You’re happily swimming in a dolphin-shaped pool while cruising down the Mexican Riviera until you gash your hand on the railing and need stitches. You want to file a claim against the cruise line’s insurance carrier yourself so you can use all the proceeds to play bingo in the ship's casino instead of spending it on lawyer’s fees, but first you need to know the basics.
What Is Negligence
Everyone has a duty to act in a reasonable way. The law describes this duty more formally by saying that you must behave as a reasonably prudent person would under the same or similar circumstances. For example, since reasonable people pay attention to the road when driving, you must do so as well. This also means you must reasonably watch where you are walking and make sure your property is free of razor-sharp railings. If you don’t act reasonably, the law may consider you negligent and hold you liable for the harm that was directly caused by your actions or inaction. The injured person may file a claim against a negligent person’s insurance company in an attempt to recover costs, such as medical bills, lost wages and property damage, as well as money to compensate for pain and suffering.
Gather Necessary Documents
Most negligence liability claims involve personal injury, property damage or property loss. The insurance company will not pay money simply because you ask it to do so – it demands proof of your expenses in the form of medical records and bills, purchase receipts and property damage estimates. It may also require photographs of car damage and injuries, traffic collision reports and contact information for witnesses. It is a good idea to keep track of the paperwork needed to document your loss.
Contact the Insurance Company
The first thing an insurance company does when you file a claim is to assign a claims adjuster or representative to the case. While this generally happens quickly, the timing depends on the company. The claims adjuster reviews your documents and evaluates your claim. You can discuss the merits of your case directly with the adjuster or write a “demand” letter, which is a letter listing your damages and expenses, and asking for a particular amount to settle the claim in full. This amount usually includes all of your expenses plus an extra amount for pain and suffering.
Know When to Sue
If you are unable to reach a settlement agreement with the negligent party's insurance company, you only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit with the court. This is called the statute of limitations. If you don’t file in time, you lose your right to recover any damages. While most negligence statute of limitations are between one and four years, how much time you have to file your lawsuit depends on the laws of your state.
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Negligence
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Damages
- Nolo: Tips for Negotiating With an Insurance Company
- Nolo: Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States
- Nolo: Insurance Adjusters: Who They Are and How They Handle an Insurance Claim
An attorney for more than 20 years, Cara O'Neill currently practices in the areas of civil litigation, family law and bankruptcy. She also served as an Administrative Law Judge and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of employment law, business law and criminal law for a well-known university. Attending the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, she graduated a National member of the Order of the Barristers - an honor society recognizing excellence in courtroom advocacy. She is currently licensed in the state of California.