What is the Difference Between a Personal Injury Claim and a Lawsuit?

A personal injury claim and a lawsuit are really just two ways to recover compensation for damages or injuries which are a direct result of someone’s negligence. A personal injury claim is resolved without any formal legal action being taken. It is an informal process, resolved through negotiations between the parties, who may or may not have legal representation. The claim is closed when the parties have reached a settlement.

A lawsuit is a formal legal action that begins when the plaintiff (the person suing) files a Complaint and Summons with the Court Clerk and properly serves the defendant (the person being sued.) The Complaint alleges the defendant’s wrongful actions, describes the plaintiff’s injuries and asks for damages This is a formal process that is resolved when the Court rules on the allegations set forth in the Complaint.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these processes.

The Claims Process

If you have been injured or suffered damages as a result of someone else’s negligence, you have a personal injury “claim” and can seek compensation from the responsible party or parties. The “claim” is for financial compensation of damages from the party who caused the accident. If the person who caused the accident has insurance coverage, such as car insurance, general liability insurance, or even homeowner’s insurance, the insurance company could be liable to pay the compensation you are owed.

In order to recover that compensation, a claim must be submitted to the insurance company. This is the beginning of the personal injury claim process.

The claims process concludes when the parties agree on the resolution of each issue set forth in the Demand Letter. This is documented in the Settlement Agreement and signed by all parties. By signing the Settlement Agreement, the claimant releases the other party from any further liability. If you discover additional injuries or damages after signing the settlement agreement, you are prohibited from demanding any additional compensation.

Almost all personal injury claims are settled directly with the at-fault party or its insurance provider. However, if you cannot agree to a settlement amount or liability for the claim is disputed, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit.

The Lawsuit

A personal injury lawsuit is a legal proceeding in civil court. When you file a lawsuit, you must prove the legal elements of negligence to win the case. You must provide evidence that convinces a judge or jury:

After the plaintiff has filed the Complaint and served the defendant, the defendant has a certain amount of time to file their Answer to the Complaint. In their Answer, they must admit or deny the allegations in the Complaint. The defendant also sets forth any legal defenses they believe they have against the allegations.

After the Answer has been filed, the parties begin the Discovery phase. The parties exchange documents and other relevant information regarding the issues in the lawsuit. Discovery can take place through (a) Interrogatories, which are written questions to be answered under oath, (b) a Request for Documents, and/or (c) Depositions, which are sworn statements of witnesses. All of the information gathered during Discovery is used to determine if the case should be settled or to prepare for arbitration, mediation or trial.

If the case is not resolved by some form of settlement, it will go to trial.


Very few personal injury claims result in a trial, only about four to five percent, will actually go before a judge or jury. Most cases are settled through negotiations between the parties outside the courtroom. But when the parties are not able to settle the matter, a trial is the next step. Your attorney will guide you through the decision process of whether to have a jury trial or a bench trial. A bench trial is when the case is heard and decided by only a judge – there is no jury. Here are a few things to consider:

Jury trial: Jurors have more compassion than judges and can be more susceptible to being influenced by emotional arguments. Jurors also tend to be less concerned with technical details and make a decision based on who they believe should win under the circumstances. Jury trials also tend to take longer.

Bench trial: Judges are unbiased and have a full understanding of the law. It is their responsibility to put their personal feelings aside and only look at the facts of the case. As a result, judge trials usually take less time and can be less expensive.

In both a jury and bench trial, the attorneys will present their evidence and arguments to support their side of the lawsuit. The judge or jury will weigh the arguments from both sides to determine whether compensation should be awarded.

Either party has the right to appeal the trial court’s decision.

While it is possible to represent yourself in a lawsuit, it is not recommended. Having an expert in personal injury law will increase your chances of winning your case and receiving the appropriate compensation.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident because of someone else’s negligence, then you should take the appropriate steps to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. Contact a trusted, respectable personal injury attorney today.

For over 60 years our firm has been successfully helping people who have been injured due to someone else’s carelessness. We have been nationally ranked for decades by US News and World Reports as a Tier 1 law firm, which is the highest rank that can be received. Sean McQuaid and Jonathon Douglas have dedicated their careers to continuing the firm’s legacy of superior legal representation.

Remember that we never charge a fee unless we win. Call us today so that we may answer your questions, help you navigate the complexities of insurance claims, and recover the compensation that you deserve.

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