While T.V. crime and legal dramas would have you believe otherwise, disputes often don’t begin with a trial, jury selection or even the filing of a legal action. In reality, there are multiple ways to enforce your legal rights before proceeding to litigation. In the event of an accident, making a claim is often the first, and sometimes necessary step to litigating your case in a court of law. And in car wreck cases when you have underinsured motorist coverage, filing a claim and notifying your own auto insurance carrier early on can save you legal trouble later on. Here we break down the differences between claims and lawsuits and how they can impact your ability to be made whole after accident or injury.
What is a Claim?
When you file a claim, you are informing an insurer that you intend to seek compensation for injury or damage caused as a result of an accident or other event. If you are represented by a personal injury lawyer, having them file the claim will also let the insurer know that you have legal counsel and that any contact or questions must first go through them. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may not need to prove that the party whom the insurer covers was at fault to initiate the claim process. Depending on the circumstances, you may also file a claim with your own insurance carrier.
The Claims Process
The claims process will begin with either yourself or your attorney contacting the insurer. Typically, this is done via a certified letter. The letter will state your intent to seek recovery of any damages incurred because of the incident and will also ask details such as policy limits and what documentation is required for the insurance agency to process the claim. During the claim process, yourself or your attorney will correspond with the insurer providing proof of injury, details that lead up to the accident or injury, police reports and a dollar amount of damages occurred such as medical bills or estimated cost of repairs. The insurer will gather this information and will often hire their own outside appraisers and other professionals to provide an independent analysis.
When Is a Lawsuit Filed?
In some cases, a claim will be settled to the mutual satisfaction of the insurer and claimant and a check will be issued for final payment. In many cases you should file a lawsuit and skip the “claim negotiation” altogether. Sometime when a settlement amount can’t be agreed upon, or when an insurer denies a claim altogether, a lawsuit will need to be filed. In some jurisdictions, filing a claim is required before a lawsuit can proceed.
During a lawsuit, you engage in discovery. Each side gets to ask questions, take depositions, examine evidence, and build a case. This evidence will then be reviewed by a neutral party, either a 12 person jury or trial judge which is called a bench trial, who will then make a final decision regarding liability and damages, or money to be paid. During the lawsuit, the parties may still come to an agreement and settle the dispute out of court.
During both the claim and lawsuit process you may have specific questions regarding the various proceedings or legal requirements. Whether a claim or a lawsuit, if you have been injured or have incurred damage you have the right to speak to an attorney regarding your legal rights.