The vast majority of personal injury cases settle out of court. If this were not so, court dockets would become so clogged that it might take years to schedule a trial.
Some cases settle quickly, some take much longer to settle, and some end up at trial after settlement negotiations collapse.
Although most claims settle in a few weeks to a few months, the time it takes to reach a settlement depends on several factors. Keep reading to learn more.
How Large is Your Claim?
The larger your claim for damages, the more contentious settlement negotiations will probably be.
People who wouldn’t fight over a few dollars will gladly fight over a fortune.
Parties are also willing to spend more money and hire more experts to win a large sum of money (or to avoid overwhelming liability).
All of this complicates a claim.
When Will You Reach Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)?
MMI is the point, certified by your doctor, where you have already recovered as much as you are ever going to. Hopefully, that means a full recovery. Some people, however, suffer significant disability even after reaching MMI.
The main reason to wait until you reach MMI to resolve your claim is that you will incur continuing medical expenses until you reach it. It’s difficult to calculate medical expenses that you haven’t yet incurred.
Of course, some accident victims develop lifelong medical needs. Estimating future medical expenses for such people is difficult and uncertain.
How Scientifically Complex Is Your Claim?
The more scientifically complex your claim is, the longer it is likely to take to resolve. It takes longer to investigate the facts, for example, and make sense out of a scientifically complex claim. Medical malpractice claims and product liability claims frequently involve scientific complexity.
You might need to secure reports from expert witnesses. Once this happens, the defendant might want to cross-examine the witnesses at a deposition to poke holes in their analysis.
Expert witnesses are the norm in medical malpractice claims, and you might need an accident reconstruction specialist for a car accident claim.
How Stubborn Is the Defendant?
As a group, doctors are often ready to fight to the bitter end (a trial) rather than settle a case that they see as an attack on their credibility. Individual defendants can be irrationally stubborn based on their personality traits, even to their own long-term detriment.
Other types of defendants drag out negotiations, hoping to lull us into missing the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit. Although this doesn’t happen often, some cases involve a human factor that cannot be predicted or quantified.
Do You Need to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
You might need to file a lawsuit for two primary reasons:
- To beat the statute of limitations deadline and,
- To gain access to the court-supervised pre-trial discovery process. At the very least, filing a lawsuit requires you to draft and submit a formal complaint.
The discovery process can also be very time-consuming. Even though most personal injury lawsuits settle beforehand, you could end up at a trial. A trial could extend the time it takes to resolve your claim to well over a year.
The Statute of Limitations
The California statute of limitations sets the legal deadline by which you must either file a lawsuit, sign a settlement agreement, or forever hold your peace.
Defendants have a way of stalling settlement negotiations as the statute of limitations deadline approaches. If this happens, you may need to file a lawsuit just to beat the deadline.
If you do, a trial will not take place immediately, and you will still have plenty of time to settle your claim.
The California statute of limitations deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years after the accident. The deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years after the victim’s death. A few narrow exceptions apply under certain circumstances.
The Discovery Process
The pre-trial discovery process is a way for each party to a lawsuit to gain evidence that is in the hands of the other party or (sometimes) a third party. One of its main advantages is court supervision.
If the other party balks at providing the evidence you demand, you can seek a court order. Failure to comply with a court order is contempt of court.
Following are brief descriptions of some of the primary tools used in the discovery process.
In a deposition, you question a witness under oath but outside of a courtroom. The questions and answers are recorded, so if the witness contradicts themselves at trial, you can use the inconsistency to discredit them.
Intentionally lying about a significant matter is perjury, a crime that could result in imprisonment.
Interrogatories are written questions that the one side presents to the other side. As in a deposition, it is perjury to lie about a significant matter intentionally. Lying could include saying “I don’t know” when you really do know.
Requests for Evidence
You can request that the other side allow you to inspect documents, real property, or other physical items in their possession.
In a truck accident case, for example, you might request the content of the truck’s “black box” (event data recorder) to obtain the information necessary to reconstruct the accident.
Requests for Admissions
You make a request for admission when you ask the other party to admit some fact so that you do not have to prove it in court.
You might ask the party to admit, for example, that the voice in a recording belongs to the defendant. Each party may submit requests for admissions to the other as a way of simplifying the case.
A Seasoned Personal Injury Can Help Expedite the Process of Settlement
When you suffer an injury, you might face two competing concerns. On the one hand, medical bills are piling up, you’re out of work, and you need money fast.
On the other hand, the faster you reach a settlement, the less money you’re likely to end up receiving. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you balance these concerns.