After being injured in an accident, many are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what to do next and how to approach the insurance company. Should I hire an attorney? Do I file a claim or a lawsuit? What’s the difference between the two?
While the two options do share some similarities, each legal action has distinctively unique differences. Understanding these differences can better help determine if a personal injury claim or personal injury lawsuit is more viable for your particular situation.
Defining a Personal Injury Claim
Regarding a claim, a demand letter is sent from one party to another demanding compensation. It is submitted from a victim to an at-fault party following an accident. A claim is meant to compensate victims for damages or injuries stemming from an accident. The receiving party can choose to accept or reject the claim. They can also negotiate a lower settlement amount.
Depending on damages from the car crash, a claimant may be willing to settle early during the claims process. However, it’s critical to rigorously consider if a fair settlement offer is being presented. The offer should account for all accrued costs and loss of income, like medical expenses to treat serious injuries and time missed from not working.
Defining a Personal Injury Lawsuit
In a personal injury case, a lawsuit is a legal action that involves the victim, referred to as the plaintiff, and the at-fault party, referred to as the defendant. During the personal injury lawsuit process, the plaintiff can sue the defendant for compensation.
The biggest difference between a claim and a lawsuit is that the defendant does not have the option to reject the decision that is made. Instead, the case is presented in a local court and decided by a jury verdict. Because the legal process for a lawsuit can be more complex than the claims process, it can be more difficult for a victim to recover compensation. Often, this is why a claimant will choose to work with a personal injury lawyer.
Understanding the Processes with the Insurance Company
Personal injury laws vary from state to state. Per the statute of limitations, California state laws allow accident victims to pursue legal action within a two-year span. This means that injured victims in Westminster have two years from the date of the accident to begin the claims process or file a lawsuit. Each action will carry out its own set of procedures.
Filing a Claim
After an accident, a victim has the option to notify the insurance company and file a claim. It is best to file a claim immediately. However, the victim will also need to have a clear assessment of the damages, injuries, as well as the cost of other losses, which can take time. Once an insurance adjuster receives the claim, the accident case will be investigated. This is done by the other party to determine their own case value.
It is likely that the insurance companies will offer a significantly reduced settlement, as they do not always negotiate fairly. Therefore, victims have the option to accept or reject a proposed settlement offer with the insurance company. They also have the option to counteroffer, which is ideal. Once an offer is accepted and signed off, further legal action related to that particular accident can no longer be pursued. If an ideal settlement cannot be agreed upon, the claimant can file a lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit
Lawsuits are the next step in the legal process. Oftentimes, victims will choose to file a suit because their accident claim was denied or the insurance company was not making fair negotiation offers.
If the victim chooses to file a lawsuit, the courts receive it and notify the other party (defendant). At this stage, the defendant can request to go back to negotiations and settle the case out of court while involving a:
- Mediator – An impartial third party joins a mediation to assist in finding a resolution
- Arbitrator – Another neutral third party who is brought in to find a resolution, as well; however, the arbitrator decides the outcome
The defendant can also file a response to the claim and proceed with litigation. This is when the case goes to court. During litigation, the plaintiff and the defendant present their cases to a judge and jury. Then, the outcome and how much should or should not be awarded is based on the jury’s verdict.
Pros and Cons: Claims vs. Lawsuits
Resolving a claim outside of court saves victims money and time, as they will not have to worry about court fees and they will likely receive compensation from the insurance company much sooner than they would have if a lawsuit was filed instead.
The disadvantage to filing a claim is that victims will have to put up with difficult insurance adjusters, going back and forth with taxing negotiations. Additionally, the insurance company
gets to make the final offer, and it is typically a much lesser amount than what was originally proposed by the victim.
The benefits of filing a lawsuit are that the outcome is decided by a neutral party, making the process fairer. Also, victims may recover more compensation than what was anticipated, so they will have more funds to cover any accrued expenses that resulted from the accident.
The primary negative of a lawsuit is the turnaround time. Litigating a case can take years before a verdict is reached. Also, after a monetary award has been established, it can take additional time to receive payment from the insurance company.
Legal Guidance From Experienced Westminster Car Accident Lawyers
Whether it’s a claim or a lawsuit, the intricacies of each can be complicated. In addition, determining the value of a case is more complex than most realize, meaning that victims could unknowingly undervalue their claim. To prevent this from occurring and in order to protect your legal rights, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney.
If you were injured in a crash that was caused by a negligent party in Westminster, CA or the surrounding Orange County area, it may be in your best interest to consult with a lawyer. West Accident Law Group offers a free case assessment, where we discuss the case, estimate how much it may be worth, and explore the most viable legal actions to take.