What’s the Diffference between a “claim” and a “lawsuit” for personal injury - and why is timing so critical?

You may hear personal injury lawyers talk about your “claim” and wonder if this term is interchangeable with “lawsuit”. These terms are often used interchangeably but in fact, they have two different meanings. I think of “claim” as everything that happens before a lawsuit is actually filed. When you have a claim pending, you may or may not have a lawyer working for you and are usually just going back and forth with an insurance company at this point. In order to fully understand the difference, let’s look at the timeline after an accident, in terms of attempting to collect from the at-fault driver. For purposes of illustration, let us assume that you were hurt in a car accident that was not your fault, in the State of Illinois.


Your first priority, typically in the days and weeks immediately following your injury, is going to be making sure that you are taken care of physically and have reported the crash to your own insurance. If it looks like you may be on a somewhat long road to recovery and are still having problems, you begin to wonder who is going to pay all of those medical bills and want to take action. A claim is opened. From a legal standpoint, this is usually the most dangerous part because it is when most people first screw up, especially when talking to the other driver’s insurance company which is always a very bad idea at this point.  If you have ever been in a car accident before, you might remember that the other driver’s insurance company was probably very anxious to talk to you right away. They know exactly what they are doing and they have one goal and one goal only for those phone calls, which is to position itself to best protect the insurance company’s bottom line and pay you as little as possible or preferably, nothing. Don’t be fooled by the insurance company’s clever marketing tag lines claiming that you are in good hands or that you should be thinking of them just as you would a good neighbor who is there. That is exactly what they want you to think so that you will let your guard down and blab away when they ask you carefully scripted questions designed to get you later. Beware! In order to avoid falling into their traps, you need to understand what is really going on and how it all works.


Back to the difference between a claim and a lawsuit, it really comes down to two different points in time. For some people, a lawsuit is going to be completely unnecessary and they will only ever have a claim. A claim simply means that the person hurt has actively begun to take measures to hold the at-fault driver responsible for the injuries and other damage that he or she caused. A lawsuit has not yet been filed. When handled correctly from the beginning, it can go a long way towards avoiding a lawsuit. Even when handled well, however, a lawsuit is sometimes unavoidable.


Did you know that you don’t have to be at the point of needing to file a lawsuit before you can get an attorney involved? Many lawyers actually prefer to handle an injury claim from the very beginning and not after the claim has been going on for a while. This is important in terms of the ability to gather evidence, interview witnesses, obtain medical records, and deal with the insurance company in the best possible manner. This is also important in terms of the time limits that must be observed, as many lawyers will not take a personal injury case if it is too close to the running of the statute of limitations.


If you are suffering from an injury and are hesitant to handle the claim by yourself, give us a call for a no-obligation, free strategy session. Depending on the circumstances, you might benefit from legal representation right away even if you are far from being ready to bring forth a lawsuit. Call us at 630 250-8813 to discuss your options.

Carol O'Connor Cadiz
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Attorney & Owner at O'Connor Cadiz Law: Injury & Accidents, Disability Insurance.
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