Claim vs. Lawsuit

Many people often confuse the terms “claim” and “lawsuit,” mistakenly using them interchangeably when seeking legal recourse. However, understanding their distinct differences is crucial for anyone navigating through potential legal actions. 

A clear grasp of claims and lawsuits enables affected individuals to make informed decisions on how best to pursue compensation for any injuries or grievances they’ve suffered.

What Is a Personal Injury Claim?

What Is a Personal Injury Claim?

A personal injury claim refers to the process initiated by an individual (the claimant) who has suffered injuries or damages due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions. It is a formal request for compensation, addressing losses like medical expenses and lost wages.

A claim is typically filed against the responsible party’s insurance company in an attempt to seek compensation through their policy. This step is usually taken before initiating any legal action in court. The goal of filing a personal injury claim with the responsible party’s insurance company is to reach a settlement that compensates the injured party for their losses without resorting to litigation.

What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A personal injury lawsuit, unlike a claim, involves the judicial system and typically arises when attempts to settle a claim do not result in a satisfactory settlement offer for an injured party.

In a lawsuit, the injured person (the plaintiff) files a legal action in court against the party they believe is responsible for their injuries (the defendant). This initiates a process that includes discovery, where both sides investigate the facts of the case, exchange evidence, and depose witnesses. If a resolution isn’t reached during these stages, the lawsuit then proceeds to trial.

However, even after a lawsuit is initiated, settlement negotiations may still continue. Parties often reach an agreement before the trial begins, thus eliminating the need for further court involvement. 

Key Differences Between a Claim and a Lawsuit

Though claims and lawsuits both aim to seek compensation for injuries or grievances, there are key differences between the two:

Nature of Resolution

A claim is an out-of-court attempt to obtain compensation, generally through dealing directly with an insurer or liable party. On the other hand, a lawsuit involves the institution of legal proceedings in court against another party because negotiations have been unsuccessful. In this case, a judge or jury decides the case.

Timeline and Procedure 

Claims usually involve shorter timelines as they typically require less intensive procedures compared to a lawsuit. Lawsuits can take significantly more time because of certain steps that must be taken, such as filing and service requirements, the discovery phase, motion hearings, and trial preparations. 


Claims generally cost less as they mostly involve negotiations rather than formalized legal proceedings. Lawsuits can incur additional costs related to court fees and expert witnesses.

Potential Risks

The primary risk in filing a claim as opposed to a lawsuit lies in potentially accepting less compensation than what might be achievable through litigation.

With a trial, higher stakes have the potential to yield a higher payout, but the risk is that if you’re unsuccessful, you could walk away with nothing at all. 

Understanding the significant differences between claims and lawsuits is essential for anyone navigating a situation where they’re seeking compensation from another party.

When to File a Claim

Deciding whether to file a claim or initiate a lawsuit depends on the nature and severity of the situation, as well as the potential avenues for compensation available to you.

Filing a claim is usually appropriate in scenarios where damages are relatively minor or when mechanisms like insurance policies are designed specifically for these situations. Examples include:

Minor Accidents Covered by Insurance 

In these scenarios – for example, a minor car accident – the damages or injuries sustained are generally not extensive but do necessitate some financial compensation. This may include money for repairs, medical bills, or other losses incurred as a result of the accident. Insurance policies typically have provisions for such incidents, allowing for relatively straightforward claim processing. 

Workplace Injuries Eligible for Workers’ Compensation

When an injury occurs in the workplace or as a direct result of one’s employment, workers’ compensation insurance is designed to cover medical expenses and lost wages. In such cases, filing a claim with the employer’s worker’s compensation insurer is the appropriate initial step.

When to File a Lawsuit

Filing a lawsuit may be the best course of action under more serious circumstances, particularly in the following situations:

Damages Exceed Policy Limits, or No Insurance Coverage Exists

In cases where the financial impact of an incident surpasses what insurance policies will pay out, pursuing legal action in court might be necessary to recover the appropriate compensation fully.

Cases Involving Serious Personal Injuries

When an injury results in long-term or permanent injuries, leading to substantial medical costs, loss of income, and enduring pain and suffering, insurance claims often fall short. A lawsuit enables the victim to seek full recovery for economic and non-economic damages, better reflecting the totality of their losses.

A Columbus Personal Injury Attorney Can Help You Navigate a Claim or Lawsuit

Ultimately, deciding to file a claim or a lawsuit will depend on the specific circumstances of your injury and how it occurred. The best way to determine the right course of action is to contact a Columbus Personal Injury Attorney immediately after an accident or injury.