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Today’s article discusses the difference between a personal injury claim and a personal injury lawsuit and why it matters to you. 

A lot of the time, lawyers, doctors, insurance adjusters, and other people use the terms insurance claim, legal claim, lawsuit, or even legal case, somewhat interchangeably. 

When a friend or family member asks you, “Hey, what’s going on with your case?”

They aren’t usually using the term case in a precise manner. They just want to know if you’re getting any closer to getting paid. 

Let’s first start with the formal legal process, because understanding that, it’ll help you understand what it means to file a lawsuit, and why that’s important. 

Legal Process Of A Personal Injury Claim

So, a personal injury lawsuit is a kind of civil lawsuit, and a civil lawsuit is a very particular thing. To say that you’re involved in a lawsuit, or a legal case, means that you’ve done two very specific things. 

  1. You’ve filed something called a complaint for damages in your court clerk’s office.
  2. You’ve served or delivered that paperwork to the other side, by a sheriff or a process server. Or, in legal speak, completed “service of process.”

Those two acts together are the formal beginning of a lawsuit. 

And sometimes lawyers will refer to that lawsuit as litigation or the legal case. 

Now, the important thing to remember is this: if you or your lawyer did not do both of those things I just mentioned, then you do not have a lawsuit. 

Statute Of Limitations

If you don’t start your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you lose the right to bring that lawsuit forever. The statutes of limitations differ from state to state, and also depend on the kind of case that you’re bringing. 

For example, for most car crashes in New York or Vermont, you must file your case within three years from the date of the accident. 

Insurance Claims vs Lawsuits

If you and your lawyer are working with an insurance company to settle your case, but you didn’t start a lawsuit the way I just described it, then what you have is an insurance claim. 

There are many different kinds of insurance claims. 

In the personal injury world, we have no-fault claims, medical payments coverage claims, and property damage claims, in addition to bodily injury claims to name just a few. 

But the most important kind for our purposes today is the bodily injury or liability claim. 

This is the kind of claim that arises when somebody is negligent and their insurance company must pay you money as the injured person. 

Unlike a lawsuit, there are fewer formalities to starting an insurance claim. It involves providing insurance companies with certain information within a specific timeframe. 

Difference Between Insurance Claims And Lawsuits 

Insurance claims and a lawsuit are different but related, there are some unusual things to be aware of:

  1. An insurance claim may exist before a lawsuit is filed and may continue to exist even after a lawsuit is filed. 
  2. You don’t need to file a lawsuit to have an insurance claim for personal injury, but the statute of limitations still applies.
  3. You could settle your insurance claim and never file a lawsuit. This is what happens most of the time.

Those are the basic differences to be aware of when thinking about lawsuits versus insurance claims. Make sure you don’t miss the statute of limitations and talk to a local personal injury lawyer if you have any questions.