What is the Difference Between a Claim and a Lawsuit?

Legal terminology can be complicated for anyone without a background in law, which is why there is often confusion over what happens after someone is hurt in a personal injury accident. Even if you know that you have options to recover compensation for the party responsible for causing your injuries, exercising your legal rights does not always mean going to court. You may be able to obtain monetary damages, including medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering, through a settlement. 

This scenario and other details often lead people to misunderstand the difference between a “claim” and a “lawsuit.” In short, these two terms describe two distinct – yet potentially overlapping – stages of the legal process. You can learn the specifics by speaking to a Miami personal injury lawyer, but an overview of claims versus lawsuits may be helpful.

Claims Involve Insurance Companies

When you are hurt in an auto accident because of another driver’s negligence, your first step is filing a claim with his or her insurance company. All Florida motorists are required to carry minimum insurance policies to cover their losses in such a situation. In general, the claims process involves:

  • Investigating the circumstances behind the crash;
  • Preparing and submitting claims forms to the insurance company, along with all supporting documents; and,
  • Drafting a demand letter, in which you describe how the other motorist was at fault, the nature of your injuries, and the amount you seek to cover your losses.

It is rare that you would immediately receive the exact amount you request in your demand letter; instead you will enter into negotiations with the insurance adjuster. The objective is to reach an agreement to resolve your claim through a fair, reasonable settlement. If the adjuster refuses to pay an amount that is sufficient to cover your losses, you may need to file a case in court.

Lawsuits Proceed in Court

The claims process involves exchanging documents and negotiations, but these matters take place in private. You have not initiated litigation until you file the essential paperwork in court, typically through a complaint and summons. Your claim may still be pending with the insurance company, so you can continue to attempt settlement – which is where there is the potential for overlap.

However, the term lawsuit is important for one key reason: the Florida statute of limitations. You must sue within four years after the accident in which you were injured. Going through the claims process with an insurance company does NOT affect this time restriction, which could lead to a loss of your rights if it expires.

Get More Information From a Miami Personal Injury Attorney

As you can see, the terms “claim” and “lawsuit” are not interchangeable and represent different phases of an accident case. The distinction is an important one, especially as it pertains to the Florida statute of limitations. Our team at Gerson & Schwartz, PA can explain in more detail, but you can rest assured we are tackling all the legal issues that arise in personal injury matters. To learn more about our legal services, please contact our offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, FL to schedule a free consultation.

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