Written By Attorney Kevin P. Fine
Many people have the misconception that if they make a claim against the insurance company of the person who injured them in a collision, that is the same as suing that person. In fact, there is a difference between making an insurance claim and filing a lawsuit.
Making an insurance claim involves communication between the auto insurance company and the inured person. Often the injury claim can be settled between the company and the injured person, without filing a lawsuit. The injured person will often be represented by an attorney during this part of the claim.
If the claim is not settled, then filing a lawsuit is the next step. To officially begin a lawsuit requires filing a claim for relief with the court in which the matter is being pursued. Attorneys usually refer to this pleading as the Complaint. An injury claim in Arizona is generally filed in the superior court of the county in which the injury was caused, or where the person causing the injury resides. Counties vary a little on what they require to have filed along with the Complaint. My experience is dominantly in Maricopa County. In Maricopa County the Complaint should be accompanied by a Civil Cover Sheet, a Certificate on Compulsory Arbitration, and a Summons. The Complaint itself sets forth the basic claims and issues involved in the lawsuit: how and when the injury occurred, who caused it, what laws were violated, the basic damages sustained because of the injury, and the kinds of relief being sought by the claimant. In the Complaint, the injury survivor is referred to as the Plaintiff and the person accused of causing the injury is the Defendant.
The Civil Cover Sheet fulfills an administrative purpose of helping the clerk of the court understand how to process the Complaint, and have it properly cataloged.
The Certificate on Compulsory Arbitration requires the party filing the lawsuit to certify whether the matter should first go to an arbitration hearing rather than preceding directly to a jury trial. This determination is made on the basis of the estimated value of the case. If the Plaintiff and Defendant believe that the matter is worth more than $50,000.00, then in Maricopa County the matter goes straight to a jury trail. If the value is at, or under, $50,000.00, in Maricopa County, the matter is first heard at an arbitration hearing, from which either side may choose to appeal the result. Each county sets its own monetary guideline on where the matter should start. State law has a “default” amount in case a county does not set its own.
After the Complaint is filed, it must be personally served to the Defendant. This is done by a process server delivering a copy of the Complaint and the Summons to the Defendant, or a person allowed under the Rules of Civil Procedure to accept the Summons and Complaint. The Summons instructs the Defendant to take certain actions to protect himself legally, within a specified period of time— mainly, to file an Answer to the Complaint. The Answer is filed by the Defendant in order to affirm or deny the various allegations made in the Complaint.
Filing these documents gets the lawsuit officially started. Of course, that is the easy part. Many more steps, twists, and turns follow.