Every accident case is different. Some are settled more quickly than others. It's not uncommon though, for a personal injury case to take two years or more to resolve.
It's understandable that you may be frustrated at how slowly your case seems to be moving. But don't rush to take the first settlement offer made by the insurance company. The first settlement offer is rarely your best settlement offer.
Evaluating the Injury
It takes time to determine the full extent of your injuries. Doctors are often unable to give an opinion about the seriousness of an injury until the patient's condition has stabilized. In serious injury cases, it may take a year after the accident before a doctor can say the injuries are permanent.
It's very important to take the necessary time to fully evaluate your injuries. You have only one chance to prove the extent to which you and your family have been harmed. Once you take a settlement offer or get a verdict at trial, that decision is final. You can't go back and ask for more money if you later find out your injuries are more serious than you thought.
Patience with the Process
An experienced personal injury attorney knows how to keep your case moving along through the legal system. Early on in the case, the attorneys meet for a scheduling conference to set deadlines for the steps in the process. Your personal injury case may move through these stages:
The discovery period can last six months or more. This gives each party time to find out all they can about the other party's case. The attorneys exchange disclosure statements that give the facts of the case and list the witnesses and experts who are involved. You'll be asked to answer interrogatories, which are written questions that you answer under oath..
You'll also be asked to produce documents or authorize others to produce documents for you such as accident reports, medical records and bills, and insurance policies. You may be asked to undergo a medical exam by an independent doctor to verify your injuries.
During a deposition, you’ll be asked questions under oath. A court reporter types up a record of everything that is said. Not only will you be questioned about the accident and your injuries, you'll be asked questions about what your health, education, and work were like before the accident.
It's your attorney's job to prepare you for the deposition. Your attorney will also "defend" your deposition by objecting to irrelevant or harassing questions.
It's possible for the attorneys to file all sorts of motions to narrow the issues before trial. The motions could object to certain evidence or ask that the case be dismissed if there is not enough evidence.
Mediation and Settlement
Settlement conferences, mediation, or arbitration are often required before personal injury cases can go to trial. In mediation, a neutral trained mediator goes over the issues and evidence with the parties to help guide them toward a settlement agreement. Arbitration is different in that the arbitrator acts like a judge to listen to the evidence and decide issues in the case.
If your case doesn't settle, it goes to trial, where a jury decides what your injury is worth. Depending on where you live, it could take six months or so to get the trial scheduled on the court's docket.
The trial itself may last two days to two weeks. Once the trial is over, there may be further appeals and motions. It's possible for the parties to settle the case during trial or even after trial in order to stop an appeal.
The Waiting Game
You'll have better bargaining power if you don't rush into a settlement. On the other hand, litigation is expensive and time-consuming, and taking a chance with a jury can sometimes lead to disappointing results.
Your best strategy is to contact an attorney with experience in handling personal injury cases in your area. Your attorney can give you an estimate about the length of time it takes to resolve your sort of case. Also, ask your attorney to give you frequent reports on the status of your case so you know that it's making its way through the legal process.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How long will it take for experts to investigate and analyze my accident?
- Can you arrange for my health care providers to wait to be paid when my case is resolved?
- Do you have the time and resources to make sure my case proceeds through the system as quickly as possible?