How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take?
One of a personal injury lawyer’s most important jobs is to understand their client’s needs and circumstances. Clients come to a personal injury attorney because they have suffered an injury and are dealing with the aftermath of it.
One of the unfortunate realities is that personal injury victims struggle with medical expenses and the possible lack of income, leaving them in a difficult financial position. However, some wonder how long a personal injury lawsuit can take? As a result, they are worried about money and want to know when they can get a check. While you might very well end up with a settlement, the personal injury process is not known for moving quickly. Be patient and let an experienced personal injury lawyer handle your case from start to finish.
Nobody Can Ever Give You a Certain Timetable
A personal injury lawyer can never give you a definitive answer about how long your case will take. There are so many variables and things that are outside of your control. The closest a lawyer can give you to a more definitive answer is that it will take time for you to get either a settlement check or an award from a jury.
It is tough to be patient when you have suffered an injury and face numerous pressures, but that is precisely where you are in a personal injury case. Your case might take months or years to resolve. Just know that your lawyer’s job is to do everything possible to bring a favorable resolution to your case.
Before you even file a personal injury lawsuit, you should reach the point of Maximum medical improvement. This term means the point where your condition may not improve with further treatment.
Your medical condition may not be immediately apparent after your personal injury. It can take doctors some time to be in a position to conclusively diagnose your medical issues and give you a prognosis. It may not make sense to file a lawsuit before you know the exact scope and extent of the damages.
Your Lawyer Will Need to Prove Liability
There are several stages of your personal injury case that you need to go through to get financial compensation. The first phase of your personal injury case is where you will prove that someone else was responsible for your damages, giving them the legal obligation to pay you. The defendant may not always concede liability, forcing you to prove your contentions.
The liability phase is not always something that can happen quickly. There are some personal injury cases where the issue of liability can be very straightforward. For example, if a truck rear-ended your car, it will be apparent that the truck driver was responsible for the crash. Even in these cases, the insurance company may not be in a hurry to settle your claim (although they can take the opposite tack in trying to rush you into a settlement).
Your Lawyer May Need Time Before They Can File a Lawsuit
In other cases, it may take your attorney some time to investigate and prove the circumstances behind your lawsuit. There are many instances in which the other party tells a story that is at odds with what happened. Then, you will not have evidence to prove your side of the story because you have the burden of proof to show that someone else was negligent. Your lawyer may need to interview witnesses and review reports and pictures. The amount of investigation depends on the complexity of the case.
Only after you fully understand what happened can you begin the actual process of seeking compensation. At that point, your lawyer will help you decide whether it is in your best interests to go straight to the insurance company to file a claim or take your case to court.
Even when you approach an insurance company, you can choose how to do it. You can file a claim, and the insurance company will deny your claim or offer you a settlement. Alternatively, you can write them a more formal demand letter that spells out your case. A demand letter will get the insurance company’s attention, but it will add time to your case.
The Insurance Company May Add Time to Your Case
The insurance company might take weeks, or even months, to respond to you. Although they are pushing their luck with a possible bad faith case when they delay too long, they are generally in no hurry to resolve your matter. They know that time is on their side because you need your settlement, and they can cause you to wait a while for it.
Insurance companies are businesses, and they have their own procedures they follow when processing claims. Having a personal injury attorney handling your claim can help keep your claim moving forward.
There are different reasons why insurance companies may not act quickly in your case, including:
- The insurance company makes money by investing the premiums its policyholders pay in the stock market. If they pay your claim quickly, they will need to take that money out of the market, where it is presumably earning money for them.
- The insurance company might drag things out because they suspect you are eager to settle and may take less money to get things done and settled.
- Overworked adjusters may have large caseloads because the insurance company might be trying to cut corners and save money on staffing costs.
Even if you can gather the necessary evidence to prove liability, it is just the beginning of your case. The insurance company may willingly make you a settlement offer because they know their policyholder is liable. However, an offer is usually not the end of your claim.
Insurance companies have people trained in how to assess and handle claims. Not long after you file a claim, they have a strong sense of whether they will be responsible for paying it and what they will need to pay. Insurance companies deal in risk, which is all about managing their own risk. For them, the worst-case scenario is that they will need to pay the policy maximum. If the case involves a corporate defendant or the responsible party has a significant policy, that can amount to a lot of money.
The insurance company will take its time to evaluate your claim. They will review the records that you have given them, and they will make their own assessment of what their chances of being held liable are. Then, they will calculate what they might owe you. This process alone can take time.
Having a lawyer representing you to adjusters is the best way to keep your case on track and ensure it doesn’t fall by the wayside. Even when insurers are acting in good faith, they can still cause delays in the claim process. Sometimes, the right attorney giving adjusters a nudge is enough to avoid unnecessary delays in receiving your settlement offer. Hiring an attorney can prove beneficial to your case.
You Might Receive a Low Settlement Offer
At some point, whether it is weeks or months, the insurance company will respond to your claim or demand letter. They will either deny your claim or make you a settlement offer. Even if they make you an offer, it is far from the end of your case.
The settlement offer is just the start of what may be an extended back-and-forth between you and the insurance company. Initially, the first settlement offer will most likely be for only a portion of what you deserve in damages. While you might hope for a fair settlement out of the gate, negotiations usually begin low and work their way up.
After you have received the initial settlement offer, you face a choice. You can either continue negotiating with the insurance company or decide they are not serious about settling for a reasonable amount of time and take your case to court.
Every time you exchange potential settlement numbers with the insurance company, it may add time to your case. The insurance company will always say that they take the time to evaluate your demand, and you cannot push because it may weaken your bargaining position. Never rush to accept a low settlement just to resolve your matter, as this can hurt your future.
The offers and counteroffers can go on for quite some time. The prospect of litigation may force the insurance company to move to a more reasonable position. The insurance company must pay for an insurance defense firm whenever you file a lawsuit. They may need to incur tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses (or more) to deal with your lawsuit. If you have already filed a lawsuit, they may need to spend even more to defend your case at trial.
The Court Process Itself Can Take Years
You may decide that you need to dial up the pressure on the insurance company by filing a lawsuit. If your case goes to trial, it can take a long time. Although that prospect is understandably unappealing to you, it may be what is necessary to get what you deserve. If the insurance company denies your claim, you will have no choice but to file a lawsuit.
A personal injury lawsuit can take a while from start to finish. Here are the different phases of a personal injury lawsuit:
- Your lawyer will initiate the lawsuit by drafting a legal complaint, filing it with the court, and serving it on the other party
- The defendant will have 30 days to file their answer to the complaint (and can get an extension from the court)
- The defendant may file a motion to dismiss your case, making the judge issue a ruling on these motions before the case can proceed further.
- The discovery process is perhaps the most detailed and in-depth part of the case – you may exchange documents and information over many months, including taking depositions from witnesses)
- Both parties may file motions for summary judgment, asking the judge to rule because they believe there are no facts in dispute.
- If there is no settlement agreement, the case will head to trial, where your lawyer will attempt to prove your case to a jury.
The odds are that your case will settle without a trial, but some cases will go all the way to a hearing.
At every step of the process, your attorney will continue to reassess your case and your strategy, balancing your need for total compensation with your need to get some money. Nonetheless, you should be careful about sacrificing money for speed. You may later come to regret settling your case too quickly when you run out of money. You should let your attorney do their job. They will keep you in the loop and explain your legal options to you whenever you need to make a choice.
Several things in your case are under your control and can help move your case along. The first is deciding when to call a lawyer to seek legal help. Ideally, you should do this as soon as possible after the accident. Some personal injury victims are not in a condition where they can have a conversation with a lawyer. In that case, a family member should contact an attorney because you can lose valuable time investigating the accident and beginning to assemble your proof.
You should also do everything you can to seek all necessary medical help after your accident. You cannot seek compensation until you know the full extent of your injuries and the prognosis. Otherwise, your damages will be uncertain, and you will be unable to prove them or even how much to seek in your case.
Finally, you should work with your lawyer as best as possible and be responsive when they have questions or need information from you. To the extent you can, make organized responses and present information to them in an orderly fashion, so they do not need to spend too much time sifting and sorting through your records and data. Contact us at G & K to get a consultation started.