawsuit FAQs
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Layne Holmes