Personal injury accidents leave people with a ton of medical costs. In addition, they face smaller paychecks and multiple bills. Many individuals do not have the resources to pay for everything. They might be able to afford living expenses if they gain compensation.
A lawsuit allows you to get the money you deserve to help you get back on your feet. Despite the possibility of a settlement in the future, you have bills you need to pay now. Like many others, you may wonder how long a personal injury case takes to settle. An experienced personal injury lawyer plays a critical role in this process.
When Should You Start a Personal Injury Case?
After you receive immediate medical attention, you should plan on seeking reimbursement. The appropriate time to start a personal injury lawsuit is as early as possible. One reason is the statute of limitations limits how long a person has to take legal action.
Once the statute expires, you lose your ability to seek compensation. However, several states have a “discovery rule” where an injured party could start their case after the deadline ends. The exception applies if the person could not have reasonably known the defendant caused their injuries.
Nevertheless, insurance companies tend to keep an eye on the statute of limitations. Therefore, you need to do so as well. Each state has its own time limit for personal injury cases. You could have anywhere from one to six years. In addition, every jurisdiction may have specific requirements to pause the statute of limitations.
If you hire an attorney early, they can focus on filing the proper documents on time. Meanwhile, you can dedicate your energy to your recovery.
How Long Does It Take for a Personal Injury Case to Settle?
According to the CDC, around 39.5 million people sustain injuries every year. Bodily harm occurs because of someone’s negligence in a majority of reported cases. As a result, many individuals file personal injury lawsuits. However, a claim can take time to move through the civil court system.
The time you must wait for your personal injury case settlement depends on certain factors. Setbacks could delay the proceedings, but the defendant’s willingness to settle could quicken the process. Therefore, a case could take months or years to resolve.
On average, the plaintiff does not reach the settlement stage until one to two years after the initial filing. Lawsuits generally go through specific steps, and each may vary in length.
What you can expect during the process is:
- The complaint. The lawsuit officially begins when the plaintiff files the complaint and serves the defendant. The first step is brief since the other party usually has 30 days to respond.
- The discovery. The discovery phase involves the attorneys gathering documents to strengthen their cases and hold depositions. The lawyer may wait for the plaintiff to reach maximum medical improvement. You can expect the phase to last between six months to a year. However, the discovery could take longer.
- Negotiation. The lawyers from both parties sit down to negotiate compensation. Alternatively, they may attend mediation with their clients and a third-party mediator. Discussions of a settlement deal can take one to two months to complete.
- Trial. Only a small percentage of personal injury lawsuits reach the trial stage. Cases take considerably longer if they need to go to the courtroom. One reason is the hearing date could change one or more times.
You likely will not need to worry about having to go to trial. If you do, you should have a personal injury attorney by your side. Your lawyer can stand up to an aggressive defendant and improve the odds of a successful verdict.
The Settlement Process
A personal injury lawsuit does not officially resolve until the plaintiff signs the release forms. An individual has to go through an entire process to settle their case and receive the check. Usually, they wait anywhere from a month to six weeks. The procedure may take longer if setbacks occur.
The settlement process begins with the release form. The document describes the terms of the agreement and releases the defendant from future liability. Before you place your signature, your lawyer reviews the paperwork. They ensure the conditions are in your best interests and may return to negotiations if they are unfair.
After you submit the release form, the insurance company starts to process the check. The processing stage may experience delays if the insurer claims you signed the document incorrectly. If you have a lawyer, they can communicate with the insurer after a few weeks of no payment.
Afterward, the check arrives at your attorney’s office. Your lawyer subtracts their fee and additional litigation costs before sending you the remaining compensation.
Damages to Expect in Personal Injury Cases
In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured party can claim one or more damages. They may receive monetary awards in any of the three categories, and the first group is special damages. Also known as economic damages, the compensation covers your financial losses.
Many personal injury accidents prevent victims from being able to work immediately. The number of workdays they miss depends on the extent of their injuries. Pay stubs and tax records show how much the defendant owes the injured party.
People commonly claim medical expenses as part of their special damages. You can get compensation for hospitalization, prescription medication, medical devices, and future costs. Severe injuries with long treatment plans generally result in higher reimbursement.
An accident may have caused dents, scratches, and more on someone’s personal property. A person likely needs to pay for repairs to their vehicle after a car collision. They can sue the liable party for property damage. You may be able to get compensation for broken electronics, watches, and glasses.
The next type of damages in a lawsuit is general damages. General damages consist of non-financial losses. For instance, people often claim pain and suffering in their settlements. However, other general damages include permanent disability, scarring, and mental anguish.
Since general damages do not have a set economic value, settlement calculations are complex. Personal injury lawyers use specific formulas to estimate a dollar amount.
The final category of damages the court may award someone is punitive damages. Punitive damages only apply to personal injury lawsuits in specific situations. The defendant must have behaved intentionally or recklessly, and they caused severe injuries. Therefore, roughly 30 percent of plaintiffs who seek punitive damages received them.
Judges do not use punitive damages to compensate injured parties but to punish defendants. The penalty works as a warning not to engage in similar conduct in the future. The defendant has to pay the amount alongside compensatory damages, but caps may apply.
Reasons to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
Increases the Odds of Success
A successful lawsuit depends on the establishment of negligence. The plaintiff must dedicate time to finding convincing evidence if liability is unclear. In addition, insurance companies have an advantage in negotiations since they have more experience with claims.
As a result, a lawsuit can feel like an uphill battle without a personal injury attorney. Lawyers know how to build strong arguments and prove negligence. The chances of a fair settlement increase due to their ability to negotiate with the other party.
Personal injury attorneys may be able to speed up the lawsuit process. Without representation, you might have to wait until you sufficiently recover before you can sue. However, a lawyer begins the paperwork while you focus on personal matters.
Furthermore, attorneys prevent setbacks from occurring. Lawsuits may be able to resolve quicker with as few issues as possible.
Protection From Insurers
Insurance companies tend to look for reasons to deny claims or limit payouts. Many people have faced various unfair strategies from adjusters. An insurer may convince you to give a recorded statement or sign release forms for past medical records.
Insurers can be effective in pressuring and intimidating claimants. With the help of an attorney, you do not need to worry about an adjuster’s tactics. You can rely on your lawyer to protect your rights to fair compensation.
Accurate Settlement Calculations
Different elements determine how much someone receives in a personal injury settlement. As a result, a person new to lawsuits may not know how to calculate compensation accurately. They could undervalue their case accidentally. A lawyer knows how to estimate the worth of your damages.
Additionally, attorneys are familiar with what factors raise a lawsuit’s value. They can maximize the potential compensation a client could get. You could resolve the case with more money than if you proceeded without a lawyer.
No Upfront Costs
Legal proceedings can be expensive, especially if a case takes a long time. As a result, a few plaintiffs try to save money by not hiring a lawyer. Some attorneys appear expensive because of their high rates. However, most personal injury firms use a different fee type.
Your attorney likely will charge you a contingency fee, so you have no upfront expenses. You do not have to pay a cent unless they win. Usually, the lawyer removes a portion from the settlement as part of their fee.
What Happens if the Defendant Dies
Since a lawsuit can take a while, the defendant may pass away before both sides can find a resolution. You can still pursue compensation, but the situation prolongs your case. The reason for the delay is a legal process is necessary for you to undergo.
After the liable party’s death, you would file a motion to substitute the deceased’s person’s estate. You may have a limited time, so you need to act quickly. A personal representative or executor manages the lawsuit against the decedent. The case then goes through each phase until it reaches an outcome.
However, the other side might not already have an established estate or an appointed personal representative. The setback can delay the legal process further since the opposing side may take time to sort everything out.
If the defendant died before you could start a lawsuit, you would name the estate’s personal representative. Regardless of when they passed, a case with a deceased liable party can become complicated. A qualified attorney knows how to navigate the situation and informs you of your rights.
Personal Injury Cases With Minors
Several states allow people to pause the statute of limitations if the victim is under 18. Nevertheless, a parent or legal guardian can choose not to wait if they have a lot of medical bills to pay. The law allows them to start a lawsuit on their child’s behalf.
A lawsuit proceeds in the same way one involving an adult victim would. In addition, the injured party can claim similar damages. However, the settlement process may vary. A parent may negotiate compensation for their child, but several states do not allow an adult to accept an offer.
Instead, the parent or legal guardian must wait for the judge to agree with the settlement deal. All you need to do is fill out a form and submit it to the court. However, some places do not require a judge’s approval if the worth of damages is under a specific amount.
Furthermore, neither the parent nor the minor receive most of the compensation immediately. A portion goes toward medical expenses instead. Meanwhile, the rest of the money goes into a secure bank account. The victim gets the funds after their 18th birthday.
In a few cases, the judge allows a parent to make a withdrawal if they need money for expenses related to the minor’s care. They may need to discuss the matter with their lawyer before they make the request.