Time is money, and money may be what you need the most if you suffer a serious personal injury. Generally, the quickest way to resolve a personal injury claim is to settle it out of court. As a ballpark estimate, in a best-case scenario, you could settle your claim in a few weeks.
In a worst-case scenario, you could be looking at two or three years. Following is a list of factors that will affect the length of time you need to settle your claim.
Table of Contents
How Long Will the Preliminary Investigation Take?
Any conscientious lawyer will perform a preliminary investigation of your claim. A solo practitioner might have fewer investigative resources for this than a firm would.
Your attorney will likely ask you for the following information to serve as a basis for further investigation:
- The place, date, and time of the accident;
- How the accident occurred;
- The names and contact details of any eyewitnesses;
- Details of your injury, including the name of your healthcare provider;
- The kind of insurance you carry (including any documentation);
- Proof of lost earnings and other damages; and
- Details and documentation regarding any past legal claims you have asserted.
Your lawyer may ask you for other information as well. After that, the investigation will begin.
When Will You Reach Maximum Medical Improvement?
Maximum medical improvement (MMI) is the point at which your doctor certifies that further medical treatment cannot improve your condition. Hopefully, that means you have made a full recovery.
If not, then you will suffer long-term disability or medical problems such as:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI),
- Amputation of a limb,
- Scarring and disfigurement,
- Back pain, and
Many other physical infirmities can result in long-term pain and disability.
What Damages are You Claiming?
Following is a description of some of the damages you might claim:
- Medical expenses: Estimated medical expenses can increase exponentially and yet become more difficult to prove if you will incur most of them in the future (after your claim is resolved).
- Lost earnings: Lost earnings are most controversial when they involve claims of permanent occupational disability, especially if you are young.
- Pain and suffering: “Pain and suffering” is an inherently intangible element of damages. Nevertheless, people collect pain and suffering damages quite frequently, and they often amount to the greater portion of a personal injury claim.
- Deformity, if the accident left you disfigured. Extensive facial scarring is likely to qualify, for example.
- Punitive damages: You can seek punitive damages if the defendant’s behavior was outrageous. With a couple of exceptions, Georgia caps punitive damages at $250,000 (DUI accidents are an example of a claim that places no limits on punitive damages).
- Wrongful death damages: Certain relatives and dependants of a deceased injury victim can seek wrongful death damages. These damages are calculated differently than ordinary personal injury damages.
The more money you demand, the longer it is likely to take to settle your claim. Most defendants are willing to spend a lot more time and effort fighting a large potential liability than a small one.
How Well Can You (or Your Lawyer) Negotiate?
Insurance adjusters negotiate personal injury claims for a living, and so do lawyers in the legal departments of large corporations. If you are handling your own claim, they are likely to make short work of you. That means your settlement will come quickly, but it will probably be woefully inadequate.
When balancing concerns of settlement speed vs. settlement amount, your best bet is to ask your lawyer to handle negotiations for you. An experienced personal injury lawyer is a professional personal injury claims negotiator with no motivation to drag out negotiations any longer than necessary.
Do You Need to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
There are three main reasons why injury victims file personal injury lawsuits even though they plan to settle their cases:
- To get the attention of a foot-dragging opposing party;
- To beat the statute of limitations deadline; or
- To gain access to the court-supervised discovery process for obtaining evidence that is in the defendant’s possession.
We’ll discuss these factors below.
The Discovery Process
The discovery process gives you (and your opposing party) four major weapons to obtain evidence from the other party:
- Depositions: Out-of-court but under-oath testimony by witnesses and potential witnesses.
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the opposing party must answer under oath.
- Requests for documents and other evidence such as police reports and medical records. This power extends beyond documentation; you might demand to inspect an at-fault driver’s car, for example.
- Requests for admissions: You might ask the opposing party to admit some relatively inconsequential fact that you don’t want to bother proving. A case can be greatly simplified if both parties cooperate in providing admissions.
You can use evidence that you obtained through discovery, either at trial or at the bargaining table.
Will the Defendant Insist on a Trial?
Some defendants will “play chicken” with you by refusing to settle even as a trial date is looming. Some are bluffing, but others are not. Although only a few personal injury claims reach the trial stage, you cannot simply assume that the defendant is bluffing.
Fortunately, our firm enjoys rich experience winning at trial. Not very many defendants (or insurance companies) relish meeting us in court. If you do end up in court, remember – you can reach a settlement all the way up to the moment that the jury announces the verdict.
Do You Need to Appeal?
Even if you lose at trial, you might be able to re-open settlement negotiations by threatening to appeal. If you have strong grounds for appeal, this strategy might actually work. It will also take more time. Without solid grounds for appeal, however, this approach will not work.
How Long Will It Take to Collect Your Money?
A settlement is just a number until you actually collect the money. If the defendant refuses to pay after signing a settlement agreement, you can initiate a breach of contract lawsuit that could ultimately result in a court seizure of the defendant’s assets.
A Good Personal Injury Lawyer Can Expedite Your Claim Without Settling for Less
You may or may not need a lawyer for a small personal injury claim. For a larger claim, however, legal representation is essential. Most personal injury law firms offer a free consultation, so feel free to reach out about your case.