After a San Diego car accident, you typically have two options. The first is to file a personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The second is to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and/or their insurer. While many people use the terms “claim” and “lawsuit” interchangeably, they are actually two different processes.
Should you negotiate a claim with an insurer or file a lawsuit? What can you expect from each process? Which option is best for you? When do you need to get additional help? These are all important questions to consider if you need compensation after an accident.
Negotiating a Personal Injury Claim
What is a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury claim is a formal request for an insurance company to compensate you for harm caused by one of their insured drivers. Drivers in California are required to purchase a car insurance policy. Your claim is a request to recover money from that policy.
You are not involving the San Diego courts when you file a personal injury claim. The insurance claims process is a way to privately request and negotiate damages after an accident. It will be up to you and the insurance company, and your attorney if you choose to ask for help, to figure out a settlement privately.
When Should I File a Personal Injury Claim?
In most cases, you’ll file a personal injury claim before resorting to more serious legal action. If it’s clear that the insured driver is to blame, filing a claim can allow you to recover the money you need in a fairly short period of time. If you and the insurer can’t seem to negotiate a settlement, you always have the option of filing a civil lawsuit for damages.
What Should I Expect When I Decide to Negotiate a Personal Injury Claim?
If you’ve been injured by an insured driver, you have the right to file a personal injury claim with their insurance provider. Here’s what you can expect when you decide to request compensation from an insurance company.
- File Your Claim: The first thing you need to do is notify the at-fault driver’s insurance company that there’s been an accident. Many companies require that you file your personal injury claim within a reasonable amount of time after the crash. Some companies even limit the time you have to submit a claim to anywhere between 24 and 72 hours.
- Gather Evidence: Your claim is not your formal demand for compensation. Instead, it just lets the insurer know that you intend to ask for compensation. You’ll submit a formal demand letter to request a specific amount of money. It will be important to supplement your demand with evidence. Take the time after your accident to gather any documents or information that may help your case.
- Receive Reservation of Rights Letter: Once the insurance company receives your claim they will send you a Reservation of Rights letter. This letter acknowledges the claim and explains that the company reserves the right to deny compensation. This letter is not proof that the insurer has accepted liability.
- Submit Formal Demand: You should typically submit your demand letter once you have nearly recovered from your injuries. This will help to make sure that you can best calculate your damages. This letter is your opportunity to explain what happened, show why the other driver is to blame, and demand a specific amount of money. You’ll have to calculate your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are your financial costs, while non-economic damages include things like pain and suffering. Non-economic damages are typically 2 to 5 times the amount of your financial costs.
- Analyze the Insurance Company’s Response: Once the insurer has had the opportunity to review your letter and investigate the case, it will respond to you. They can deny the claim (in full, or in part) or extend a settlement offer. If your claim is denied, you can appeal or file a lawsuit. If you receive an initial offer, you can decide whether or not to accept it. Keep in mind that insurance companies want to minimize the amount of money you get. As a result, it is not uncommon for initial settlement offers to be insultingly low.
- Negotiate a Better Deal: You have the right to accept an offer, deny it altogether, or respond with a counteroffer. A counteroffer is your way of trying to negotiate a better settlement deal. When you counter, be sure to highlight your financial and emotional costs. Include any additional evidence that shows the insured driver is to blame.
- Consider the Company’s Final Offer: You can go back and forth with the insurer a few times. However, at some point they will extend what is known as a final offer. This will be their last settlement offer to you. You will have to decide whether to accept the offer or take additional legal action. If the money is enough to cover your costs, you should consider taking the offer and moving on. However, it’s important to know that accepting an offer can prevent you from getting additional money in the future. You’ll be asked to sign a waiver that prohibits you from filing a lawsuit. If the offer is insufficient, you may want to think about taking more serious legal action. You always have the right to pursue damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil legal action that involves the San Diego court system. Instead of negotiating a settlement privately with an insurer, you decide to take your case to court. If you don’t settle before your matter goes to court, your case will be decided by a judge and jury.
When Should I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
While you do have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit, it is not typically the first course of action. Many accident victims only consider a lawsuit if their attempts to recover compensation directly from the insurer have been unsuccessful. You may want to file a personal injury lawsuit if:
- An insurance company denied your claim without valid justification
- An insurance company refused to extend a fair settlement offer, or
- The cost of your injuries exceeds the maximum amount payable by the insurance company.
Drivers in California must purchase minimum amounts of car insurance coverage. While drivers are encouraged to purchase more than the minimum, many do not. As a result, a driver’s insurance coverage may not be enough to cover the full extent of your injuries. If you’ve suffered one of the following injuries, or lost someone you love in an accident, you may want to consider a lawsuit instead of an informal legal claim:
- Birth injury
- Brain injury
- Burn injury
- Catastrophic injury
- Eye injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Quadriplegia, or
- Wrongful death.
What Should I Expect When I Decide to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Filing a lawsuit can allow you to recover money if an insurance company refuses to extend a fair offer. It is important to understand that a lawsuit will likely be more time-consuming and expensive than negotiating an insurance claim. However, your chances of getting the money you deserve are also better. This is particularly true when you hire an experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer to handle your case. Here’s what you can expect when you file a civil personal injury lawsuit for damages.
- File Your Complaint: The lawsuit process begins when you file your complaint with your local court. The complaint is similar to the demand letter. It explains what happened and why you are seeking damages from the defendant.
- Serve the Defendant: The defendant must be served with a copy of the complaint and related paperwork. Service ensures that a defendant is notified that you have decided to file a lawsuit against them. This gives them the opportunity to file an answer, dispute the allegations, and defend themselves.
- Discovery: Once all complaints and answers have been filed, the court will order discovery. Discovery allows you and the defendant to gather information and evidence that supports each of your cases. It also prevents you from hiding information from each other.
- Negotiations: You’re not prohibited from negotiating with the defendant while your lawsuit is pending. In fact, negotiations are encouraged. Only about 5 percent of civil lawsuits will proceed to trial. If you and the defendant can agree to a settlement, the lawsuit will end. If you can’t see eye-to-eye, your case will go to court.
- Litigation: Litigation means that your case is tried in court before a judge and jury. You and the defendant will each have the opportunity to state your case, present evidence, question witnesses, and persuade the jury. Once the trial has concluded, the jury will decide if you have met your burden of proof. If they believe you have, they will then calculate your damages and decide on an appropriate award. You have the right to negotiate a settlement up until the jury returns with its verdict.
Hiring an Attorney to Help You Get the Money You Deserve
If you’ve been injured because of another driver you have the right to demand compensation. Our attorneys can help, whether you want to negotiate a claim or file a lawsuit. Either process can be stressful and complicated. Hiring our legal team to help you will increase the likelihood of maximizing the financial award you receive.
Call our San Diego personal injury lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We’ll review your case, determine the best strategy for recovering compensation and answer any questions you have. You have a limited amount of time to act, so it’s important to call for help today.