Personal Injury Settlement Timeline: How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take?
Unfortunately, no one has a crystal ball or can tell you exactly how long your personal injury claim or lawsuit might take. Injury claims involving minor to moderate injuries typically settle within several weeks to a few months, while claims involving severe or catastrophic injuries might last for years. The duration of your case will vary depending on:
- The severity and extent of your injuries
- If your claim doesn’t settle and becomes a lawsuit
The at-fault party’s insurance carrier pays most injury claims. Whatever type of personal injury
you suffered, claims against auto, homeowner’s, property liability, or malpractice insurance usually have a similar timeline from filing the claim through its settlement or completion. A typically personal injury claim follows the timeline described below.
You Sustain an Injury in an Accident/Incident
The day your injuries occur, a clock starts ticking. Each state has a statute of limitations that applies specifically to all personal injury cases. If you or your personal injury attorney
don’t settle your claim or file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you will lose your legal right to seek compensation for your damages.Most states have a deadline of between one and two years, although some give as many as four. For example, Texas has a two-year
statute of limitations. However, some exceptions apply to the statute of limitations, no matter what state the case is in. For example, if your claim is against a government entity, you might only have several months to initiate an injury claim. The deadline runs from the day of your injury or when you reasonably should have learned about your injury. In a motor vehicle collision, slip and fall accident, or dog bite/attack, you will know precisely when you sustained your injuries. You can usually prove this with EMS or local law enforcement records. However, suppose you suffered injuries at a mall, movie theater, restaurant, grocery store, or another public place. In that case, you must report the incident and your injuries to the establishment’s manager and request your own copy of the accident or incident report. Under some circumstances, such as medical malpractice, defective devices, or toxic exposure, the statute of limitations begins running when you find out how you sustained the injuries you did.
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Establish Your Injuries
Always seek medical care the same day as you sustain your injuries. In some cases, you should seek it immediately. Then, always follow all of your medical care providers’ advice. Physicians can often assess the extent of your injuries within a short amount of time. However, some injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), can take several months to reveal their full extent and if there will be any permanent disabilities. If you don't receive prompt medical attention, you might jeopardize your personal injury claim. Refusing medical attention at the scene of the accident or delaying medical treatment can be detrimental to your insurance claim. The insurance carrier will probably assert that you did not sustain injuries in the accident/incident. When you seek medical care, always explain to every medical care provider precisely how your injuries occurred so that they can connect your injuries to the accident/incident. You want this to be well-documented in your medical record.
Start Organizing Any Evidence You Have
If you collected any photos or other evidence at the accident scene, organize and maintain it in a safe place. Keep track of your doctor’s appointments, missed work, and other inconvenient results of your injuries. If you have pain or limitations, keep a journal of how you feel each day and whether you are improving. Note how injury-related medications affect your life, such as pain medication that prevents you from handling basic household tasks. Your injury lawyer will gather other types of evidence throughout the claim process, but you can help by starting to organize any evidence you have.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
Even if you think your injury claim is straightforward, it’s in your best interest to discuss your accident and injuries with an experienced personal injury attorney. There are likely aspects of your claim that you haven’t even thought about. Getting advice from a seasoned attorney is typically free and puts you under no obligation. Most personal injury lawyers work only on a contingency fee basis. This means that they only receive fees from you once they have obtained compensation for your injuries on your behalf. If your claim successfully settles or you receive a court award, their fees will come straight from your compensation. If they garner no compensation for you, then they get nothing. In almost every injury claim, a lawyer can increase your take-home money even though you pay legal fees from your settlement.
Notify the Applicable Insurance Carriers
As soon as possible after sustaining a personal injury, you should have your attorney place the at-fault party’s insurance carrier on notice of your intent to formally file an injury claim and pursue financial recovery. There is no reason to wait. Waiting can risk your claim not starting within the appropriate statute of limitations, and it can delay you from receiving the money you need to pay your medical bills and make up for lost wages. If you were in a car wreck, your lawyer should tell your insurance carrier as well. Most car insurance policies have a "notice and cooperation" clause that requires policyholders to inform them about any vehicle accidents, even if it's not the policyholder's fault. When you hire a lawyer, they will take care of identifying and notifying all applicable insurance companies.
Negotiate a Fair Settlement
Once they investigate your incident, your personal injury attorney will draft a formal demand letter to the applicable insurance companies or other parties responsible for your damages. After the initial demand, your attorney will likely receive a counter-offer from the insurance company. You can expect a few rounds of counter-offers before your attorney reaches a negotiated settlement. However, you are the one who gets to decide if your claim will settle or not. Based on their past experiences and similar local cases, your attorney can tell you a fair figure for your claim. Most injury cases settle within a few weeks or months of the injury incident. However, how long a fair settlement takes or if the case will go to court depends on many factors. A faster settlement is more likely if:
- The insurance company isn’t contesting liability
- You have well-documented injuries and damages
- You’re demanding a reasonable settlement amount
- There is a single at-fault party
Keep in mind that settlement negotiations can sometimes drag on or fail if the insurance adjuster sticks to a low settlement offer. This frequently happens if an injured party attempts to represent themselves. Having the representation of a seasoned injury lawyer is sometimes all it takes to get the insurance adjuster to negotiate a fair settlement. However, contested or complicated claims are more likely to lead to a lawsuit after months of failed settlement negotiations.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Civil Court
Even though the insurance carrier refused to settle with you, you won’t file a lawsuit
against the insurance company itself. Instead, your attorney will file suit against the at-fault party or parties. Suppose your injury claims are against doctors, drug manufacturers, hospitals, or large corporations like Costco or Sam’s Club. In that case, it’s almost inevitable that you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to file a lawsuit and pursue fair compensation for your damages. Unfortunately, malpractice insurance carriers and big companies have aggressive legal teams that defend them against injury claims
. Even when you don't seek compensation from a large, powerful company, you need a well-versed attorney to handle complicated injury claims. Complicated claims include those with:
- High-dollar claims involving severe or catastrophic injuries
- Allegations of mutual fault
- Several injury victims from the same accident/incident
- Several at-fault parties are trying to blame one another for causing the incident
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), most personal injury lawsuits settle out of court
. Only 3 percent go to trial. You want a lawyer ready to negotiate and litigate on your behalf.
Perform Litigation Discovery
Discovery is a legal process allowing each side to obtain the relevant facts and information required to help create a strong case for trial. In litigation discovery, your lawyer can seek information and documents from the at-fault party that you cannot easily obtain yourself. The discovery phase of litigation typically takes less than six months to complete. However, class actions and other high-stake claims may have longer discovery time limits depending on how complex the case is. The discovery process usually involves:
- Depositions: Lawyers from both sides ask parties to the claim and witnesses questions under oath. A court reporter transcribes these sessions, which video or audio recordings may capture for the record.
- Interrogatories: All involved parties are served documents with written questions about the facts of the case and additional details.
- Requests for Production of Documents: Attorneys for both sides can ask the court to issue a subpoena that seeks vital evidence, like cell phone records, business emails and communications, manufacturer’s design plans, and other pertinent documents or electronic records.
Participate in Court-Ordered Mediation
Some courts mandate that the parties attempt to settle the case through mediation
before it goes to trial. Mediators are typically lawyers or retired judges who will listen to both sides of the claim and attempt to get the parties to negotiate a settlement
to avoid a trial. Typically, both sides share a list of mediators until they can agree on one that satisfies both parties. Although, some courts assign mediators to personal injury claims. The cost of the mediator is shared between both parties as well. Mediation isn’t legally binding. The mediator doesn’t get to determine who wins the case. Although, they will tell each side what they think of their arguments. If the case doesn’t settle during mediation, the parties will proceed to trial.
Take Your Injury Case to Trial
Very few personal injury claims go all the way through trial to a jury verdict. However, by the time an injury case reaches the trial stage, both parties have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their case and the other party’s arguments. Even at this stage, most personal injury cases settle out of court. Many do so just hours after the trial commences. Therefore, it's crucial to thoroughly consider your lawyer's advice about settling, even if you bring a strong claim. Once your case settles, there's no opportunity to appeal. You receive your share of the settlement monies, and the case is over. When you receive your settlement, you sign documents agreeing not to attempt to prosecute the claim or pursue any more compensation from the at-fault party. Going to trial is often risky. You never know what a jury might think of your case and what they will decide. Even if they side with you, you might not get as much as the at-fault party offered to settle for before the trial began. Or, you can have a very sympathetic jury and receive generous compensation. Unfortunately, if you win a substantial jury award, the other party will likely file an appeal. The bad news in these cases is that appeals are time-consuming. Even if you win on the appeal, it will add another year or two to the time before you receive your financial recovery. Sometimes, after the trial is over, the at-fault party might propose that you accept less than your jury award in exchange for an agreement that they won't appeal. Therefore, talk to your personal injury lawyer to determine the best course of action for your specific claim. Personal injury case timelines are particular to each case. If you recently suffered injuries, schedule a time to meet with a seasoned personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim today.