Should a Car Accident Victim File an Insurance Claim, or a Lawsuit?

Between medical bills, vehicle repairs, property damage, and taking time off of work due to injuries, the cost of a car accident in Oklahoma can be truly enormous.  According to an AAA report citing data from 2009, the average cost of an injury crash was around $125,000, while fatal crashes cost a staggering $6 million on average.  These averages represented sharp increases from 2005, when both figures were about 50% lower.  Since most people are financially overwhelmed by costs of this magnitude, it’s not uncommon for injury victims to seek compensation after an accident occurs.  However, the path to compensation isn’t the same for everyone.  Some people choose to file insurance claims, while others file lawsuits instead.  But what’s the difference?  And what does the injury victim need to prove in order to get compensated?  

Claim or Lawsuit? What’s the Difference?

There is no law to stop you from filing a lawsuit immediately after being injured in a car accident.  However, most people regard litigation as a last resort, and will typically attempt to file an insurance claim first.

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Most car accident claims are third-party claims, or claims made by a person other than the policyholder – in this scenario, you.  (By comparison, a first-party claim is a claim you file with your own insurance company.)  Speaking generally, here is how the process will unfold:

  1. You’ll file your claim.
  2. The insurance company will begin an investigation.
  3. You will write a demand letter, which includes contact information, a description of the accident, and the compensation you are seeking.
  4. Settlement negotiations begin.

If you intend to file a claim, be prepared for the possibility of going through some tough negotiations.  Remember, insurance companies are ultimately profit-oriented, and will use just about any tactics available to them in order to minimize their costs.  The adjuster might counter with an offer which is much lower than the amount you are seeking, and furthermore, might flip the argument around to say that you were actually the party primarily at fault for the crash.

Sometimes, situations arise in which the parties to the accident simply cannot come to an agreement.  If this sort of stalemate occurs, the injury victim can file a lawsuit, provided he or she meets a legal deadline called the statute of limitations.  While an insurance claim involves negotiations between both parties, in a lawsuit, a neutral jury imposes an outside decision after examining the evidence which has been presented.

Before you attempt to negotiate with a claims adjuster or accept a settlement, you should consult with an experienced car accident lawyer.  There are countless instances of insurance companies attempting to settle for amounts which turned out to be significantly lower than the amount which was eventually awarded by a jury.  You can see some real-world examples of compensation for crash injuries in our articles about:

Negligence and Liability: Proving the Other Driver Was at Fault

Along with most other states, Oklahoma uses a “fault” insurance system, as opposed to a “no-fault” insurance system.  In the no-fault system, which is only used by a dozen states, it doesn’t matter which driver cause the accident, hence the term “no-fault.”  No matter where the fault lies, the injury victim can be compensated through their own insurer.  By comparison, in a fault state like Oklahoma, the injury victim must prove that the other driver was responsible for the accident.

Car accidents are often caused, to some extent, by both drivers’ actions.  While it is not necessary to prove that the other driver was 100% responsible for the crash or collision, you cannot recover compensation if you are 51% or more at fault for causing the accident.  This is called the 51% Bar Rule, and is discussed in greater detail in our article on partial fault for a car accident in Oklahoma.

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If you intend to sue the other driver, you will have to prove the existence of a few elements, a responsibility known as the “burden of proof”:

  1. The other driver negligently breached his or her “duty of care,” which is the legal responsibility to obey traffic laws and exercise reasonable precautions while driving.  There are countless ways this duty can be breached, such as driving while intoxicated or following too closely.
  2. The accident was caused by the other driver’s actions or failure to act, which is called “causation.”
  3. The accident resulted in “damages,” or harm.  Damages can be physical, like a car accident neck injury, and/or financial, like the medical bills resulting from a whiplash injury.

Get Legal Assistance from Experienced Oklahoma Car Accident Lawyers

If you or one of your loved ones was injured in a car accident in the Oklahoma City area, an Oklahoma car accident lawyer at Hasbrook & Hasbrook is here to help you fight for compensation, whether that means negotiating on your behalf or providing tough representation in the courtroom.  Our accomplished legal team is backed by more than 75 years of combined experience, and has achieved favorable outcomes for numerous clients during our many decades practicing personal injury law.  For a free and private legal consultation, call the law offices of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 698-3040 today.