Many people have heard of the legal terms “claim” and “lawsuit”. In fact, it’s safe to say that most people understand what these two terms mean in the broad legal sense. However, very few people understand the true difference between these terms as they relate to Florida’s personal injury law.
Understanding the difference between a claim and a lawsuit is very important when deciding how to proceed in a Florida personal injury case.
What is a Personal Injury Claim?
Typically, when a person is injured in an accident, they may file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party or their insurance company. Most often, the injured person files this claim with the other person’s insurance company. The injury victim must explain and prove that the other person is responsible for the injuries and damages that they suffered.
The insurance company will review the claim. A person working for the insurance company called an adjuster may accept the injured person’s claim as it was submitted, make a counter-offer (i.e., offer a lower amount), or reject the person’s claim. Many times, this process is referred to as “settling” your claim. A personal injury lawyer usually represents the injured person in this process in order to work with the adjuster and negotiate the outcome of the claim.
Submitting a claim may be a good idea for several reasons. First, negotiating with the insurance company can save the injured person significant amounts of money by avoiding the time and expenses of court. Second, it is likely that the injured person will receive their settlement faster. In a settled claim, the money will come from the insurance company much more quickly than having to go through court, deal with a trial, and then collect on a judgment.
Third, settling with the insurance company is less hassle than the time-consuming and stressful court process. Going through court can take more than a year to reach a final resolution. Finally, in a settlement, the injured person will have a better understanding of their claim’s value. In a lawsuit, the injured person doesn’t get to decide what their injuries are worth; the judge or jury will make that decision for them.
Disadvantages of Filing a Claim
However, there are some disadvantages to settling your claim. First, and most importantly, the claim will move at the insurance company’s pace. If the insurance company wants to drag its feet and delay its decision on the claim, the injured person may find themselves in a tough financial position.
Second, the final settlement on the injured person’s claim may not cover all of their expenses. Settling a claim requires negotiation, and sometimes negotiation requires giving something up in exchange for something else. Finally, the insurance company makes the final decision on how much it will compensate the injured person.
If the insurance company decides that the injured person’s injuries are not that severe, the insurance company may offer a low amount in the settlement. This may upend the negotiations and the settlement of the claim, resulting in a lawsuit.
What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
In a personal injury case, a lawsuit is similar to a claim. Just like a claim, the injured party files a lawsuit to recover compensation for their financial and personal injuries. The injured person may file a lawsuit against the other person or their insurance company.
The difference between a lawsuit and a claim is that a lawsuit goes to court. The judge or jury’s decision on the matter is final and binds the parties. Importantly, the injured person may file a lawsuit against the insurance company even if they initially tried to negotiate with the insurance company.
Filing a lawsuit may have some advantages over filing a claim. First, the injured party will not be beholden to the insurance company for a settlement amount. Instead, an independent and neutral judge or jury will hear the case and make a decision, including awarding damages.
Second, it is possible that the judge or jury awards an amount to the injured party that is more than the settlement amount offered by the insurance company.
Unlike a negotiation that may require the injured party to give away part of their claim, the judge or jury may consider all of the damages and award them to the injured party. Finally, the judge or jury may award additional damages if the other party’s actions were egregious. For example, the judge or jury may award punitive damages if the other party acted with gross negligence, recklessly, or purposefully.
Disadvantages of a Lawsuit
While the outcome of a lawsuit may sound good, lawsuits certainly have downsides. First, lawsuits can take a long time to resolve. While claims can usually be finalized relatively quickly, lawsuits can take over a year to resolve.
Second, lawsuits are expensive. Attorney fees and court costs are not cheap, and they can add up quickly during a long lawsuit. Finally, unlike a claim, there is no set outcome in a lawsuit. With a claim, the parties negotiate the settlement. In a lawsuit, however, the judge or jury may award everything (or even more) or potentially nothing if the injured person does not prove their case.
Contact a Personal Injury for Your Claim or Lawsuit
Now, you know the difference between a claim and a lawsuit. However, you may wonder which is best after your accident — or whether you can file both. You may have a right to a claim or lawsuit after a car accident, slip and fall, or another personal injury.
A personal injury attorney can help you evaluate your options and pursue maximum compensation for your claim. Contact an attorney today for a free consultation.