Personal injury recoveries are based on tort laws. A tort is conduct that causes injury or harm to another person. The laws allow victims to recover compensation for economic and non-economic damages.
Typically, there are two ways to seek compensation for a personal injury – a claim and a lawsuit. Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. The processes are similar, but there are distinct differences.
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What Is a Personal Injury Claim?
A claim is a set of facts that creates an enforceable right in court. In other words, you must prove that the other party is responsible for causing your injuries to recover compensation for damages.
Claims usually refer to insurance claims instead of lawsuits. You might file an insurance claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. The insurance company investigates your claim to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish liability.
If the insurance company accepts liability for the claim, it makes a settlement offer. You can accept the settlement offer or make a counteroffer to negotiate a higher settlement amount.
Once you accept the settlement offer and sign the settlement agreement, you release the company, the party who injured you, and all other parties from further liability. In other words, you cannot sue the parties for more money even if you discover additional damages.
Insurance companies routinely undervalue claims to save money. Therefore, unless you have a thorough understanding of the types of damages you can receive and the value of those damages, it is best to consult an injury lawyer before accepting a settlement offer from an insurance company.
What Are the Advantages of Filing a Claim Instead of a Lawsuit?
Most personal injury cases settle through negotiations with the insurance company or the party who caused the injury. Settling a claim instead of filing a lawsuit can:
- Be quicker than filing a lawsuit and going to court
- Reduce the costs of pursuing the claim
- Lower the amount of attorney’s fees
If the insurance company or the at-fault party refuses to accept liability or negotiate a fair settlement amount, you might need to file a lawsuit.
Another reason to file a lawsuit is to avoid the statute of limitations for your claim. The California statute of limitations sets deadlines for filing lawsuits. If you do not file your lawsuit before the statute expires, you lose your right to pursue a claim in court.
Therefore, if the insurance company delays the claim, filing a lawsuit might be the only way to seek compensation for an accident or personal injury.
What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
A lawsuit is a legal action filed in civil court. The injured party is the plaintiff. The party who caused the injury is the defendant.
If the defendant has insurance coverage, the insurance company typically hires a defense attorney to represent the defendant in court. Even though you file a lawsuit, you can still settle the claim before the matter goes to trial.
If the matter goes to trial, each side presents its case to the jury. The jurors are the triers of fact. They decide whether the plaintiff has met the burden of proof.
In a civil case, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, which is not quite as high as beyond a reasonable doubt. So you only need to convince the jurors that there is more than a 50% chance that the allegations you claim against the defendant are true.
Most personal injury lawsuits are based on negligence. Therefore, you would need to prove:
- The defendant owed you a legal duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care through their acts or omissions
- The breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries
- You sustained damages because of the defendant’s breach of duty
If the jurors find in your favor, they award you a sum for damages. The defendant could appeal the decision if they have legal grounds for appeal.
Why Not File a Lawsuit Instead of a Claim?
Filing a lawsuit has some disadvantages, such as:
- Lawsuits generally take longer to resolve than claims
- The legal expenses of filing a lawsuit are higher
- You are not guaranteed a specific outcome as jurors are unpredictable
- Your case is decided by a jury instead of by you
However, filing a lawsuit can have certain advantages. For example, you might recover punitive damages in a lawsuit you would not receive by filing a claim. There is also the potential that you could receive a higher damages award from the jury than the settlement offer from the insurance company.
An experienced personal injury lawyer analyzes the facts, evidence, and circumstances of the case to assess whether it is in your best interest to accept a settlement offer or file a lawsuit.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation With Our Personal Injury Lawyers
We want to help you recover compensation for your injuries and damages. Call Petrov Law Firm at (760) 813-3313 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney in Vista, CA.