Your bills continue mounting. You have medical expenses increasing rapidly. You plan to file a personal injury lawsuit, or perhaps have already filed one, but wonder how long it will take before you have the funds you need in your hands. How long does a personal injury lawsuit take?
Little happens quickly when you must deal with a personal injury claim. Several factors can influence how long it takes to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.
1. Who caused your injuries?
Before you can file a personal injury claim, you must know who caused your injuries. In some cases, including car accidents, slip and falls, or construction accidents, you may find that multiple parties share liability for your injuries. In others, you may clearly establish that only a single entity caused your injuries.
In most personal injury claims, the entity who caused your injuries will turn to an insurance policy to pay for your injuries. That insurance company will determine how fast your claim gets paid: some insurance companies will negotiate extensively and even require you to take your claim to court before paying, while others may try to pay your claim more quickly to help avoid expensive legal costs.
2. How severe are your injuries?
The damages you seek for your personal injuries typically include three key elements: medical expenses, lost wages from missed time at work, and pain and suffering. As a general matter, the worse your injuries, the greater the compensation you typically may seek.
For example, while treating a broken bone without surgical intervention costs only around $2,500, the cost of treating a severe burn can rise to more than $1.5 million. You have the right to ask for compensation that encompasses all of your medical expenses and lost wages, as well as compensation for your pain and suffering, and may receive compensation up to the maximum amount of the insurance policy that covers your injuries, plus any additional ability the legally-liable party has to pay you out-of-pocket.
Another general rule: The more money you demand, the longer it can take to get compensation for your injuries. Many insurance companies will fight to decrease their financial liability as much as possible, even dragging out the investigation or attempting to prove that someone else caused your accident. If, on the other hand, the cost of your injuries clearly exceeds the maximum coverage of the policy—Massachusetts law requires minimum bodily injury coverage of just $20,000 per individual, for example—you may receive compensation more quickly, at least from the insurance company.
3. How much do you want to negotiate?
A serious accident can leave you with substantial medical costs and plenty of life complications to worry about. Not only do you have to consider your medical costs, you may need assistance paying your bills when your injuries prevent you from working. As a result, you may decide to fight as hard as you can, for as long as you can, to get as much compensation as possible. In other cases, you may need whatever funds you can get immediately, even if that means decreasing the funds you ultimately receive for your injuries.
Most personal injury matters involve some amount of negotiation over a potential settlement. At each stage of the negotiation, you may have the chance to accept a settlement offer from the liable party (and/or its insurance company). If you accept that offer, then it ends the negotiation process and you can expect to receive financial compensation shortly. But there’s a catch. After you accept an offer, you cannot go back and seek more compensation if it turns out that your injuries cost more than you originally thought. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you calculate all of your losses so you don’t end up paying out of pocket for what another person or company did to you.
Settlement Offers Immediately After the Accident
Some insurance companies may offer a settlement for personal injuries as soon as they can after the accident. These settlement packages may, in fact, arrive before you even have a chance to talk with a lawyer or determine the full extent of your injuries and their costs. Often, however, these settlement packages contain a low offer that does not reflect the full funds you deserve for your injury. Proceed with extreme caution and speak with a lawyer before signing or agreeing to anything.
Settlement Offers After You Submit Your Demand
After you submit a demand for payment to a party with legal liability, the insurance company or liable party has an opportunity to respond. It is rare for an opposing party to simply pay you every cent you demand, though that can happen, particularly when the only source of payment is an insurance policy and your demand vastly exceeds the policy’s limits. In most cases, however, the legally-liable party will respond, which kicks off a round of negotiation between your attorney and those for the legally-liable party.
Some cases go through several rounds of negotiation as you and the liable entity move closer to an agreement. In other cases, their offer and your demand do not have a high likelihood of meeting in the middle, so you may choose to forego further negotiation and move on to mediation.
During mediation, you and the liable entity, including a representative or representatives from the insurance company if needed, will sit down with a mediator to discuss your claim. This mediator, often a judge or former judge, will hear both sides of the case and see if you can reach a settlement agreement without taking your case to court. The mediator cannot force you to settle your case, however. It is your decision.
If you have to take your personal injury case to court, it can take much longer to reach a resolution than if you accept a settlement offer. Taking a case to court means putting scheduling in the hands of the court, more or less. If at the end of the court process you prevail and receive a favorable jury verdict, then your attorney may also need to take steps to “enforce” the verdict and collect payment on your behalf.
If you suffered injuries due to another party’s negligence and need to file a personal injury lawsuit, having an attorney on your side reduces a great deal of the stress associated with the process and helps your claim move forward as efficiently as possible. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon after your injury as possible to learn more about your legal rights.