How Long Does it Take a Personal Injury Case to Settle?
When deciding whether to file a personal injury claim, one of the biggest questions is this:
If I file an insurance claim or lawsuit, how long will it take?
Often, this question comes up when things seem to move slowly and medical bills pile up.
Litigation length can depend on many factors, so there’s no easy answer. Some personal injury claims settle quickly but result in less money than a plaintiff deserves.
Do not give up significant compensation for a speedy resolution. Instead, call a lawyer to fight for the compensation you need to pay for your injury-related expenses.
Personal injury cases usually take time to settle or resolve through a verdict. Some might settle directly with an insurer quickly, while others go to court.
Each personal injury case is unique. Thus, nobody can guarantee how long your personal injury case will take to resolve.
Here are a few of the findings:
- In tort trials, verdicts usually happen 25.6 months after the lawsuit starts. Most tort cases are resolved before trial (only about three percent need a jury or bench verdict).
- Product liability trials took the longest to process (an average of 35.1 months).
- Medical malpractice cases took an average of 33.2 months.
These examples do not indicate how long your case might take.
Only your attorney can only provide a ballpark estimate, and that will require a thorough investigation of the evidence. Even then, it will depend on the at-fault party and their insurance company’s willingness to negotiate in good faith. Contact an attorney for your initial consultation for more information.
The Injury You Suffered
Injuries are the basis for personal injury lawsuits. Seek medical attention from a healthcare provider for your initial injury. A diagnosis determines the severity of your injury.
As a result of another party’s negligence, you may face expensive medical bills and an inability to work and earn an income.
Some insurance providers quickly offer compensation for injuries caused by negligent individuals or organizations. The insurer may contact you within a few days of the accident, offering a small amount of compensation to pay some of your medical bills. Accepting such an offer to end your claim quickly is rarely in your best interests. Never accept any settlement without discussing it with an attorney.
Before accepting any payment from an at-fault party, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your insurance company may offer you less than you need to cover the costs of your injury because they want to end the case as quickly as possible. Do not fall for this.
Meeting With a Personal Injury Lawyer
As you evaluate the severity of your injury, you should consult a lawyer about compensation options. Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation for personal injury cases. To verify your injury and damages, your attorney may ask you questions and for medical documentation. You can agree to representation after the lawyer gathers information and gives you their recommendation.
In most cases, the insurance company settles the case before a victim files a lawsuit. An attorney will provide the insurer with your medical records, bills, evidence of lost wages, and a settlement demand once you have completed your medical treatment.
Your attorney will discuss this demand with you, obtain your permission to make it, advise you about any offers, and obtain your permission to counteroffer. Every step of the decision-making process involves you, the client.
If the parties cannot resolve cases quickly, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit.
Every case has a different time period, and they can vary widely. The key is to be patient and wait as long as necessary for your case to reach the best possible outcome.
Starting Your Case
For a civil lawsuit to begin, you must:
- Pay the associated filing fee and file your complaint with the appropriate court.
- Serve the complaint and summons on the defendant.
In your complaint, you state the facts of your case, the defendant’s liability, and how much money you demand. A summons is an official notice that someone has filed a lawsuit against a defendant.
Your lawyer will determine the relevant statute of limitations as soon as they agree to represent you. A plaintiff has a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit, which is called the statute of limitations. Personal injury cases generally have a statute of limitations of one to five years, depending on the state. When your lawyer begins drafting the complaint, they will keep the statute of limitations in mind.
Several factors may affect how long it takes to draft and serve a complaint:
- Several defendants contributed to the accident, and the case is complex.
- A lawyer decides to negotiate before filing a complaint.
- Your lawyer may have trouble serving defendants (for example, if they cannot locate the defendants or defendants try to evade service).
The Discovery Process
An exchange of information between parties to a lawsuit is known as discovery.
You might exchange:
- Pertinent medical records
- Police reports
- Security camera footage
- Company correspondence
Depositions are also part of discovery. In a deposition, both parties can question witnesses under oath. Court reporters produce written transcripts of all testimony during depositions.
Typically, discovery begins soon after the complaint is filed and usually lasts until about 30 days before the trial.
Your lawyer and the defendant’s lawyer may file many motions before trial. These pre-trial motions ask the court to rule on specific issues, ranging from the proper venue to discoverable documents.
Some pre-trial motions are more important than others (and take more time to resolve). It takes longer for the court to draft and hear a motion for summary judgment, for example, than to compel an attorney to turn over evidence.
It is common for pre-trial motions to begin as soon as your lawyer files the complaint, and motions can continue until the trial.
As soon as your lawyer receives your initial discovery, they will probably begin negotiating a settlement.
Before agreeing to or rejecting a settlement offer, your attorney must obtain your approval.
A settlement negotiation can be informal, such as a telephone call between the attorneys, or formal, such as mediation or arbitration.
It’s okay if your case doesn’t settle right away. Many cases settle on the eve of trial.
Going to Trial
You may need to go to trial if your case does not settle. After examining the evidence, judges or juries decide whether to hold defendants legally responsible for damages in civil trials.
A civil trial passes through six main phases:
- Selecting a jury
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony/cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Jury deliberation/verdict
A typical injury trial lasts between one and seven days.
Many trials get pushed back several times before they finally take place. Sometimes, this gives the parties more time to settle the case. Sometimes, there is just a conflict in the court schedule.
If the defendant is found at fault for the accident after trial, the judge or jury will determine how much compensation the defendant must pay the plaintiff. The verdict is the term used to describe this decision.
Both parties have the right to appeal a verdict if they disagree with it. An appeal may result in a new trial or settlement. Parties typically must appeal court verdicts within 30 days.
When the plaintiff wins, collection efforts (or judgment collection) begin. Judgments can come in lump sums or installments.
The court allows attorneys to take a percentage of the defendant’s paycheck to collect judgments, including by garnishment, which involves filing documents with the court.
Issues With the Case That Could Pose a Problem
Two factors determine the value of a personal injury case: liability (who was at fault) and damages (how badly the plaintiff suffered an injury).
Until the plaintiff’s lawyer demonstrates a willingness to fight, the insurance adjuster is unlikely to make a reasonable settlement offer if liability is hard to prove (for example, both parties and multiple witnesses say different things). You may have difficulty getting the insurer to make any significant offer if there is a legal issue in the case (e.g., the insurer believes you are not entitled to sue).
Damages may also be an issue. Insurance companies often challenge the severity of an injury and losses to reduce the amount they try to offer the claimant. Proving the extent of your damages is critical and takes time.
Big Money Is at Stake in the Case
In addition, if the case involves significant damages (a lot of money), settlement can be delayed. Insurers will not pay settlements until they have done their due diligence.
In other words, they have to investigate every aspect of the case until you convince them that:
- Their defense is weak.
- There is no doubt that your injuries are as severe as you claim.
- They can’t attack your credibility.
Insurers may also delay a large case to see if the plaintiff will give up and accept less money. In some cases, claimants do not have the patience to wait long for compensation. Insurance companies are aware of this and will attempt to wait it out. You should contact an attorney for help with the insurance process.
There Hasn’t Been Maximum Medical Improvement
The fact that you are still receiving medical care may also contribute to the long delay in settlement. In a personal injury case, you should not settle until your injuries have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). Never settle your case before you have reached MMI.
MMI means your case is as good as it gets, and you and your lawyer know how to value it. The impact of your injuries isn’t as clear if you are still receiving treatment.
What should you do if you know your case will garner more if you wait, but you need the money now? What factors must you consider when deciding how much to settle for?
Short settlements are not subject to any hard and fast rules. An insurance adjuster may offer you 30 to 40 percent of what you might receive if your case goes to trial. Always consult a personal injury lawyer if you want to settle your personal injury case quickly.
You Need a Trusted Personal Injury Attorney
Getting the compensation you deserve can be difficult, but it’s necessary. You shouldn’t seek damages alone if another person’s negligence has injured you. You must contact an experienced attorney who can help you through the entire process and get you the compensation you deserve.