Claim vs. Lawsuit: What’s the Difference?
Although they are often used interchangeably, the terms “claim” and “lawsuit” have different definitions. The term claim itself has multiple meanings.
What is a Claim in General?
A party has a claim when another party injures them. The injured person may request damages from the at-fault party, thereby making their claim.
For example, assume Karen is your neighbor. One morning she calls you and asks if you can help move a couch from her family room to the living room. You go over and help her lift the couch. As you’re carrying the sofa through the hallway to the living room, you slip on an area rug in the hallway. You drop the couch and fall, breaking your arm.
Karen is apologetic, saying, “I’m so sorry, I don’t know how many times I’ve slipped on that rug.”
Karen may be at fault for your injuries since she failed to remedy or warn you of a slipping hazard she knew existed. You can ask her for damages by making a claim.
Like many homeowners, Karen has homeowner’s insurance. You know she doesn’t have much money. So, you decide to ask her insurance company for damages related to your broken arm. This is an insurance claim.
Requests from insurance companies are a major type of claim in personal injury cases. In many instances, you will deal with the insurance company for a party that injured your rather than the party themselves. For example, if someone injures you in a car accident, you will typically make a claim for damages through their auto insurer.
Claim With Litigation
Insurance claims are often resolved without any formal legal action being taken. The insurance company typically assigns an adjuster to your claim. They will assess your damages and offer you a settlement to compensate you for your losses. Your acceptance of the offer will release the insurer and at-fault party from liability for your accident.
However, sometimes insurance companies are unreasonable and refuse to compensate you fairly for your injuries. After all, they don’t make money by paying injury claims. Your next option is to file a lawsuit with a personal injury claim.
Under Florida law, your claim will set forth “a short and plain statement” of why you are entitled to relief and a demand for the type of relief you seek.
What is a Lawsuit?
A lawsuit is a legal process in which you present your claim or claims to a court to resolve. Lawsuits generally consist of pleadings, motions, discovery, dispute resolution, and ultimately trial.
Pleadings and Motion to Dismiss
The lawsuit is initiated when the plaintiff files a complaint. This complaint alleges the defendant’s wrongful actions, describes the plaintiff’s injuries, and asks for damages. The defendant may reply with a motion to dismiss, alleging the complaint fails to state they did anything wrong. Then, they file an answer, which often denies the plaintiff’s allegations.
It’s not possible to litigate a case without information and evidence. So, parties to a lawsuit engage in a process called “discovery” to obtain relevant information from each other.
Discovery usually begins with “interrogatories.” These are written questions each party sends to the other. Each question requires an answer under oath or an objection to the interrogatory based on valid legal grounds.
A party might also use “requests for admission.” These ask the other party, for purposes of the trial, to admit the truth of a fact. This tool saves everyone’s time by avoiding unnecessary litigation on undisputed facts.
Requests for production are also common. These request that other parties or non-parties provide documents and other items for inspection.
Depositions are another important discovery tool. In this procedure, one party asks the other party questions under oath. These are usually conducted after other means of discovery have provided the parties with some initial information.
Florida public policy encourages the parties to settle their disputes before trial. Accordingly, the parties usually engage in informal settlement discussions before trial. More formal options include voluntary mediation, court-mandated mediation, non-binding arbitration, or binding arbitration. Mediation or binding arbitration is required in medical malpractice claims.
Only three or four percent of lawsuits end up in trial.
Trials consist of the following general stages:
- Jury selection. Six or twelve jury members are chosen.
- Opening statements. Each side makes an opening statement, which provides a roadmap for the jury. Good opening statements have a theme that sets the tone for the presentation of the case.
- Presentation of evidence. After opening arguments, each side presents their case. The plaintiff goes first and presents the jury with physical, documentary, demonstrative, and testimonial evidence. Experts may be used when necessary.
- Closing arguments. Each side gives a closing argument. The plaintiff goes first, then the defendant, and then the plaintiff may be allowed to give a rebuttal argument.
- Jury verdict. Everyone waits for a verdict. It can take minutes to several days.
The losing party may file an appeal if they feel the judge made an error in the law.
Do You Need Legal Help with Your Claim?
If you’re injured and another party is at fault, you may be entitled to a claim for compensation. Consider hiring an experienced personal injury attorney to help you, regardless of whether your claim is informal or part of a complaint in a lawsuit.