One of the most common questions a personal injury lawyer hears from prospective clients is: How long does a personal injury lawsuit take? The most honest answer to that question is: It depends. Several factors affect the length of time it takes to resolve a claim. Our personal injury lawyers have compiled a list of these factors and how they could affect your case.
The Statute of Limitations and Why It Is Important
Wherever your accident occurred, your ability to seek redress through the courts hinges on the state’s deadline for your claim. This deadline is known as the statute of limitations, and it varies by state. For example, if someone else’s negligence causes your injury in Philadelphia, you have two years from the date of your accident to file your claim against the at-fault party in court. In Fort Lauderdale, you generally have four years to file a lawsuit following an accident.
Time-Consuming Aspects of the Personal Injury Claims Process
Several parts of the personal injury claims process are slow and create delays in resolving your case, including those listed below.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer Attorney
If someone else’s carelessness injures you in an accident, a personal injury attorney can guide and assist you with the claims process.
This process usually involves the attorney determining a value to your claim based on factors such as:
- The amount of liability insurance the at-fault party has, as this is the most likely resource for compensating for your injury.
- The severity of your injury. Permanent disabilities can affect your future earning capacity, resulting in a higher-valued claim, as additional compensation is needed to address future expenses and effects from permanent injuries.
- The amount of time lost from work due to the injuries and the effects the injury has had on your life.
In addition to valuing your claim, an attorney can communicate with the insurance provider to ensure the insurance provider does not undervalue your claim or take advantage of your lack of knowledge about the process.
Many individuals hesitate to hire an attorney because they are afraid they cannot afford one. However, the contingent fee billing method ensures that anyone who needs legal assistance can obtain help without an upfront investment; they do not have to pay for their attorney’s services until there is a successful outcome to their claim. Personal injury attorneys usually offer a free case evaluation, which is a cost-free conversation with an attorney to learn more about your legal options.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
Most personal injury attorneys wait to establish a claim’s value until the claimant reaches maximum medical improvement. This point is when the claimant’s physician determines that the claimant has reached the maximum amount of recovery for their injury, even if treatment continues.
The reason attorneys wait until this point to value a claim is because it represents the time when a doctor can accurately determine the permanent effects of the injury. This indicator allows the attorney to determine how much compensation the victim needs to cover past and future medical expenses.
Many prospective clients view the personal injury claims process as a television courtroom drama wherein a jury and seemingly everyone the claimant and the defendant know lines up to give testimony.
While there are certainly cases involving juries and dramatic testimony, most (around 95 percent) personal injury claims resolve in settlement before seeing a courtroom.
There are logical reasons for both a claimant and a defendant (generally the at-fault party’s insurance provider) to prefer settlement, including:
- Reducing the legal expenses and time involved in litigating a case.
- Allowing all parties to negotiate an outcome rather than placing the decision in the hands of the court.
While a settlement is usually a much faster way to resolve a claim, and they can happen any time during the claims process: settlement negotiations can begin when the claim goes to the insurance provider as a demand, they can continue after you file suit, and settlement agreements can even happen after a trial begins, as long as the court has not decided on the matter. Several things can delay a settlement agreement, such as both sides agreeing to an amount of compensation but disagreeing over other terms of the settlement, like whether the defendant must admit guilt as part of the agreement.
Filing Your Claim
A personal injury claim is usually not filed until after failed settlement negotiations. When filing a personal injury lawsuit, you must file within the statute of limitations. Failure to observe this deadline forgoes the claimant’s right to use the court system to seek compensation for their injuries. Even though most personal injury claims settle, the option of using the court process is important because the insurance company likely will not negotiate or pay the claim if they know the claimant lost legal recourse.
While the statute of limitations ensures that claimants file their lawsuits within a certain period, such as two or four years, the claim does not have to resolve within this timeframe.
Once the claimant files their claim in court, the discovery phase begins. Discovery happens when the attorneys for the claimant and the defendant exchange information about the case through interviews and data collection.
Attorneys gather this information through several legal proceedings, such as:
- Interrogatories: Written questions that one party sends to the other to gather facts about the case.
- Requests for production: One party's attorney requests the right to examine the other party's documents. These documents could include insurance policy information, photographs of the accident scene, receipts for repairs related to the accident, and other documents from the claim.
- Depositions: Out-of-court testimony by the parties or witnesses. While this testimony often cannot be used in court, it helps attorneys determine the strategy in the case.
The discovery process can take weeks to months to complete and generally requires active participation by the claimant in providing requested documents, answering written questions about the claim, or even sitting for a deposition.
The claimant, usually via their attorney, must file their case as a lawsuit within the statute of limitations to retain their right to use the court process. If the claim does not settle before the trial date, the claimant can expect the trial to move forward.
Many personal injury trials are jury trials, meaning that the first part of litigation involves selecting the jury. Once the jury is seated, each side will have the opportunity to deliver opening statements and begin presenting evidence and examining witnesses. The more witnesses there are, the longer the trial.
After the attorneys present all evidence and witnesses, both attorneys will deliver closing arguments, and the judge or jury will deliberate the matter before reaching a decision.
Collecting Your Settlement or Award
Once your claim resolves through either a negotiated settlement or a court decision, it will take about six weeks for you to receive the compensation. If your claim settles, you must sign a release waiving any future, related claims against the at-fault party and their insurance provider.
The insurance company will process the payment before sending it directly to your attorney. Because your attorney uses the contingent fee billing method, they aren’t paid for their services until they receive your compensation.
The attorney deducts the monetary value of their services as a percentage of your award and deducts payment for liens placed on your settlement by healthcare providers or group insurance providers as outlined in your contingent fee agreement.
After the attorney’s payment and liens are satisfied, you will meet with your attorney to finalize the case and receive your compensation.
What Happens if Someone Appeals?
If the claimant goes to court and receives a judgment in their favor, the at-fault party's insurer can choose to appeal this decision. If the opposing party appeals your case, your attorney will continue to fight to ensure you receive your compensation.
An Attorney Can Help You Manage the Timelines of Your Claim
Individuals who navigate the personal injury claims process without an attorney often find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to provide, the legal hoops they need to jump through, and the formalities of the court.
Every personal injury claim is unique in its value and the willingness of the two parties to work toward a fair resolution. There are many services that an attorney provides to assist their client with the personal injury claims process. These services often involve managing the timelines of your claim to help you retain your right to have your case heard in court and to ensure that the case moves as efficiently as possible.
Attorney support includes:
- Providing you with the guidance to understand the value of your claim and what constitutes fair compensation for your injuries.
- Patiently waiting for you to reach maximum medical improvement to properly value your claim.
- Ensuring that the court considers all relevant medical documentation to show your injuries and other documentation to prove expenses and effects.
- Filing your claim within the statute of limitations so that you retain the option of having the court decide the matter.
- Utilizing the knowledge and efficiency of their legal team to ensure a productive discovery phase.
- Managing communications with insurance providers who often stall in the negotiation process or use tactics to reduce or eliminate payout on the claim.
- Providing quality litigation services to ensure that an appeal is less likely.
If you've suffered a personal injury, let an experienced attorney explain the personal injury claims process to you in greater detail. They can answer questions about your case and provide information about their services during a free case evaluation.