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HOW LONG DOES A PERSONAL INJURY CASE TAKE?

One of the most common questions clients ask is “How long does a personal injury case take?”

It’s not only a common question, but a reasonable one.  Many people assume it will take years and years. Others think that the television advertisements of some personal injury lawyers suggest that cash is forthcoming in days or weeks. In truth, nobody can say for sure.

How long your personal injury case takes to finish depends on several things:

  • The type of case

There are many kinds of personal injury cases. The ones we hear a lot about are car crashes and slips and falls. They are the most common because they happen a lot and are usually the fault of someone or some business. Many of these types of cases are simple, which usually makes the case go faster.

Some personal injury cases that are more complex, like medical malpractice, product liability, negligent security and mass tort cases. These generally involve more investigation, litigation and discovery. 

how long does a personal injury case take

There are often many more issues in these cases, they involve more witnesses and often require several expert witnesses from both parties. The more complex the case, the longer it takes.

  • The nature and extent of your injuries

A trial lawyer can’t settle your case without knowing what your condition is or will be. To settle a case prematurely does a huge disservice to the client unless there is a very limited amount of insurance available and it is obvious that the defendant does not have the money to pay individually.

Usually lawyers need to have their clients achieve maximum medical improvement (“MMI”), which is described as the point in their recovery when they are as good as they are going to get. Most doctors say that this takes place 8-16 months from the time of the injury. But that can vary too.

If you have a serious injury, there may be additional treatments or surgeries. This makes it difficult to resolve a case early because nobody knows how your recovery will be.

how long does it take to settle a personal injury claim

No insurance company will pay an injured plaintiff for possible injuries when there is no way to tell what the final result will be. Likewise, you wouldn’t want your lawyer settling your case for less than it is worth.

You may need years of future treatment, your ability to earn a living might be reduced or eliminated, and there may be lots of other expenses associated with the injuries.

In very serious cases, the lawyer may have a life care plan developed by an expert. These plans attempt to figure out what it will cost for all care for the rest of your life. There has to be a medical basis for that, and the providers and doctors involved will need to have a sense of what your condition will be.

  • The location where the case is (“venue”)

Every state is different. Within states, every area is different. Some counties are very slow while others get cases moved quickly and set for trial fast.  Some judges are overloaded with thousands of open cases and others have time to really review your case and give it the attention it needs. 

Most of the time judges are overburdened and rely on the attorneys to be familiar with the case and keep things moving.

how long does it take to get a personal injury settlement check

In most courts, the judges try the oldest cases first. There are a  limited number of trial days each month (most courts only have trials one to two weeks a month). If there are many older cases, you wan wait on a trial calendar for many months or even years.

It’s not unusual for your attorney to have to file motions with the court to obtain records, discovery or depositions from the other side. The defense usually drags their feet to slow things down. 

Delay is almost never in the plaintiff’s (injury person’s) best interest. It always favors insurance companies. They make most of their money on their investment portfolios of the funds they take in from premiums.

The longer they hold their money (and we are talking about hundreds of millions and even billions in the hands of major insurers), the more money they make. Plus dragging the case out gets some people to “give up” and they count on that.

  • Whether and how the case is mediated
    • Most states have mandatory mediation for lawsuits that are filed. Mediation is a less formal process where both sides meet with an independent mediator who tries to get the case settled.  He or she does not make and decision and is not a judge. They are there to work with both parties to find some common ground. These mediations are much like settlement conferences but they are more structured and, in the hands of a skilled mediator, will often get each side to give enough to settle. When they can’t, the case will usually go to trial.
  • Who the insurance company is and their approach to the claim
how long does a personal injury lawsuit take

Every insurance company is different. Their approaches to the cases differ: what they look for, what matters to them, and the adjusters who handle the cases. The same case could take twice as long from one insurance company to another. Of course one insurance company could pay more than another. It truly depends on factors that are outside of your control

  • Whether a lawsuit is filed and who your lawyer is

As we discussed, sometimes cases are settled without ever filing a lawsuit.  Most of the time it takes litigation to get the full value of a case. Without the impending threat of a trial, most insurers have little incentive to pay the fair value of a case. 

Remember that they are earning money on the funds they may ultimately pay out. Plus things can go wrong with your case along the way.

You might have a doctor who doesn’t help the case (he or she might say your injuries are not so bad, or were pre-existing before the incident).  There might be a witness who testifies in a way that hurts your case.

Sometimes witnesses disappear, evidence is lost, and court rulings go against plaintiffs. The defense is entitled to have you examined by a doctor (or doctors) of their choosing).

That delays things and you can assume that those doctors will testify against you. Insurance companies are betting on all of these which is why having a skilled and experienced personal injury trial lawyer is so critical to your case.

If a lawyer doesn’t litigate and try cases, insurers, adjusters and defense counsel know that. They will never offer the full value when they feel there is no real threat to them.

  • Who the lawyers are that are defending the case

You have no control over who the other side’s insurance company hires to defend the case. The quality, skill, and nature of those lawyers can affect how long it takes to get a case done. 

Some lawyers are ethical and skilled; others are obstructive and will do anything they can to slow or stop the case. Those lawyers are being paid by the hour, so it’s in their interest to complicate the case and force lots of hearings and disputes over things.

  • How many defendants there are in the case

It’s really simple: the more defendants in the case, the more lawyers in the case. The more lawyers, the more complicated. The more complicated, the longer it takes for the case to settle or reach court.

How long does it take to settle a personal injury claim – Settlement phase ( if any )

  • Whether the case can or should be settled before trial

So we come back to the issue of whether your case should go to trial, where a jury might make the decisions, or whether the case can or should be settled. A skilled personal injury trial lawyer can usually give you advice on how long things may take and whether it is in your best interest to settle the case before trial and in what range.

  • If the case is tried, how long and complex it will be

Let’s say you decide to go to trial. Or the defense does not make a reasonable offer and you have no choice but to try the case. The nature and complexity of your case will determine how long it will take,  whether the judge will push your trial date back, when all the discovery will be completed, and any other issues that arise.

There might be complex legal or factual issues the court has to rule on in advance of the trial.

You might even have an appeal before the trial. There are certain issues that result in what is known as an “interlocutory appeal” (an appeal while the case is pending).

If you go to trial, your lawyer will tell you how long it is expected to take. You will need to be there through the whole trial. Your lawyer will prepare you for the trial and your testimony.

  • Whether there is an appeal

So let’s say you go to trial and get a verdict that is fair. If you think it’s a reasonable verdict, you can assume the other side thinks it was not. They will likely appeal. 

There may be a reasonable basis for the appeal: the judge might have allowed into evidence something that should have been excluded, or excluded something the jury should have heard or seen. 

There might have been other things that happened like improper instructions or rulings, or juror misconduct. There might have been pretrial rulings that the defense disagrees with but had to wait until the case was over.

On the other hand, if you lose at trial – or get a verdict in your favor that you or your attorney feel is inadequate – you may be the one filing an appeal.

In any of these situations, an appeal will add between one to two years to the case.  Keep that in mind when you estimate what the time frame will be for your case.

  • In Florida, the Supreme Court has an 18 month rule.  

That means that most cases are supposed to be completed from filing the lawsuit through trial within 18 months. That’s considered pretty swift by the standards of most states. There is no guarantee that the case will get done in 18 months either, since this is just a guideline.

A lot of clients ask us if they settle their case, how long will it take to get the settlement check. The answer to that is easier to figure.

Most of the time it is 20-30 days after the signed release is provided to the defendant. The release is the document where you agree to release the other side from liability in exchange for payment. This is what the insurance company is buying from you on behalf of their insured (the defendant they insure).

So after all this discussion about how long personal injury cases take, the easiest to answer is how long it takes to get a settlement check. It’s the lead-up to that settlement that varies from client to client, case to case, and region to region.

It’s important to talk to your personal injury lawyer about these things at the beginning of your case. However, be prepared for the answer “it depends.”  That is really the only sure answer when you ask “How long does a personal injury case take?”

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