Filing an insurance claim and filing a lawsuit to obtain compensation after your auto crash are two distinct processes that are often connected. It is important that you understand the differences so you follow the best approach. This will also ensure that you do not miss important deadlines that apply to your car wreck case.
What Does it Mean to File a Claim?
Filing a claim is the process of working directly with the negligent driver’s insurance company for compensation for your property and personal injuries. No legal document is filed with a court, and there is no judge overseeing the process or scheduling a trial. It is an informal settlement process which usually starts with your attorney writing a demand letter to the insurance company advising them of your claim and the amount of compensation you are entitled to. Documentation supporting your claim is usually included with the letter. An insurance adjuster will investigate your claim, and hopefully your attorney will be able to negotiate a settlement for you without the need to file a lawsuit.
How Is a Lawsuit Different?
Most people start out by filing a claim and only file a lawsuit if they cannot reach a fair settlement with the negligent driver’s insurance company. In addition, filing a lawsuit could be essential if the statute of limitations is about to expire. The statute of limitations is the time period you have under Georgia law to sue the negligent driver. You have two years from the date of the accident to sue for personal injuries and four years for property damages. If you fail to file your lawsuit within this time period, you waive your right to do so.
A lawsuit is a formal legal document that is filed with the court where the negligent driver lives. A judge is assigned to your case. He decides disputed issues, schedules various hearings in your case to keep it progressing along, and oversees your jury trial if you are unable to settle your case. Here are some basic steps in a lawsuit:
- You file a complaint against the negligent driver in court asking that he be ordered to pay you a certain amount of compensation.
- The court issues a summons ordering the driver to answer your complaint.
- Your attorney hires a process server to personally deliver the summons and complaint to the negligent driver.
- The negligent driver has a certain number of days—usually around three weeks—to file an answer to the complaint with the court and send a copy of it to your attorney.
- Your attorney and the attorney for the negligent driver and his insurance company conduct discovery, which can be sending questions and requests for documents and depositions where you and the negligent driver are asked questions about the accident that are recorded.
- Your attorney will continue trying to settle your claim with the attorney for the other side. Most cases settle before trial. If yours is settled, a formal settlement agreement will be filed with the court.
- If you are unable to settle your case, it will be scheduled for a jury trial where a jury will decide what you are owed.
Whether you need to file a claim or a lawsuit, you need an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation to learn which option is best for you.