ELI5: What’s a Lawsuit?

ELI5: Negligence

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A lot of people believe that lawsuits are magical proceedings that make one party filthy rich while bankrupting the other party. Thus, the announcement, “I’m suing!” can escalate a conflict faster than you can say “mediation.” But, despite what television may have you thinking, lawsuits are an incredibly nuanced process.

Okay, Explain Like I’m Five

In the most basic terms, a lawsuit occurs when one party (the plaintiff) is damaged by the other party (the defendant), and the two parties cannot agree on how the damaged party will be repaid. In order to break that down into something simple, we need to explain what damages are. Let’s say your friend comes over to your house and spills soda on your computer. The cost necessary to repair your computer would be the damages. In many cases, lawsuits are filed when one party has damages to their body, or their property. Lawsuits are civil matters, meaning that there’s no jail time involved. Instead, lawsuits are concerned with how one party is going to compensate, or repay, the other party. In almost all cases, the compensation is financial. This means that the judge will decide how much, if anything at all, the defendant will pay the plaintiff.

How It All Starts

It doesn’t always start with a lawsuit. In fact, when it comes to civil law, lawsuits are the exception. It all starts with a claim. Since we specialize in personal injury (when one party’s conduct causes another person physical or psychological injury), we’ll take you through the process of a personal injury claim. Imagine that you broke your leg in an accident caused by a drunk driver. The insurance company is offering you a check, but it’s not enough to cover all your injury related expenses. You go to a personal injury attorney and they calculate all your injury related expenses. In this case, the personal injury attorney then writes a demand letter to the insurance company. A demand letter basically tells the insurance company why the injured party needs the amount of money in order to be repaid. The insurance company may respond by writing a check for the full amount. But, oftentimes, they’ll respond by trying to negotiate a lower amount. If the client accepts the lower amount, known as the settlement, then the case is over. The settlement goes toward the plaintiff’s legal fees and injury related expenses. There’s no lawsuit and no trial.

Well, We Can’t Agree

Almost nobody on either side wants to take their chances in court. But, in some cases, the defendant and the plaintiff cannot agree on how, or if, the plaintiff should be repaid. This is when lawsuits are filed. Though lawsuits may sound like a good idea, they aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. A lawsuit always takes a lot longer than negotiating a settlement. It’s also expensive for the defendant, and the insurance companies to go to court. For this reason, many parties prefer to settle if they’re given the option.

Are You Gonna Pay That Or…?

If the plaintiff wins, the judge will order the defendant to pay the plaintiff a sum of money–called a judgment–in order to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries.

If the defendant has insurance, then the insurance company will represent the party who caused the damages. So, if you caused a car accident that damaged another person, and AwesomeInsurance is your car insurance provider, AwesomeInsurance would hire an attorney to represent you in a personal injury claim that resulted from the accident you caused. When the defendant is insured and an insurance company is paying the judgment, collecting payment isn’t usually an issue. But there can be issues collecting payment if you’re personally suing someone who does not have insurance since it means that the person who directly caused the damages will be paying out of pocket for the damages. Since not everyone has the financial means to repay the person they’ve damaged, you may have difficulty collecting that money even if you do win a lawsuit.

The Consultation

If you’ve been injured due to another person’s actions, or lack of actions, it may be a good idea to meet with a personal injury attorney. A personal injury attorney can give you a free consultation. During this consultation, they can tell you whether or not it’d be in your best interest to file a claim. A personal injury attorney can also tell you whether or not you should accept a settlement. Though it sounds expensive, personal injury attorneys often work on contingency. This means that you don’t pay them until you get a settlement or a judgment, and then the attorney’s fees come out of the compensation they get for you. If you go all the way to trial, and you lose, you don’t owe a personal injury attorney anything if they work on contingency.

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