How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take?
Breit Cantor Grana Buckner—May 5, 2021
If you have sustained a serious injury, you may be contemplating filing a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for causing your injuries, whether it be from a car crash, defective product, sexual abuse, or a slip and fall. One of the pressing questions you probably have at this point is how long does a personal injury lawsuit take to go to trial or settle.
From our experience, the settlement time can range from a few weeks to more than a year, and going to trial generally takes eighteen months to two years.
Ultimately, the short answer is it depends on the severity of the case. To further help you decide if pursuing legal action is best for your emotional and financial wellbeing, this blog discusses the steps plaintiffs typically go through when filing a personal injury claim and the approximate timeline associated with each step.
Step 1: Seek Medical Treatment
This should be the first step you take after an accident, even if injuries do not appear obvious right away. This is how internal injuries can be detected and treated to prevent long-term damage. Depending on your injuries, this can vary from a visit to the emergency room to a few nights of observation in the hospital.
Going to the emergency room or seeing a doctor immediately after a vehicle crash, assault, or other injury is especially important in personal injury cases. This not only benefits your health but also potentially your case. Hospital records are important pieces of evidence. If you fail to seek medical treatment, the insurance adjuster and defense attorneys that represent the other party will argue that your injuries were not that serious, or that something other than their bad conduct caused your injury.
Step 2: Schedule a Consultation with a Personal Injury Attorney
Serious injuries often mean time away from work, thousands of dollars in medical expenses, and a long recovery process. One way to reduce your financial burden and find a way forward is to seek damages.
The best way to understand your legal options is to speak with a personal injury attorney. Try to make the appointment as soon as you are physically able as there are some critical actions your attorney will need to handle right away to ensure the integrity of your case. Your first appointment shouldn’t last more than one to two hours.
While you should prepare to answer any questions about your case at the initial consultation, you should also ask questions yourself to evaluate the attorney, like:
- How long have you worked as a personal injury attorney?
- How many cases like mine have you handled?
- What kind of results have you received?
- How does the process work and who will I be working with besides you?
You may decide to meet with a few different attorneys to find the right fit or experience. While this can add to the overall lawsuit timeline, you should prioritize finding a lawyer that you feel comfortable with. You want representation that you can trust, especially since you will be working closely with your legal representation. Researching your attorney and their firm’s reviews is also helpful to learn more about them.
Step 3: Your Attorney Investigates and Reviews Your Medical Records While You Focus on Treatment and Healing
Your attorney needs time to investigate your case to determine which legal strategies will work best for your situation. In the meantime, your job is to focus on getting the treatments you need for your body to heal. It’s imperative to make sure you fully heal or understand the lifetime effects of your injuries before your case is resolved.
Attorneys consider that you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) with your injuries when you are no longer actively seeking medical treatment. Waiting until you have reached MMI is essential for your lawyer to understand what your case is worth.
At the same time as you are focusing on healing, your attorney’s first step is to interview you to understand all of the facts of the case. Information of interest will include knowing about dates, mitigating factors, possible witnesses, preexisting conditions,and more.
Your attorney will also request all medical records and expense statements related to your injuries to get a better understanding of damages.
This process can take several months and depends on the responsiveness of each medical provider and how quickly you heal. While this step is lengthy, it cannot and should not be rushed, as it will determine what next steps are in your best interest.
Step 4: Making Demands and Negotiations
If your attorney thinks your case can settle without a trial, and your case seems fairly straightforward in terms of fault and damages, the next step is to make a settlement demand with the other party’s attorney or insurance agent. The settlement demand process can take a few weeks. On the other extreme, if you have suffered catastrophic injuries or fault is not as clear, your attorney may move straight to the next step of filing a lawsuit.
Step 5: Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Your lawyer may think you have a solid case and will begin preparing to file a lawsuit. This process can take longer, as it is now dictated by the speed of the court system.
Your attorney will start by filing suit with the local court where your injuries occurred. The time it takes for the court to hear your case depends on its caseload, but one to two years is typical.
Due to the statute of limitations in Virginia that govern personal injury lawsuits, filing must occur within two years of the date you incurred injuries for most personal injury claims. A reputable personal injury attorney will know this and help move the preceding steps along to file a claim before the statute of limitations runs out.
Step 6: The Discovery Phase
Discovery is just a legal term that means evidence gathering. It is when the lawyers representing both the defense and the plaintiff share documents with each other, along with an extensive list of questions about their claim and defenses. Each attorney then takes depositions, a term that describes interviewing the plaintiff, defendant, and witnesses under oath. Court deadlines and the complexity of your case both affect the timeline of this stage, but the average timeframe ranges from 6 to 12 months.
Step 7: Negotiations
The attorneys for each party start negotiating after the discovery phase. When they cannot reach a settlement between themselves, they often meet with a neutral third party who acts as a mediator, this is usually a retired judge. You and the other party will also join this process and work towards a resolution with your attorneys. This process can take a few weeks.
Step 8: Personal Injury Trial
The trial takes place when mediation between the parties fails to produce a desirable result. The length of your trial depends on several factors, including the judge’s schedule. You should expect the trial to last at least one day but possibly up to several days.
Other Factors That Can Influence the Speed of Your Trial
When you have serious injuries and need financial help, it is frustrating to have your trial take longer than expected. However, many times the factors that affect the timing of your case are out of your control. Here are some common examples.
- Extensive medical treatments: If you need numerous surgeries and other medical treatments, it will take time for your attorney to present all evidence and for the jury to consider it.
- High-value claims: Personal injury lawsuits worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars take much longer to evaluate than smaller cases. The jury needs to feel comfortable that it has heard all relevant evidence related to a high-value claim before ruling on it.
- Legal or factual issues: When evidence presented is incorrect or questioned, the presenting party needs more time to produce accurate evidence to support their side’s version of events.
- Number of lay and expert witnesses called: Lay witnesses are those who may have seen the accident occur or who have general knowledge about you and your injuries. Expert witnesses are typically medical or legal specialists who can provide significant insight into a certain topic. The total number of witnesses called and how long they speak impact the duration of your trial.
Consult With a Lawyer
Every case is different, so there is no finite amount of time that it takes to settle a personal injury claim. Furthermore, settlement timelines are often affected by factors outside of your or your attorney’s control.
This may feel frustrating, especially for victims who have suffered financially and emotionally and want justice. However, working with an experienced lawyer can help you better understand the timeline of your specific case. Your personal injury attorney should work closely with you throughout the case, giving you status updates and updated timeline projections.
This is our approach at Breit Cantor. We purposefully limit our caseload to provide the time and attention that each individual case deserves. If you’d like to talk with us about a possible personal injury case, we invite you to schedule a free consultation.
By Courtney Sweasy