How long will it take to resolve your personal injury claim after you’ve been hurt in an accident? We asked readers from across the United States to tell us about their personal injury cases. Here’s what we learned about how long the process lasted, from the start of their claims to when they either received a check or learned they wouldn’t be getting anything.
Does Time Equal Money?
Half of our readers resolved their personal injury claims within two to 12 months, while the process took more than a year for nearly one in three readers. It’s natural to want things to go more quickly, but a look at the numbers shows that a speedier resolution doesn’t necessarily mean a better result.
For one thing, it took readers longer to resolve their claims successfully—by getting an out-of-court settlement or, rarely, a court award after a trial. For nearly seven in ten of those readers, it took more than six months to receive their checks. On the other side of equation, more than half (53%) of those who resolved their claim very quickly—within a month—received nothing.
Of course, every personal injury case is different, and a whole host of other factors will determine how long it will take to resolve your claim. As our survey illustrated, many of the factors that slow things down also lead to higher settlements.
How Having a Lawyer Affects Duration
In our readers’ experience, having a personal injury lawyer usually meant a longer claims process. On average, those who hired an attorney resolved their cases in 15.7 months, compared to 7 months for those who handled their claim on their own. But that extra time–and an attorney’s help—generally paid off. Readers with legal representation received settlements or awards that were $60,000 higher, on average, than those who went ahead without a lawyer’s help. What might explain this? It takes time for a lawyer to gather evidence to support a demand for higher compensation, negotiate with the insurance company, and put up a fight if necessary. Also, people with more serious injuries are more likely to hire a lawyer—and those cases usually take longer to resolve.
Does Negotiating a Settlement Offer Take Longer?
Nearly a third of our readers accepted the insurance company’s first settlement offer and, as a result, resolved their personal injury claims more quickly (7 months, on average) than those who held out for a better deal. But taking the extra time almost always resulted in higher settlements. Readers who negotiated with the insurance company took an average of 11.2 months to resolve their claim, but they ended up with $31,000 more, on average, than those who simply took the first offer.
Does Filing or Threatening a Lawsuit Drag Out a Case?
As with settlement negotiations, it can take longer to resolve a personal injury claim if you file a lawsuit or notify the other party that you’re ready to do so. Readers who took one of those steps reported average resolution times of 11.5 months, compared to 7 months for those who didn’t do so. Even when no trial takes place (meaning a settlement is reached or the case is dismissed before then), filing a lawsuit can lead to a longer fight, including comprehensive fact-finding investigations and the formal “discovery” process (which includes the parties’ sending out and responding to written questions, scheduling depositions, and exchanging documents). So when settlement negotiations are dragging on without a decent offer, you may have to be prepared to threaten a lawsuit in order to get things rolling. Here again, our survey showed that the additional time and effort was worth it. Readers who filed or threatened a lawsuit received settlements or awards that were almost twice as high, on average, as those who took no steps toward getting the court involved in their claims.
Do Higher Medical Bills Mean the Claim Takes Longer?
Your personal injury claim will probably get resolved relatively quickly if you weren’t hurt all that badly in the accident. Your medical care won’t take very long, and the extent of your injuries will be clear. On the other hand, if you suffered serious injuries, it may take much longer to complete your medical treatment—and you certainly don’t want to accept a settlement until your condition is stable and you know the full scope of all your losses. The other side is also more likely to put up a fight in cases with more serious injuries and higher medical costs, because the stakes are higher. Our survey showed that as readers’ medical expenses rose, it took longer on average to resolve their cases.
Delays in Resolving Claims
Legalities and paperwork can slow down the process before you actually receive a check for your personal injuries. For instance, it can take time to prepare a settlement and release agreement, especially if the two sides disagree on the language. And the insurance company won’t issue a check until it has investigated to see if anyone (like a medical provider) has placed a lien on your settlement. But most delays happen much sooner in the process. When we asked our readers why their claims were held up, more than one in five placed the blame on the insurance company. And more than a quarter of our readers (28%) said that the process was slowed down because they had problems finding a lawyer to take their case. What should you do if you run into that problem?
Attorneys turn down cases for a number of reasons. They simply may not have the time, or they believe a claim wouldn’t be worth the effort—for instance, because the other party doesn’t have insurance coverage or it would be too difficult to prove who was to blame for the accident. If a lawyer turns down your case, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Then you can decide if it’s worth trying again with someone else. (To learn more, see our article on what to do if a personal injury lawyer won't take my case.)