How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take?
The length of any particular personal injury lawsuit depends primarily on the facts and circumstances of that case. Still, the length of time that a civil lawsuit can take to settle or get to trial is one significant factor that causes many people to decide not to pursue their cases. Below, our Personal injury lawyers discuss some factors to consider and what to expect when pursuing a personal injury case.
Average Time from Filing to Verdict
Different cases can resolve at different paces, and all can take time to settle or reach a jury verdict, so no average applies. However, only about three percent of tort cases go to trial and get a verdict. Regardless, a good lawyer fighting hard on your behalf can recover far more money than you can get on your own through a quick settlement that may not begin to cover your losses. A good lawyer, in other words, can make the wait more than worth it.
Now, let’s look a little closer at the personal injury lawsuit process.
Generally, the milder your injury, the faster your claim will settle. Claims for injuries that don’t have long-lasting or catastrophic consequences settle earlier because the costs are lower and easily determined. On the other hand, if you have suffered severe injuries with life-altering consequences and changes to your life, including medical expenses and rehabilitation, your claim will settle much more slowly. Insurance companies want to limit their expenses and be certain of their full exposure.
Some of the types of injuries that may settle slowly are:
- Traumatic brain injuries and skull fractures
- Neck and spine injuries
- Paralyzing injuries
- Burns and disfigurement
These long-term injuries involve difficult compensatory damage calculations. Therefore, insurance companies and their lawyers are considerably more reluctant to settle quickly.
At the Scene
To prepare for any insurance claims or litigation that may arise out of your personal injury, whether the injury, for example, stems from a car accident or a slip-and-fall:
- Get prompt medical attention. Make sure you work with your physicians and follow and complete the proposed treatments. Failure to cooperate in your medical care can make your injuries appear less serious than you claim.
- Take photos of the scene, including any property damage and your injuries. Photos taken later may not be as complete or as persuasive for your claims. Any documents you can provide will be important in resolving your case later.
- Get insurance and contact information from any possible at-fault parties. You should also get contact information from any potential witnesses at the scene of your injury.
Hiring a NY Personal Injury Attorney
As you begin to think about the extent of your injuries, your lost wages, medical expenses, and other possible expenses from your injury, it’s time to start considering whether you should hire an attorney. Personal injury cases in New York have a relatively short statute of limitations of just three years, except for medical malpractice, which is only two and a half years. The clock almost always begins running on the date of the injury. If you delay beyond that deadline, you will be unable to recover any compensation for your injuries.
Your injuries and the problems they cause mean you are at an already difficult point in your life with questions about the fate of your income and the increased expenses of your medical care. You probably do not want to deal with these additional stresses from your accident and from dealing with insurance company lawyers. You may not even be capable of doing so if your injuries are severe enough.
Although lawyers rarely specialize the way that medical professionals do, many lawyers concentrate their practices on civil lawsuits. The generic term for the issues in these is torts or civil wrongs. However, most lawyers who practice tort law tend to focus on particular areas of tort cases.
The lawsuits that tort or personal injury lawyers generally work are:
- Personal Injuries
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Slip and fall accidents or premises liability
- Wrongful death
- Medical or dental malpractice
- Products liability
- Workplace/workers’ compensation accidents
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Aviation and/or boating accidents
- Toxic chemical exposure cases
Because of the very different natures of these cases, you will want to consult with a lawyer whose practice handles cases like yours. Many of the detailed requirements of handling such cases differ, and years of experience and knowledge in the specifics of your kind of case will make handling the matter more likely to proceed to a satisfactory resolution quickly.
Personal injury attorneys almost always bill their clients on a contingency fee basis. Contingency fee arrangements mean that your attorney will not charge you an hourly rate but instead will take a percentage of the eventual settlement of your case. If your case does not come to a successful resolution, you will not pay any attorneys’ fees. Generally, in a contingency fee arrangement, you will enter into a written agreement with the attorney that will state the exact payment arrangements. The contingency will cover your fees. The agreement will state whether other litigation costs, including court costs, copying, filing fees, expert witness fees, and similar costs, are to be paid by you or included in the fee.
How Do I Start My Personal Injury Case?
Once you have selected an attorney, the process begins with an initial evaluation of your case. The attorney will consider the evidence in your case and determine whether it is viable. If so, then either negotiation or litigation (or both at the same time) will begin.
Complaint and Service
A lawsuit begins with filing a complaint and serving it on the parties named in the suit. A complaint states the facts of the case and lays out the potential causes of action, such as negligence, for which you may be seeking to recover damages. Your lawyer files a copy of the complaint with the court and ensures service on each defendant. The defendants will eventually have to file an answer to the complaint, stating why they should not be held liable. The parties can engage in a second round of answers and replies, but generally, the complaint and answer alone are more common.
Once the parties have filed the complaint and answer, a process known as discovery begins. In this part of the litigation process, the parties request and exchange information. They may share documents, answer written questions, or engage in an interview under oath called a deposition.
During this early stage of litigation, the parties can also make motions, asking the court to take certain steps or make certain decisions regarding the case. Sometimes, a lawyer might ask the court to dismiss some or all of the complaint or dismiss one or more defendants from the case. Other motions can relate to participation in the discovery process when parties are not cooperating.
Unlike litigation, settlement negotiations are informal with no particular rules until the case settles. If attorneys represent all the parties, only the attorneys will participate in this process, although your attorney cannot accept a settlement without your consent. Only if an attorney does not represent you can one of the other parties’ attorneys speak directly to you.
Circumstances Affecting Settlement
Generally, the simpler and cheaper your case is, the faster it will settle. However, more complex cases like medical malpractice or catastrophic physical injuries can take much longer to settle. Insurance company lawyers prefer to settle cases like these and not spend lots of time and effort on them.
How Much Is My Injury Worth?
There is no clear cut way to say what your injuries and damages are worth but experienced legal experts can help you assess all the total damages and get the maximum amount possible. It should not be surprising that the smaller the potential liability, the faster it will settle. Given the resources—other than settlement dollars—that go into handling a case, a smaller case, it is cheapest to settle faster than to expend time and effort to fight. On the other hand, a case that may involve years of lost earnings and medical and rehabilitation expenses, with potential pain and suffering added in, will justify a great deal of insurance company time to limit the company’s exposure.
Facts of the Case
The facts of the case matter simply because the clearer they are as concerns potential liability, the riskier it will be for the defendants to go to court. This is especially true when the potential exposure is already large and includes significant potential for subjective non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Other facts that can enter into the timing of ending your case will include, in the end, patience and perseverance. Insurance company lawyers have experience negotiating with stressed and vulnerable victims watching their expenses go up and income go down. They will not hesitate to use this knowledge to get you to accept a lowball settlement offer. An attorney can help you avoid this pressure.
A less well-known but equally important factor is that most American courts have way too many cases. These overburdened courts mean that cases that may only involve a few days of actual court time can take years to go before the judge. On average, it will take two to three years but can take significantly longer.
Signing the Settlement
In most cases, the parties will negotiate the terms of a settlement agreement among them. If the parties agree to certain settlement terms, the parties prepare and sign a written agreement. Under ordinary circumstances, the court does not need to approve the settlement agreement, and you do not have to file a copy with the court.
Going to Trial
Unfortunately, not all cases settle. A small percentage of tort cases go to trial and face a jury of six persons (rather than the 12 in a criminal case). Only five of the jurors must agree for the case to end. If you decide not to have a jury (usually only based on your lawyer’s recommendation), the judge will hear and decide your case. This process is called a “bench” trial.
Can I Appeal the Claim?
In a civil trial, any losing may, if there are grounds, appeal the decision to a higher court. Generally speaking, an appellate court looks at the law and does not review the facts of the case again (or de novo to use the technical legal term). You will need a lawyer for an appeal and may well have to post a bond to cover certain costs. If you win your appeal, the appellate court might reverse the decision or return your case to the lower court for a new decision.
Once your case settles or ends with a verdict in your favor, you will receive payment. Generally, this will be a check or wire, often made payable and delivered to your attorney. This method allows the attorney to retain the contingency fee and to pay any funds due to other parties like hospitals and doctors. You then receive the balance of the payment.
In other cases, the damages may be so extensive that the liable parties or their insurance companies will make a stream of payments or purchase an annuity to make your payments. In that case, you will have to enter into a payment arrangement with your attorney and any other parties to whom you owe money.
Let a Personal Injury Lawyer Help You Today
If you or a loved one hope to recover damages for your injuries, an experienced personal injury lawyer fight for the compensation you deserve. Personal injury cases of all types are complex and complicated. Negotiating with insurance company lawyers is challenging for an individual without counsel. Negotiating the court system without a lawyer is even more challenging. The right personal injury lawyer can help you do both. Contact us today for an initial consultation and case evaluation – let us help you toward the compensation that you need and deserve.