You've been sued! Will your insurer help?

You've been involved in an auto accident, and totally out of the blue, you find yourself being sued over the wreck.

Once you get over your initial shock, you don't need to start a frantic search for a defense attorney. Instead, you should immediately pick up the phone and call your car insurance company.

Your insurer already will have its own list of attorneys it calls on in times like this, and your insurance company will cover the costs of your defense.

But time is of the essence.

"We want to have enough time to assign it to a defense attorney," says Bruce Rockwell, vice president of claims at Mercury Insurance. Depending on where you live, your insurance company usually has 20 to 30 days to answer the lawsuit, or you could be found in default.

During the window it has in which to respond, your insurer wants to have adequate time to review the case and answer it appropriately, Rockwell says.

Initially, your insurance company will investigate the allegations of liability that are brought against you, as well as the damages the plaintiff claims, says John Kinney, chief claims officer at The Hartford.

"Your company has an obligation to protect your interests and will attempt to amicably resolve claims made against you as afforded by the terms of your policy," Kinney says.

Few cases reach the courtroom

One of your auto insurance company's goals is to wrap up the case as soon as possible, Rockwell says. A trained mediator may be called in to try to help reach a settlement.

But if no agreement is reached, you could be questioned in a deposition. "It gets very uncomfortable," Rockwell says. To prepare you for questioning, your defense attorney will coach you on "how to handle yourself on very heated questions."

While the vast majority of cases ultimately settle outside the courtroom, about 1 percent to 2 percent actually go to trial, he says. Those cases typically involve accidents with very serious injuries.