The difference between a “Claim” and a “Lawsuit”
Many of the people who seek help from the attorneys at our firm are facing a situation that they’ve never been in before. They’ve been in an accident. They’re injured. Some of them have already been in contact with insurance company representatives; people trained in tactics to help save the company that they work for money. They’ve come to realize that if they’re going to be treated fairly, they need the help of someone who knows the system that they unfortunately find themselves in.
One of our first jobs as personal injury attorneys is to help our clients feel at ease by explaining the process to them. It’s a common misconception that retaining an attorney is synonymous with filing a lawsuit. In fact, in the beginning stages of a personal injury case, the court system is not involved in the process. Before the courts become involved, there is often a period of negotiation that takes place. We call this the “claim” stage. While our clients undergo medical treatment and focus on getting better, we deal with insurance company representatives on their behalf. We thwart their attempts to minimize our clients’ injuries, or assign blame to them. We do all in our power to ensure that our clients are treated fairly and justly.
However, sometimes these negotiations break down. Insurance companies know that if they simply stick to their guns and refuse to offer a fair amount, our clients’ only recourse is to file a lawsuit. That means submitting paperwork at the local courthouse to initiate formal legal proceedings.
When is the right time to file a lawsuit?
The “right” time to file a lawsuit is different in every case. It’s often difficult to know the extent of our client’s injuries until their doctors have determined that they’ve reached “maximum medical improvement.” This basically means that there is nothing more that a physician can do to permanently improve the client’s medical state. Once a client reaches maximum medical improvement, we can get a more accurate sense of their past and future damages. We consult with our clients and use the knowledge that comes from years of experience to make a monetary demand to the at-fault party or their insurer. It may seem crass to boil physical pain down to a dollar figure. When posed the question “would you rather be completely healed, or receive a sum of money,” most would chose to be healed. The unfortunate reality is that money is the only viable form of relief that is available to someone who is injured due to someone else’s negligence.
We often begin to consider a lawsuit as the result of an impasse in negotiations. The insurance company has offered as much as they’re willing to offer, and our client is left to decide whether or not the amount offered is an amount they’re willing to accept. If we feel that the insurance company is not making an offer that fairly compensates our client for the injuries they sustained, we often recommend filing a lawsuit. However, the final decision to file or not file suit ultimately rests with our clients.
What will happen after a lawsuit is filed?
Before a lawsuit is filed, our clients’ responsibilities are limited. We take care of dealing with the legal matters and negotiations so that our clients can concentrate on treating and getting better. However, the filing of a lawsuit triggers the beginning of a process known as “discovery.” Discovery allows each party to a lawsuit to obtain evidence from the other party by means of legal requests. Common discovery devices include interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and depositions. Soon after the filing of a lawsuit, our clients can expect that an attorney working for the opposing party will use these devices in an attempt to gather information.
Interrogatories are sets of written questions sent from one party to a lawsuit to another. The party who receives a set of interrogatories is required to answer the questions within a certain period of time. The interrogatories are signed and sworn to by the party answering them, and may be relied upon to clarify facts relevant to the lawsuit as the case progresses.
Requests for production
A request for production is a legal request for documents and other tangible items. The request is sent from one party to another and the receiving party must provide copies of the requested materials within a specified timeframe. The materials requested must in some way pertain to the subject matter of the lawsuit.
Requests for admissions
A request for admissions is a list of statements prepared by one party to a lawsuit and sent to another. The receiving party is called upon to either admit or deny each statement. The intended purpose of the request is to reduce the number of issues that are in dispute in the lawsuit. If the receiving party does not respond to the request within a timely manner, all of the statements in the request are deemed admitted.
A deposition is a legal process by which an attorney representing a party in a lawsuit can require sworn testimony from a person with the relevant information concerning the lawsuit. This is typically done face-to-face, where an attorney is asking questions directly of the person who they are deposing. Depositions are conducted outside of court and are recorded so that the testimony can be preserved in the form of a written transcript. The information gathered during depositions gives all parties to the lawsuit a fair preview of the testimony that may be provided by the deposed witness.
Answering the discovery requests outlined above can be a difficult and confusing process. However the attorneys of our firm are experienced and skilled in handling such matters. We provide our clients with assistance during every step of the process. We assist in preparing answers to each request, make sure that they are answered in a timely manner, and stop opposing counsel from overreaching in their requests. Requests that are deemed improper can be objected to and brought before a judge for consideration.
Insurance companies know that some people will not be willing to go forward with filing a lawsuit because filing a lawsuit takes time, energy, and money. Although answering the requests does require client involvement, we take steps to make the process run as smoothly as possible. In personal injury cases, we pay all costs associated with the lawsuit while the case is pending on our clients’ behalf. Should we fail to make a recovery for our client, they bear no responsibility for repaying those costs to us.
It’s our hope that our clients’ claims are resolved without the need to file a lawsuit. However, should we feel that someone we represent is not being dealt with fairly, we are always willing to take that step on their behalf and fight for the justice they deserve.