Automobile Accident: Claim vs Lawsuit

Car Accident Lawyer in North Miami

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Automobile Accident Lawyers North Miami

One of the most frequent questions I am asked during initial meetings with new clients is; “how long is my case going to take?” Fair question to which I never have the exact answer. A lot depends on what stage of the case a resolution is reached. Usually at this point in my new client discussion, I explain the difference between making a claim and filing a lawsuit.

Absent a stragic purpose or unusual set of circumstances, my firm usually sends a notice letter to the at-fault party, financially responsible (or vicariously liable) person or entity and their insurance company if known, upon assuming representation. This “notice of representation” letter requests the disclosure of insurance information. Florida has a specific law, Florida Statue 627.4137 that requires insurance companies to disclose information about the existence of insurance coverage.

The “claim” is the presentation of a case to an insurance company or defendant. Following receipt of a representation letter and request for coverage disclosure, an insurance adjuster or third party administrator is usually assigned to the case.

Many times, especially in cases involving automobile accidents, the amount of insurance coverage is not enough to cover the damage or injuries sustained. In these situations, frequently the insurance company will promptly surrender or pay the insurance limits in order to settle or resolve the claim.

Once a relationship is established with a particular insurance adjuster, all correspondence, medical documentation, bills or “specials” are forwarded to this adjuster. In my office, we believe that it is better to send the claims adjuster case materials as they are received rather than waiting until the conclusion of medical care treatment in order to present a demand and provide these materials for the first time. Our thinking is that by continuing to update the claims handler on the progression of our client’s case, they can set higher reserves for future settlement negotiations. Insurance companies try to project what a claim’s value will be at its inception in order to budget or manage their risk. By continually forwarding new case materials such as bills and office notes to an adjuster during the pendency of the claim, the adjuster knows about the nature of the claimant’s injuries and is able to forecast a more realistic case value when the time for negotiations come. It also lets the adjuster know that the law firm is on top of the case and actively handling it.

Automobile Accident Lawyers in North Miami

As North Miami Beach automobile accident lawyers, we are aware that Florida law requires proof of some measure of permanent injury in order to obtain full compensation for our clients. In fact, Florida Statute 627.737 (2) spells out the type of injury or damage that a person involved in an automobile accident needs to sustain in order to recover money damages for pain, suffering, mental anguish and inconvenience. They are as follows: (a) significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function; (b) permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement; (c) Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; [or] (d) death.

This “threshold” of injury or damage is needed to obtain non-economic damages as a result of a car crash. Frequently, it takes some six or more months of medical care, treatment and observation for an injured crash victim to reach maximum medical improvement. This means that before a physician can make a decision on whether or not a patient has sustained a permanent injury, it takes six or more months of care. Insurance companies understand this and typically keep claims files on a 60-90 day diary to update them for status. When the client is finally released from the doctor’s care, we request a final report asking the physician to specify the degree of permanent injury, if any. Upon receipt of the medical records, billing statements, PIP payout sheets, health insurance liens or payment documents, loss wage documentation and any other relevant expenses, we package the same, together with any other evidence in the case such as photographs, 911 recordings, property damage records or any other case materials and submit it to the insurance company adjuster with a settlement demand. Insurance companies like to try and settle claims for the lowest amount they can reasonably get away with.  While each case is unique and no two cases are exactly the same, there is often a generalized range of values that lawyers can agree on. It is important that your car accident attorney has an understanding of what your claim’s value range is. This information can be obtained from a variety of sources starting with case handling experience, jury verdict and settlement reports, discussions with other attorneys, list servs, seminars and reported decisions. The client should be made aware of all settlement offers promptly so that discussions can be had on how to proceed. If negotiations fail to reach a reasonable settlement offer and/or the insurance company denies the claim, a lawsuit is frequently the next step.

A lawsuit begins with a document known as a complaint. A complaint is filed against the at fault persons, firms or entities and is accompanied by the payment of a filing fee with the clerk of courts. Once a lawsuit is filed, it is served upon the defendants by a process server.  Once served, the defendant has 20 days in which to file a response or answer. Now the case is in “litigation”. Discovery is exchanged between the parties in order to gather information. Discovery consists of interrogatories (written questions answered under oath), requests for production (written requests for documents and other materials relating to the case or claim), requests for admissions, requests for inspections or entry upon land, request for examination and depositions to name a few types of discovery. The discovery process can take months or years. Although a case can be “noticed for trial” twenty days after the filing of an answer or last pleading, most cases take longer to get ready. Even when a case is placed on the court’s trial docket, it is frequently not reached or called for trial on the first time up. Court dockets are busy and usually judges schedule trial dockets on 2 or 3 week calendars. Courts try to give older cases priority over newer cases however there are exceptions. Litigation is much more time consuming and expensive than the claims process. Once a case is placed in litigation a judge often dictates the pace at which the case gets resolved. In federal court, judges are far more strict with their time constraints than in state court.

Contact an Automobile Accident Attorney in North Miami

The difference between a claim versus a lawsuit is vast. It is important that a lawyer and  client discuss exactly what the client can expect to happen once the case goes into litigation. For any questions or additional information on claims or lawsuits following car accidents involving personal injury, please contact Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A. for a free consultation. We are car accident lawyers in North Miami and car accident lawyers in North Miami Beach, however we handle all types of claims throughout Florida.

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