If you suffered harm and believe someone else was liable for your injuries, it’s understandable that you want a settlement as soon as possible. However, personal injury cases are often a matter of negotiation and back and forth with insurance companies and sometimes they result in trial. Understanding the process will help you know what to expect and when to anticipate your case being over. All too often we discuss the accident itself and contacting an attorney, but, at Kaufman Law, we want to help you understand the process and timeline of a personal injury case after you have been signed.
Timeline of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
There are several aspects that go into a personal injury lawsuit before you can receive compensation for the full extent of your injuries and any other associated damages. These include:
First, your personal injury attorney will send a demand letter to the at-fault party’s insurance company and/or any other involved insurance policy deemed appropriate for recovery in your case. The demand letter is constructed typically after you have completed your medical treatment, but in some cases, it can be before medical treatment completion, depending on the specific scenario. The demand letter details what happened, the injuries you sustained, and an itemized list of all damages. The demand letter will include the amount of your medical bills, lost wages, and any other expenses and/or damages that you incurred as the result of the accident. Formulating this demand letter can take time, as it might take a while for the full extent of your injuries to manifest and for the appropriate documentation of your damages to arrive in your attorney's hands from sources, such as your medical providers. In essence, a demand letter outlines support for what your attorney is demanding to the insurance company to settle your case with them for.
After your attorney sends a demand letter, the insurance company responds to it. In some cases, the insurance company will accept your demands and pay in full, but this occurrence is very rare. More often, this is where the negotiations process begins between your attorney and the insurance company.
During negotiations, the insurance company will examine your demands and try to point out weak spots, like treatments they deem “medically unnecessary” or even pre-existing conditions. After evaluating your claim, they’ll make a counter offer to your attorney's demand. These counter offers are usually too low, and your attorney will begin the negotiation process. Both parties go back and forth until they reach a settlement that seems fair, based on the extent of your injuries, pain, and suffering. Your attorney typically communicates each offer made by the insurance company to you and legally guides you on how to proceed.
Settlements or Trial
If negotiations fail, your attorney may decide to file a formal personal injury lawsuit against the Defendant(s), which can lead to out-of-courtroom settlements or a jury trial. This process can take weeks to months, or even years, especially if a case goes to a jury trial, depending on the complexity of your case. Smaller cases usually do not go to trial, but can. Large cases, such as wrongful death, are what you typically see in court, while a workers' compensation case will typically be settled after extensive negotiation. It all depends on the severity of the case, coupled with the level of cooperation from the insurance company.
Common Reasons for Longer Proceedings
Some insurance negotiations or personal injury lawsuits take longer than others. There are several reasons why your case might take longer than expected. These include:
The presence of factual inconsistencies (i.e., the insurance investigation includes information that the attorney or police investigation does not, or vice versa).
The case involves a large amount of money. Larger claims usually take longer to settle, as there are more negotiations involved.
You sustained serious injuries and have not yet reached a state of “medical maximum improvement.” Waiting to reach the maximum point in your recovery helps ensure that you will receive full compensation for your injuries.
A personal injury case can be a lengthy affair, especially if it involves one of the above elements. However, a longer timeline might actually benefit you, as it helps ensure that you’re receiving fair compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. Trust your attorney, and feel free to ask questions about your case should they arise.