Are you confused about the difference between a “claim” and a “lawsuit?” Many people use these terms interchangeably. However, each term actually has its own legal definition.
While it may not matter in everyday conversation, it is important to understand the difference when it comes to your personal injury case – especially when you are speaking with your lawyer.
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What Is a Claim?
A claim is an enforceable right in court, also called a cause of action. When it comes to personal injury cases, a claim usually arises when someone is hurt because of another’s negligence. The injured person has a legally enforceable right to recover damages from the negligent party.
For example, if you are injured in a car accident because another vehicle was speeding out of control, you may have a personal injury claim against the other driver. That means you can ask the other driver, or their insurance company, to pay for the cost of your damages.
Another example is a medical malpractice case. If you are hurt when a surgeon makes a mistake during surgery, you may have a medical malpractice claim against the doctor or the hospital. You can pursue this claim via medical malpractice insurance.
Types of Personal Injury Claims
You can “claim” your legal rights in many different ways. In fact, just because a claim is based on a legally enforceable right doesn’t mean you ever need to step foot in a courtroom.
Many cases are resolved outside of the courtroom through the insurance claim process. This is when you file an insurance claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
The claim goes through insurance, and you generally speak with an insurance adjuster who investigates the claim. There is a period of negotiation where you and the insurance company go back and forth with offers and counter-offers. If you can agree, the claim will be resolved without court intervention.
Some of the most common bases for personal injury claims include:
- Car accidents
- Truck crashes
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Slip and fall accidents
- Dog bites
However, you can make a claim anytime you are hurt because of someone else’s negligence.
What Is a Lawsuit?
A lawsuit arises when a claim is formally filed in court. Unlike an out-of-court claim, a lawsuit has a specific procedure and series of steps that one must follow before the matter is resolved.
Furthermore, the plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence to the judge or jury. This means producing evidence that convinces them that the defendant was more likely than not negligent.
Steps in a Georgia Personal Injury Lawsuit
There are several different steps in a personal injury lawsuit. Unlike claims that are resolved out of court, there is rarely an opportunity to skip steps in a lawsuit. Once you file a lawsuit, you are at the mercy of the court and must follow the appropriate procedure.
The basic timeline for a personal injury lawsuit is:
- The plaintiff files a complaint with the court stating the basis for their claim and gives notice of the lawsuit to the defendant.
- The defendant responds to the complaint by either admitting or denying responsibility and asserting affirmative defenses.
- The parties move through the discovery phase, where they share evidence, take depositions and interrogatories, and request the production of documents from one another.
- The parties negotiate outside of court to see if they can come to a settlement agreement and avoid a trial.
- If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a trial date is set, and both sides prepare for trial.
- Both parties have a chance to file and argue pretrial motions before the court.
- The trial occurs and includes jury selection, witness testimony, and oral arguments.
- The judge or jury decides if the defendant is responsible and, if so, the amount of damages.
If a personal injury case is complex, it may take years to resolve or go to trial. More straightforward cases can be over in as little as a few months. However, it is usually in the interest of both parties to avoid a trial, if possible. A trial is time-consuming and riskier for both sides.
When Does a Personal Injury Claim Become a Lawsuit?
A claim becomes a lawsuit when it isn’t resolved outside of court, and the plaintiff asks for court intervention to enforce their rights. Usually, the parties can settle through insurance or their lawyers without filing a lawsuit.
However, sometimes a defendant denies responsibility or refuses to pay the full damages. An insurance company may refuse to pay out a policy or the total amount. In these cases, the plaintiff can file a personal injury lawsuit based on their legal claim. That starts the process of litigation.
If you can’t reach an agreement outside of court, it is best to consult a personal injury lawyer to help you file the lawsuit. You may consider hiring a lawyer to help resolve the claim without the need to go to court.