If you’ve been injured in an accident that was caused by the negligent actions of another, then you’ve probably been advised by a number of people to take action to regain the losses caused by your injuries. Some are telling you to file a personal injury claim; others are telling you that you need to file a lawsuit. What’s the difference?
First, You Try Filing a Personal Injury Claim
Before you take any action, it would be a good idea to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney first.
In most cases, an attorney will recommend that you begin by filing a personal injury claim with the negligent party’s insurance company asking for compensation for the damages caused by your injuries. For instance, if you were in an automobile accident you would file a claim with the driver’s auto insurance; if you were involved in a premises liability accident at someone’s house, you would file a claim with the owner’s homeowner insurance company.
After a personal injury attorney accepts your case, they will begin investigating the details of your accident to determine its cause. Your attorney may also arrive at a dollar amount to ask for, which would fairly compensate you for your injuries.
They will then submit a claim to the insurance company that includes a demand letter. The demand letter explains how their policyholder was at fault in the accident, the injuries you suffered as a result of the accident, and the dollar amount you are seeking as compensation for your injuries.
Insurance companies almost never agree to the amount requested in the demand letter. They’re in business to make money, and the less they have to pay out in personal injury claims, the bigger their profits. So what happens next is your personal injury attorney negotiates with the insurance company to arrive at a settlement amount that adequately compensates you for your losses.
If That Doesn’t Work, Then File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If negotiations fail, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit in court. A lawsuit is when you ask the state to settle the dispute you have with the person you are suing (the defendant). In a lot of instances, the threat of going to court is enough to force the defendant and their insurance company to negotiate a settlement. That’s because they can’t predict the outcome of the trial. If a jury sympathizes with the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) the case could potentially cost the defendant significantly more than a negotiated settlement.
Another reason insurance companies prefer to settle a claim rather than go to court, is that the details of the negotiations between the two parties are confidential and kept private. In a court trial, much of the evidence becomes public record. Many times there are unsavory details revealed in the evidence presented to the court (such as the fact that the defendant was intoxicated when the accident occurred) that the defendant would rather nobody knew about.
Personal injury attorneys are often reluctant to go to court as well; they can’t control the proceedings any more than the insurance company. There’s always the chance their client could lose their case, no matter how much evidence there is to support it. And like the defendant, there may be details about the accident that the plaintiff would rather keep private as well.
So, should you file a personal injury claim or a lawsuit after being injured in an accident? Generally, you will want to file a claim first. If that doesn’t yield the results you desire, then filing a lawsuit in court may be your only recourse. There are times, however, when filing a lawsuit early in the case is the best course of action. You should always follow the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney who knows best how to advocate for you.
In a personal injury claim, the losses resulting from your injuries are called “damages”, and they are broken down into three categories:
• Compensatory / economic damages – These are losses you can assign a dollar amount to. Medical bills, loss of work, and household expenses are examples of these kinds of damages.
• Non-economic damages – These are losses to compensate you for things like pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and disfigurement or impairment.
• Exemplary / Punitive damages – These are awarded with the intent of punishing the negligent party for intentional or reckless infliction of harm.
Accepting a settlement from an insurance company without speaking to an attorney could prevent you from collecting the total compensation you deserve for your injuries.
It may be very tempting to take the quick money, especially if you are unable to work and you have bills piling up. But if the settlement doesn’t address potential long term needs such as medical bills and work missed because of your injury, a year or two down the line that initial offer may no longer look so good.
If your injury is very minor then you probably don’t need an attorney, but if there is a serious injury or fatality, if you miss work, or if there is a commercial vehicle involved, it is highly recommended that you contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
The shortest answer to this question is that it depends on the complexity of the case.
After your attorney files a personal injury lawsuit, it may take months or even years to reach a settlement agreement or a jury verdict. There is a discovery phase where both sides investigate the claim, and if the case goes to trial the preparation for court can take months as well.
Speak to Lakeland Personal Injury Lawyer Tania Rivas
Tania Rivas is a leading Lakeland personal injury attorney who has represented clients all over Central Florida, from Tampa to Orlando. Tania’s vast legal knowledge and skills allow her to effectively negotiate with the insurance companies to obtain a satisfactory settlement for her clients. If negotiations fail, she’s ready and able to file a lawsuit and argue your case in front of a judge or jury.
If you’ve been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, don’t delay in taking action. There are statutes of limitation that apply. Generally, the sooner Tania gets to work on your case, the better the outcome.
Contact Rivas Law Group to schedule a free initial consultation meeting. Tania will discuss your accident, answer any legal questions you may have and provide honest, professional feedback on the best way to proceed with your case. She can guide you through the process of a personal injury claim or lawsuit and fight for the maximum compensation you’re owed.