Personal Injury

How Long Will My Personal Injury Claim Take?

By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

How long a PI claim will take is a question that's on the mind of most people who are considering filing a personal injury claim (it’s perhaps second only to “How much is my personal injury claim worth” in terms of popularity). Unfortunately, there is no easy way to answer it. Every personal injury case is different, and there are a number of variables that come into play to dictate the amount of time your case will take to resolve. But let’s take a closer look at two of the most impactful variables, so that you have some idea of what to expect.

Your Injuries and Medical Treatment

If you weren’t hurt all that badly in the accident that gave rise to your claim -- maybe you went to the ER and followed up with your primary doctor, for example -- then your personal injury claim will probably get resolved on the speedier side. In that situation, the extent of your injuries is easy to grasp, your medical treatment is complete, and you have made a full recovery. You may not need to file a lawsuit, as long as you (or your lawyer) are prepared to do some negotiating with the insurance company to make sure you receive a fair settlement.

But if your injuries were serious, you may have received medical care from a number of providers, and you may even still be in treatment. In legalese, that means you may not be at “maximum medical improvement”-- as good as you’re going to get, in other words -- so the extent of your losses is not yet knowable, and it’s too early to resolve your case. The last thing you want to do is accept a settlement and sign a release, only to learn that your injuries are more extensive than you (and your doctor) originally thought. Once that release is signed, you can’t ask the other side for more money, even for additional medical treatment that is unquestionably legitimate.

Is the Other Side Putting Up a Fight? Are You?

Let’s look at this factor in the context of a car accident case. If the driver who hit you ran a red light, there were two eyewitnesses who saw this happen, and the police came to the scene and wrote up a report that backs all of this up, the other driver’s insurance company is going to be very motivated to settle your claim quickly. The last thing the insurance company wants is to have your case go to trial. Not with all the evidence overwhelmingly in your favor.

In that situation, you can expect to receive a pretty fair settlement offer, maybe not right off the bat, but soon. You may not even need to file a lawsuit. Again, it depends on your willingness (and ability) to negotiate a fair settlement.

But if the other side isn’t motivated to settle -- maybe the issue of fault is a lot more murky, or they are disputing whether your injuries are as serious as you say they are -- you need to be prepared to have your case drag out, possibly even until it goes to trial and a jury decides who is right. That can take several months, and even years.

The same advice applies if you are unwilling to accept the other side’s offer for whatever reason.

Settlement negotiations can get pretty contentious, and oftentimes hardball tactics and “I’m not budging” stances are merely strategies aimed at getting the most out of settlement (or, from the other side's perspective, paying the least). But there are (rare) instances where one side digs their heels in, and a personal injury case goes all the way to trial and judgment. Again, that means you could be waiting years for a resolution.

Getting It Right Is More Important Than Getting It Done

While it’s understandable that personal injury claimants want to know what to expect in terms of a time commitment, it’s much more important to make sure that the resolution to your injury case -- whether it’s a settlement check or a court judgment -- is the right resolution for you.

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