A lawsuit is a formal case that has been filed in the appropriate court of law, while a tort claim is usually an informal notice of claim that may trigger an informal resolution without the cost of litigation. Depending on the type of accident or injury, an experienced attorney may resolve claims without the need to initiate a formal lawsuit. For example, most automobile accident claims are resolved prior to a lawsuit by contacting and negotiating with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
In other circumstances, a tort claim is a necessary first step before filing a lawsuit. For example, suing a government agency will almost always require submitting an informal tort claim first. In California, a person must submit a tort claim within six months in order to preserve their right to sue a government agency – even if their claims are based on a car accident rather than, say, a civil rights claim. Claims against federal employees or agencies also require timely compliance with the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) in order to proceed with a lawsuit.
In order to better understand whether a tort claim is appropriate or necessary in your case, it is important that you consult with an experienced civil litigation attorney right away. There may be deadlines or procedural requirements that need to be handled at the outset of your case to make sure that your rights are protected.