How Long Does It Take to Settle a Personal Injury Case?
February 22, 2022 | Uncategorized
Suffering an injury under circumstances that were not your fault can turn your world upside down. You likely have many questions and concerns. For example, who will pay your medical bills? How long does it take to settle a claim? When will you be physically able to return to work? How will you provide for your family if you can’t return to work? Who is liable for what happened to you?
Please know that you’re not alone. Millions of people have been in your shoes. Many have recovered compensation to pay for their medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Whether you are newly injured or your injury happened a year ago, your next best step is to contact an experienced local personal injury attorney.
What Constitutes a Personal Injury?
Unfortunately, accidents and injuries happen every day. They can occur at home, work, or while running errands. They can happen in the park, at school, the movie theater, or even at a neighbor’s house.
However, some injuries are more serious than others and often have third-party liability. In other words, some injuries require extensive medical care and healing time, leading to substantial medical bills and other economic losses. When these occur, and someone else might be responsible for the conditions that caused the injury, you can hold them liable for paying your damages.
Common personal injury claims involve:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Boating accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Premise liability
- Negligent security
- Product defects
- Medical malpractice
- Dog bites or attacks
- Workplace accidents
- Construction accidents
- Wrongful death
- Playground injuries
- School accidents
- Sports accidents
Personal injury law is complex, which is why most of the time, the injured party turns to a personal injury attorney to help handle their claim. Don’t be ashamed of what you don’t know, instead reach out for help from a personal injury lawyer or law firm. They can ensure that you receive the best possible outcome in your case. Sometimes this outcome comes through settling your claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company, and other times, it comes from going to court and letting a judge or a jury decide what should happen.
How Long Will My Personal Injury Case Last?
While injury victims deserve a swift and fair resolution to their claim, they generally must sacrifice one to obtain the other. You may need patience to resolve your claim. While your attorney doesn’t have a crystal ball, they can assess the critical factors and estimate how and when your case might end.
The vast majority of personal injury cases are settled out of court long before there’s a need to schedule a trial.
Settlements are beneficial to injured parties, insurance companies, and their insureds because they:
- Provide quicker resolution
- Decrease the cost of the case
- Don’t require the injured party or the insured to speak on the stand
- Give both sides more control over how the claim ends
- Keeps the case out of the public eye (usually more important to the at-fault party)
However, settlements can often take time as a lot of back and forth takes place between attorneys. Injured parties do not need to accept settlement offers. Their personal injury attorney is responsible for presenting them with all settlement offers they receive on their behalf. Attorneys can provide advice to their personal injury clients as to whether or not they should accept a settlement, but they can’t decide for them.
Personal injury cases are more likely to settle if:
- The liability of the other party is clear and significant
- The insurance company believes the injured party will be well-received by a jury
Personal Injury Settlements 101
A settlement happens when an insurance adjuster or a defendant (the person or company being sued) makes an offer of payment to the injured party.
A settlement can occur almost anytime, including:
- Before a lawsuit is filed, but after the claim arises.
- After a court case is filed and a trial has begun, as long as there is no final verdict.
- After trial, but while the jury is still deliberating, since one or both parties might decide they prefer the stability of a settlement.
If a settlement agreement is reached, the injured party must surrender all potential claims against the at-fault party resulting from the underlying accident or incident. The injured party must sign a full liability release. For example, in a car crash case, the auto insurer may offer the plaintiff $20,000 to settle the case. To receive that 20,000, the plaintiff will have to agree not to file a lawsuit or pursue any other legal remedy in connection with the crash.
Personal Injury Settlements and Insurers
Settlements are nearly always involved when the defendant has an insurance company representing them. This occurs in the vast majority of personal injury cases. Insurers have the assets to pay out claims. In fact, they anticipate paying out a certain number of claims as part of their business model.
Insurers don’t like to take risks and don’t want to put their financial future in the hands of an often-unpredictable jury, especially while paying the hefty costs of litigating a personal injury case through trial.
If a personal injury case doesn’t settle and isn’t dropped, it will proceed to the litigation phase. No one likes going to court, but sometimes it is necessary to get a personal injury victim the compensation they deserve. If you need to do this, your personal injury lawyer will thoroughly prepare you for the trial.
Factors that Increase the Duration of Personal Injury Cases
Several factors can increase the time it takes to settle or litigate your personal injury case. Remember that every case is different. When you hire a seasoned attorney to represent your claim, they can explain which factors might impact the duration of your claim and why.
How Long Your Medical Treatment Lasts
The length of your medical treatment is a significant factor. Typically, personal injury attorneys don’t recommend settling your claim until your injuries have completely healed or reached maximum medical improvement. However, when your total medical expenses are known, and you can obtain an estimate of your future anticipated costs, you are more likely to receive what is due to you. Unfortunately, the longer it takes for your injuries to heal, the longer your claim will take.
Waiting for this to happen can be frustrating. However, you are much more likely to receive a full and fair settlement if you can wait to settle until you know how your injuries will impact you going forward and what your total medical bills will be.
The legal responsibility for certain actions is called liability. State law determines liability in most personal injury cases. Often in personal injury cases, the person who caused the injuries to another was negligent. In other words, they acted with carelessness to such an extent that it caused someone to sustain damages.
Suppose liability is evident in your claim. In that case, the insurance carrier will be much more likely to settle the claim because it doesn’t want to risk going to court and ultimately paying more than what they are offering you.
On the other hand, if the insurance company thinks you were partially to blame for the accident or liability is unclear, it may decline to settle the case. If your case goes to trial, this process can take a year or more.
Your Claim Involves Significant Damages (Money)
Another factor that may delay a settlement in the case is if the claim involves substantial damages or, simply put, a lot of money. Insurers won’t pay big money for a settlement until they perform their due diligence.
That means they investigate every aspect of the case, no matter how small, until they know:
- They lack a reliable defense to your asserted claim
- Your injuries are genuinely as severe as you say they are
- They can’t do anything to attack your credibility
In addition, sometimes insurance companies will delay offering a settlement on a big case just to see if the plaintiff will give up and accept less money. They more or less use stall tactics and play games.
Unfortunately, some claimants can’t wait too long to receive compensation for their injuries. Insurers are well aware of this and will try to wait them out. It’s always best for plaintiffs to have a personal injury attorney who can help guide them through the entire process. Insurance companies are more likely to take the injured party’s claim seriously if they have legal representation.
What if You Need the Money Now?
There’s no denying that personal injuries can be expensive. Depending on the type and the severity of the injury, you may not go to work and earn a living for several weeks or months. Meanwhile, your everyday bills continue to pile up as if you were going to work. You may also have medical bills that start coming in and then collection calls to get you to pay those bills.
With most Americans living paycheck to paycheck, it doesn’t take very long for the bills to catch up to a lapse in income.
There’s also no denying that personal injury claims can take a long time to resolve. With mounting financial pressure, what is a personal injury plaintiff to do? It’s often unrealistic to hold out forever waiting for a fair settlement or, worse yet, a trial.
What if you are being offered a settlement just days or weeks after your injury? This is equal to the bargain-basement price at your local thrift store. The insurance company will offer the least amount of money possible hoping that you settle right away. Then the insurance company can close the case and move on.
As tempted as you might feel to take that settlement and pay your bills, at least speak to an attorney first. Insurance companies bank on the fact that you are hard-pressed for cash at this point and overly excited to take whatever settlement comes your way.
Not only can an experienced personal injury lawyer tell you if you are being offered a fair settlement or not, but they can also help you with other financial options. For example, some medical providers will accept medical liens.
With a medical lien, you can get whatever care you need now. However, you, your attorney, and the medical provider sign an agreement stating that when your case is resolved (whether via settlement or court award), they receive the money owed to them (sometimes with interest according to state law) before you receive compensation. Your attorney will pay them out of the proceeds you receive, and then you receive the rest.
Medical liens aren’t always the answer and are certainly not the only answer. Your lawyer may also have other resources to help you stay financially afloat while you are waiting for your case to resolve. For example, they may have resources for public assistance or, in some cases, a settlement advance. Suppose you can hold out and not accept an early settlement from the insurance company. In that case, you are more likely to receive maximum compensation for your damages and injuries.
No matter your personal injury claim, the injuries you suffered, the other party’s insurance company, or how bad you need the money right now, always review your case with a well-versed personal injury attorney before making decisions. Once you settle your claim and sign the paperwork, you can’t rescind your decision and seek more compensation. Always play it safe by getting a legal consultation first.