Posted On March 16, 2016 Personal Injury
When a serious injury affects you all day, every day, time doesn’t exactly fly. It’s not only your journey to recovery that can seem painfully slow, either. The personal injury claims process isn’t designed to get you the compensation you deserve quickly and easily. It’s full of obstacles and opportunities for the other side to hold up the process and delay your payout.
Does it seem like your personal injury case is dragging on? Or are you just trying to get an idea how long the process will take? Read on for a breakdown of:
Personal injury cases take time, but there are, at least, deadlines that affect certain phases of the claim.
In some instances, you have to notify defendants in writing that you’re pursuing a claim within a certain timeframe. For example, if you are suing a government entity in New Jersey, a statute known as the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, or Title 59, requires you to submit formal notice of a claim within just 90 days of the accident.
In most cases, you have to actually file a lawsuit within two years of the date your accident occurred. Different parts of the process, like the discovery phase, may also be subject to time limits. However, those limits can be extended in some circumstances.
These deadlines don’t limit how long the case as a whole can go on. And, unfortunately, most of them help the defendant more than they help you.
Are you surprised to hear that these deadlines are measured in months and years? Many accident victims are. The popular misconception of “jackpot justice” makes many people think an accident translates to a quick (and high) payout. But when you’re actually in a personal injury situation, you realize that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s no set amount of time that a personal injury case should take. The timeline of a personal injury case depends on a lot of factors, some of which might surprise you.
The factors that might affect the timeline of your case include:
If you’re still undergoing medical treatment and your case doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, you may be asking yourself, “Why is my lawyer taking so long to settle my case?” In this case, you’re likely right to think that your attorney is intentionally taking longer to resolve your case. This isn’t out of any lack of knowledge or reluctance to work hard. Your attorney isn’t moving forward because waiting until you are farther along in your recovery is in your best interests.
To make sure you’re getting the money you deserve, your attorney doesn’t want to settle your case until it’s clear what your damages are. This includes your physical injuries, but also encompasses other losses, as well. Aspects like medical expenses, pain and suffering, and the permanent effects on your life are all part of your damages. Without this information, your lawyer can’t even begin negotiating a payout amount.
Your attorney will need to wait until you are finished with your medical treatment to take certain actions, like sending a demand letter to the insurance company. Generally, you aren’t finished with medical treatment until you have made the most complete physical recovery you’re going to make. If your injuries don’t take long to treat, your lawyer can begin settlement negotiations sooner. For some accident victims, medical care can go on for months or even years. If that’s the case for your recovery, it could delay the next step in your claim.
It might not be your lawyer who is taking so long to settle your claim, but instead the defendant.
If you thought the defendant in your case would just own up to the mistake that caused your accident and give you what you deserve, think again. Unfortunately, insurers and other defendants often try to get out of paying – ever, if possible. Defendants’ insurance companies tend to delay paying you the money you deserve so they can hang onto it longer.
Your case could take longer if the defendant is:
In this case, the only way for your lawyer to stop taking so long to settle your case would be to cave into the insurance company’s pressure and stop trying to get more money for you – not the result you want from your personal injury claim.
Don’t worry too much about the insurance company’s uncooperative behavior. That’s something experienced attorneys in this area of law are used to dealing with as we represent our clients. Knowledgeable personal injury lawyers can get past these obstacles by pursuing the case relentlessly, presenting the evidence convincingly, and refusing to give up.
Although it’s easier said than done, try to be patient. Talk to your attorney about your frustrations and how the delay is impacting you. Fighting for the full amount of money you deserve takes more time than settling for less, but it will be worth it.
Most personal injury cases don’t go to trial. If yours does, it will take longer than a case that settles usually would.
Trials create a lot of expense and hassle. For a trial, you need:
A trial is also a gamble. If the jury decides in the defendant’s favor, you could walk away with nothing. Even if the jury awards you a very high settlement, a judge can sometimes decrease your compensation. Since the defendant can appeal the jury’s decision on certain grounds, it’s possible that at the end of the day, the trial won’t resolve anything – at least, not right away.
Trials create all this hassle not just for you, but for the legal system as a whole. It’s common practice to try all other avenues to resolve a case before it goes to trial, including:
If you’ve been wondering, “Why is my lawyer taking so long to resolve this case through mediation or arbitration instead of going straight to trial?”, this is part of the answer. For decades, the state of New Jersey has had in place Complementary Dispute Resolution
(CDR) Programs that aim to resolve claims without trial. In some instances, lawyers may have to attempt mediation, arbitration, or another form of conflict resolution before a judge will agree to hear your case.
If conflict resolution outside the courtroom can’t happen, you may be in this for the long haul. It can take one to two years from the time an attorney files a lawsuit just to get an initial trial date, especially in areas where the legal system is already overburdened with too many court cases. Scheduling conflicts aren’t unusual in the legal industry. If your trial gets rescheduled, it could be delayed by days, months, or even years.
On the surface, there’s not much you personally can do to speed up the case. You can’t just decide that you’ll get better faster. You can’t force a defendant to cooperate. And you can’t settle a case bound for the courtroom, at least not for the amount of money you deserve.
However, when you choose the right law firm to handle your case, an attorney will work tirelessly to get you maximum value in the least amount of time possible. Not every law firm is this proactive, so you need to ask the right questions and choose the right attorney if you want a lawyer to make this commitment to your claim.
One way a law firm can help you get your money faster is to start working sooner. Some attorneys don’t bother filing a lawsuit until that two-year deadline is looming, even if you finished treating months earlier. They could get working on your case sooner, but they choose not to.
If you want to get your settlement and put all this behind you faster (and who doesn’t?), ask any law firm you speak with when they would start working on your claim and when they would likely file a lawsuit. You need to know that there’s a real sense of urgency in this firm to get their clients timely results. Does your attorney really understand that you need compensation sooner rather than later?
Ideally, a lawyer will begin working on your case from the moment you hire them by:
When you finish treating, a proactive lawyer will send out a demand letter and start negotiating a settlement right away, instead of waiting until deadlines get closer just because they can. If your lawyer knows what your damages are and that litigation is inevitable, they might as well file your lawsuit early to get the case moving.
Law firms that taking this initiative can sometimes resolve a case in as little as three to four months – sometimes even after other attorneys spent years supposedly working on them. That said, each claim is unique. It isn’t always possible for even the most proactive attorney to settle a case in a few months.
It’s not always purely the length of time that leaves you wondering why your attorney is taking so long to settle your case. It’s being kept in the dark about where your case stands and what’s being done to make it a priority.
Don’t be afraid to ask an attorney how and how often the law firm will communicate with you. You don’t pay hourly fees to a personal injury attorney, so phone calls and email updates won’t cost you anything.
If weeks of radio silence are likely to make you feel anxious about your case, try to find a lawyer who will provide routine updates, even if the status of the claim remains the same. Your legal team should make every effort to ensure that you fully understand where your claim is in the legal process and what to expect.
You should never have to feel that you don’t know what’s going on with your claim. Even if a quick settlement isn’t possible due to factors beyond your and your attorney’s control, your lawyer should still assure you that they are taking the right steps at the right time to move your case forward.
Before choosing a lawyer, ask questions about what kind of communication to expect. Some law firms make a point to educate and inform clients and to explain – in plain, understandable language, not legalese – how the legal process works. Not every client necessarily wants a crash course on the legal process, but many accident victims do find that understanding the basics of the process is helpful.
If you ever have questions or concerns about your claim, you can reach out to your legal team by phone or email – without worrying about being charged for a call or meeting.
The reality is that not every case can settle in a few months. Some will take years, no matter who is representing you. But don’t you want to know that your attorney is proactive in getting you everything you deserve?