This article seeks to demystify the complex process of managing personal injury claims and answer a question I frequently get asked: "how long will my injury case take?" As any conscientious attorney would tell you, "it depends." While this may not be the most satisfying answer, it's the most accurate one, given the myriad variables that can prolong your claim. Before dialing your attorney in frustration, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the information in this article to better understand why your case might be taking longer than expected. For simplicity, I'll use an auto injury case as an example, but the process is similar for other injury claims.
Every injury claim starts with the incident causing the injury. In this case, let's consider an automobile accident. Imagine a clear liability accident where you're stationary at a red light, flanked by vehicles also at a standstill, and you're rear-ended by a negligent driver who was distracted by texting. This driver has breached their duty of care to you and others on the road, and if you've suffered injuries as a result of this accident, your claim fulfills all necessary criteria to proceed.
The first step is to focus on your treatment. The initial stage of your case largely falls on your shoulders—getting better. The treatment phase doesn't have a set timeline, it lasts as long as it takes for you to recover or reach maximum medical improvement. Always remember, your health is paramount, so don't rush the process.
Financial constraints should never be a barrier to your treatment. A competent attorney can guide you to treatment providers who offer services on a lien basis. This means the healthcare provider is willing to treat you "on credit," with payment covered by your attorney when your case settles.
Next, your attorney begins gathering evidence to value and negotiate your claim. This stage starts after you've completed your treatment. Your attorney compiles all your medical records and bills for treatment to prepare a demand. The value of an injury claim is determined by rigorous analysis of case facts, types of treatment, treatment duration, and many other factors.
Subsequently, the pre-litigation negotiations commence. Here, your attorney uses their expertise in law and logical reasoning to argue for the fair value of your claim against the insurance adjuster. Keep in mind, the negotiations at this stage can only progress as quickly as the insurance adjuster responds to your attorney’s counter-demands.
If pre-litigation negotiations fail to result in a satisfactory settlement, your attorney may propose filing a lawsuit. Your attorney will draft a document called a "petition" (or "complaint" in many jurisdictions) and serve it on the negligent driver. If the defendant is found and served, they usually notify their insurance company of the lawsuit, and the insurance company hires an attorney for them. This discovery process is lengthy but necessary to prepare your case for trial.
Very few injury claims proceed to trial, but if pre-trial negotiations fail, your attorney will likely request a trial setting. Trial dates are contingent on the court's calendar, so you might wait around a year from the date of request.
In conclusion, resolving a personal injury claim can be a long process. The timeline provided in this article is a rough estimate for a clear-liability auto accident claim, but it demonstrates how cases can take years from the date of the occurrence to resolution. I hope this article sheds light on the involved processes in your injury claim, underlining that there's always something happening behind the scenes. As your attorney, my primary goal is to advocate for you, navigating through these complex processes to achieve the best outcome possible.