The Timeline of an Injury Claim
Posted in Lawsuit on June 26, 2017
One question we invariably hear from new clients is, how long will it take to resolve my case? There is, unfortunately, no hard and fast answer to that question. Every case is unique, and the timeline from initiation to resolution will reflect that uniqueness. Typically, the larger the amount of damages, the longer the case will take to resolve. The process could take anywhere from several months to several years. But there is a sequence of steps that forms an outline to every accident case. Beware the attorney who promises you quick, short-term results, which could be a sign of a “settlement mill,” where the emphasis is on case volume rather than quality legal representation.
First let it be pointed out that not every case requires filing a lawsuit. And not every lawsuit ends up in court. The steps outlined here begin immediately after the accident occurs; and although the steps listed here go all the way through a trial, many, many cases are settled somewhere along the timeline. Some never make it to suit, and of those that do, many never make it to trial.
From Accident to Settlement or Verdict: The Essential Steps
- Get Medical Treatment: You’ve had an accident; it was caused by someone else; you were injured. Go to a hospital Emergency Room, an Urgent Care practice, or your regular doctor─ the sooner the better and preferably the day of the accident. Continue to see the doctor as long as you have symptoms and make sure the symptoms are all thoroughly documented in the record.
- Engage a Personal Injury Attorney: Choose a lawyer or firm that handles accident injury and wrongful death claims as a primary practice area and has a documented record of success in these cases.
- Refer the Insurance Adjuster to Your Attorney: Expect to hear from the insurance company for the other party. If you are making a claim under your coverage, the adjuster will be from your own company. Never allow the adjuster to record a statement from you, and do not sign anything unless your lawyer tells you to.
- Your Lawyer Begins the Investigation: Provide your attorney with any documentation you have, including the police report, a copy of your insurance policy, photos or notes you have made at the accident scene, and the names of any treating physicians or hospitals. These will form the basis for your attorney’s analysis of the case.
- Gathering Proof: Preparation for negotiations, alternate dispute resolution, or trial will include documenting medical treatment and costs, lost earnings, pain, suffering, and other non-economic damages, and may require bringing in various professionals (doctors, engineers, accident reconstruction specialists, etc. to review the facts and provide expert testimony in a deposition or at trial. Negotiations usually begin after your doctor says you have reached your Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI).
- Preliminary Negotiations: Your lawyer may decide to file a lawsuit at this point, or may enter directly into negotiations with the insurance company, often beginning with a demand letter. If an adequate settlement offer results, it may not be necessary to file suit.
- The Lawsuit: The lawsuit is begun with a summons and complaint to the defendant, who has a limited time in which to answer. A lawsuit must be filed before the Statute of Limitations (legal time limit for filing) has expired.
- Discovery: This is where the two sides trade information and each shows the other the evidence they have to support their position. This is often done by means of interrogatories (written questions and answers) and depositions (sworn testimony before a court reporter).
- Motions: These are requests made by the parties to the court, perhaps a request to force the other party to produce certain material or a request for summary judgment.
- Ongoing Settlement Negotiations: Negotiations generally continue throughout this process. (usually including mandatory settlement conferences ordered by the court).
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Mediation, arbitration, or neutral evaluation may be tried to reach an out-of-court settlement, or a judge may order a settlement conference.
- Trial: If all other attempts to reach a settlement fail, your case may have to go to trial. Make sure you have hired a lawyer with proven trial experience.
- Verdict: A jury, or in some cases a judge, will decide on the damages and the amount of your recovery award (or in rare case, may decide in favor of the defendant), and the order is filed.
- Appeal: If either side feels the decision was incorrect, they may appeal it to a higher court.
Find The Right Lawyer
Your lawyer should explain each step of the legal process and include you in any decisions along the way. Just be sure to hire a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable and trust, and who has years of experience, a reputation for positive results, and the ability to focus on your individual needs.