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Steps of a Personal Injury Case: How Long Does a Lawsuit Take?

Personal injuries can wrack up medical bills, hamper your ability to work and take an emotional toll on you and your family. With all of the financial burdens that a personal injury can cause, you may want to know how long it will take to receive your compensation. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a set amount of time that a case can take. Every personal injury case is different, and claims can last several months to more than a year. It depends on the type of injury you sustained, the defending party, court dates and delays, insurance coverage and a bevy of other factors.

Keep reading to learn more about the personal injury lawsuit process. 

The Personal Injury Claim Process

To get an idea of the average time it can take to settle a personal injury case, you need to consider every part of the personal injury claim process. We’ve created a general outline of the process, as every case has factors that we can’t account for in one synopsis.

Your Injury

Your injury is the basis of a personal injury lawsuit. After your initial injury, you visit a healthcare provider to get medical attention. A diagnosis clarifies how severe your injury is. 

You determine the cause of your injury was due to another party’s negligence, which leaves you with expensive medical bills, an inability to work and other financial obligations. 

In some cases, the insurance provider for the negligent individual or organization will offer compensation for your injury. Some insurers will contact you within days of the accident, offering a small amount of compensation and an agreement to pay your medical bills up to a certain amount.  

It is rarely in your best interest to accept such an offer. It can take weeks or months for a doctor to diagnose an injury or to determine its severity. You don’t want to discuss the settlement of your case until you have completed your medical care or you have a firm understanding of the extent of your injuries and the treatment you will need. 

It’s best to talk with an experienced personal injury lawyer before accepting any payment from the at-fault party. Insurance providers want to end the case quickly and may offer less than you need to cover your injury costs.

Seeking a Personal Injury Lawyer

Once you understand the severity of your injury, you should seek a lawyer to talk about options for compensation. Eng & Woods offers a free initial consultation for personal injury cases. 

The attorney will ask you a series of questions and may request medical documentation to verify the injury and damages. After the information gathering process, the lawyer will give you their recommendation on how to proceed, and you can agree to representation. 

Settlement prior to litigation

The majority of cases are settled with the insurance company prior to the suit being filed. Once you have completed your medical care, the attorney will provide copies of your medical records, bills, evidence of lost wages and other important information to the insurer, along with a demand for settlement. 

The attorney will discuss and obtain your permission to make this demand and will advise you of all offers and obtain your permission to make any counteroffers. You, the client, are involved in the decision-making process at every step. 

Normally within 30-90 days, the parties will either settle the case or realize it can’t be settled and that suit must be filed. It is important that you have completed your medical care prior to this process beginning.  This time period is different for every case.  

Filing a Personal Injury Complaint

If a settlement can’t be reached, then your attorney will file a lawsuit in the appropriate court.  Normally this will be the State Circuit Court in the county where your injury occurred. The Sheriff will then deliver a copy of the lawsuit to the defendant, and they are normally allowed 30 days to file a response to your lawsuit.  

Pre-Trial and Discovery

Once your lawyer files your lawsuit, both sides need time to gather information and witness testimony. 

This period allows each side to:

  • Get depositions from witnesses before trials 
  • Engage in settlement conferences
  • Make motions to determine or request evidence
  • Submit interrogatories 
  • Receive physical examinations
  • Other necessary preparations 

This period can take months to over a year to complete since court dates are scheduled far in advance. After each side gathers evidence and witness testimony, both parties may make one of several motions to proceed with or end a case.

Settlement Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration

After pre-trial and discovery, both sides have the option to engage in settlement negotiations, meet with a mediator or arbitrate with a third party. Most personal injury cases end at this stage and don’t proceed to a trial for two reasons:

  • Expense
  • Long waiting periods

Trial and court costs can get expensive for each side. While mediation and arbitration will require extra cost, they are usually less costly than court. Negotiation, mediation and arbitration can also typically be completed faster than the usual litigation. 

Few personal injury claims make it to trial. One survey found that only 4% of participants’ personal injury cases went to trial.

Settlement Negotiations

Lawyers are expert negotiators. Your lawyer will do their best to reach a fair compensation amount with the defending party. Sometimes, they will work with the defendant’s lawyer. Other times, your lawyer will work with the defending party’s insurance company. Settlement negotiation is circumstantial. 

It’s important to understand that you are involved in every step of this process. An attorney will not settle your case and then tell you the settlement amount. The case belongs to you, not the attorney, and you will be the one making decisions regarding whether to accept a particular offer or not. Your attorney will provide you with seasoned advice and recommendations, but the ultimate decision regarding whether to settle or go to trial lies with the client.

Mediation

If the two parties can’t settle, they can move to mediation to gain a third-party perspective. Mediation involves meeting with an unbiased third party, known as a mediator, who allows both sides to explain their side of the case. 

Mediators are often retired judges or experienced attorneys who can provide an informed opinion regarding the merits and value of the claim and recommend a reasonable settlement. 

Mediation is a completely voluntary process and the mediator cannot force you to accept an amount you don’t want to accept, nor force the insurance company to pay an amount they don’t want to pay – only a jury can do that.  

Arbitration

Arbitration is similar to mediation. However, it’s usually done to reach a verdict rather than offer a solution. In binding arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision acts as a final decision for compensation. 

Litigation

If a settlement can’t be reached, then a trial becomes necessary. At trial, both sides present their case to a judge or jury. A trial can last from a few days to around a week. After statements, testimony, cross-examination and closing arguments, the judge or jury will make their decision and deliver a verdict.

Why Do Personal Injury Cases Take So Long?

As you can see, there are many steps to reaching a settlement or judgment for compensation. The process is thorough and can be time-consuming, especially when court dates are delayed and parties are uncooperative. 

Some reasons that your case can take a long time include:

Disputes on the case’s facts 

If both sides argue over the facts and can’t produce indisputable evidence, it’s challenging to settle before the case goes to trial.

Disputes over the total amount of compensation

Both sides will have different evaluations of the compensation owed. The defending party may try to offer compensation that isn’t sufficient to cover your total injury expenses. These disputes can make out-of-court settlements difficult to reach.

Allowing the plaintiff to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) 

The term “Maximum Medical Improvement” (or MMI) is used to describe that point in an injured person’s healing process when they are believed to have improved as much as possible with generally accepted medical treatment. 

It’s critical that your attorney allows appropriate time for your treatment and healing to gain the best estimation of how much your case is worth. While waiting may be difficult due to medical bills or lost wages, seeing your MMI through is imperative to understand how much compensation you need. 

If your lawyer tries to get you a settlement early, you may miss out on compensation that you need later to cover more medical expenses.

Get a Personal Injury Attorney You Can Trust

The personal injury claims process can be difficult to navigate, but it’s necessary to get the compensation you deserve. If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence, don’t seek damages alone. Contact an experienced attorney from Eng & Woods Attorneys at Law. We have a skilled team of lawyers who can help you through the entire process. We will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

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    903 E. Ash Street
    Columbia, Missouri 65201
    Phone: 573-874-4190
    Fax: 573-874-4192
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