The terms claim and lawsuit are often used interchangeably in personal injury cases. However, the terms have different meanings.
A personal injury claim is a set of facts that create a right enforceable in court. In other words, a person caused you harm, so you have the right to sue the person to seek compensation for damages.
On the other hand, a personal injury lawsuit is a civil legal action filed by you with a court. You file a lawsuit seeking a judgment from a judge or jury against the person who caused your injuries and damages.
Most personal injury cases begin with the injured party filing a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance provider after being injured in an accident. Then, the insurance company assigns an insurance adjuster to investigate the claim. Let’s look at an example of a car accident claim to explain the difference between a claim vs. a lawsuit.
Filing Insurance Claims for Car Accidents and Other Personal Injuries
Let’s assume another driver ran a red light at a Fort Walton Beach intersection. They collided with your car, causing you to sustain serious injuries, including a broken leg, back injury, and traumatic brain injuries. Your doctor says you sustained permanent injuries because of the accident.
You file a claim with the driver’s insurance demanding to be compensated for your injury. The types of damages you might recover for a personal injury claim include:
- Compensation for past and future medical bills and expenses related to treatment and care, including nursing care and personal care
- Reimbursement for past and future loss of income, including reductions in future earning capacity, lost wages, and benefits
- Compensation for your physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish
- Reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident and your recovery
- Compensation for impairments, disabilities, scarring, and disfigurement
- Compensation for the loss of enjoyment and reduced quality of life caused by your injuries
The types of damages and the amount of your claim depend on the facts of your case. The same would apply if you had a premises liability claim for a slip a fall accident or a product liability claim for injuries caused by defective products.
What is the Process for Settling Personal Injury Claims?
Generally, your personal injury lawyer conducts an independent investigation to gather evidence and identify the liable parties. The insurance claims adjuster also investigates the claim.
Steps that an injury attorney may take include:
- Obtaining copies of police reports and accident reports
- Requesting copies of your medical bills
- Searching for videos of the accident from traffic cameras and other video surveillance
- Taking statements from eyewitnesses
- Consulting accident reconstructionists and other expert witnesses
- Gathering physical evidence from the accident scene and the vehicles
- Requesting cell phone records and information from vehicle data recorders
When your attorney completes the investigation and you finish medical treatment, he prepares a settlement demand letter to send to the insurance company. The letter outlines your case and demands payment for damages.
Negotiating a Settlement for Your Claim
Settlement negotiations could go on for several months. Your lawyer keeps you advised of the progress and tells you the amount of each settlement offer. If you agree to accept a settlement amount, your lawyer prepares the settlement agreement, and the claim is closed.
However, if the insurance company refuses to accept liability for the claim or refuses to negotiate a fair settlement amount, your attorney may advise you to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Timeline for a Personal Injury Lawsuit
The civil courts in Florida handle personal injury lawsuits. The insured party filing the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The party being sued is the defendant.
You do not sue the insurance company for the party who caused your injury. Instead, you sue the person directly responsible for causing your injury. In our example, the defendant would be the driver who ran the red light.
However, most liability insurance companies hire a lawyer to defend the lawsuit. So, the insurance company continues to be involved in the matter.
Each personal injury case is unique. The basic steps in a personal injury lawsuit are:
Filing Initial Pleadings
The case begins with the plaintiff filing a complaint and serving a copy to the defendant. Typically, the insurance lawyer files an answer to the complaint. The defense lawyer could include allegations against the plaintiff alleging comparative fault or other defenses to liability.
The parties engage in discovery. Discovery is exchanging information and evidence between the plaintiff and the defendant. The parties may also continue to investigate the case by taking depositions of witnesses and experts.
After the discovery phase, the parties may try to settle the case. Settlement negotiations may continue until a jury returns a verdict.
The parties may file pre-trial motions to ask for decisions related to evidence and other questions of law.
Trial and Verdict
At the trial, both parties present their case. The plaintiff has the burden of proving their case. Most personal injury claims involve negligence. The legal elements of negligence are:
The jurors listen to both sides, discuss the case privately, and return a verdict. If either party disagrees with the verdict, they may appeal the decision.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit does not guarantee a successful outcome. Jurors are unpredictable. Even a strong case might not turn out as you hope.
For that reason, your lawyer discusses the pros and cons of filing a personal injury lawsuit based on the specific factors affecting your case. It could be wiser to accept a settlement offer than risk going to court depending on the facts. Therefore, it is crucial you discuss all legal options with an experienced and skilled trial lawyer.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation
If you are considering filing a claim or lawsuit, it is wise to speak with a lawyer before proceeding. Contact a personal injury lawyer today to help assist with your case.