Personal injury claims may have some similarities, but each one is unique, making it difficult to determine exactly how long it will take to settle a claim without first knowing specifics. Some personal injury claims are settled quickly, perhaps within a few months. Others, particularly those involving serious or catastrophic personal injury, can take several years to settle.
When you are injured in an accident, it is best to speak with an attorney before you accept a settlement offer from an insurance company. While expediency may be a driving factor for you, insurance companies are driven by something else entirely: if they can get you to accept an offer before you talk to an attorney, you will have waived your ability to seek additional compensation. This often results in victims struggling for support long after the settlement has been used up.
WHY PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS TAKE TIME
When you sustain a serious injury, there are several steps that will need to be taken to ensure you are not cheated out of the full compensation your injury demands. Insurance companies will not pay more than a policy’s limit, even in cases where that limit is clearly inadequate. For example, if your injury has resulted in $100,000 in medical expenses, but the party responsible for your injury has a policy limit of $50,000, the insurance company will offer $50,000 maximum. Once the insurer’s liability has been met, they are under no obligation to pay more, regardless of the actual damages you are facing – and even in these cases, the maximum payout will only be awarded if the other party is clearly liable.
Establishing liability is the job of a personal injury lawyer.
In order to establish liability, an investigation may be necessary. Your personal injury lawyer may need to work with an accident reconstructionist, medical professionals, and other experts to determine exactly how an accident occurred, who is at fault, and what kinds of damages can be expected in the long term. This process can take several months, but is essential for determining what your personal injury claim is worth.
Damages in a personal injury claim may include:
- Current and projected medical and rehabilitation costs
- Current and projected future lost wages
- Home modifications and adaptive technologies (wheelchair, prosthetics, etc.)
- Costs related to permanent/irreversible consequences (paralysis, loss of a limb, etc.)
- Property damage
- Any other expense related to your accident and injury
Personal injury claims often seek compensation for pain and suffering as well. Pain and suffering will not be considered in initial insurance settlement offers.
THE PROCESS OF A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM
After the initial investigation, a letter of demand will be sent to the insured and his or her insurance company. If the insurance company refuses to pay or offers an insubstantial settlement, a formal complaint will be filed with the court. This is where the personal injury claim process can start to drag on.
Following the filing of a complaint, the discovery process begins. During this process, both your attorney and the defendant’s will gather information for the case through interviews, reviewing of documents and reports, and other investigative methods. This part of the process is essential for building a strong claim that can, if necessary, be provable in court. However, most cases do not make it to court. Over 90% of personal injury claims are settled before that happens.
Settlement Negotiations and Mediation
Following the discovery phase, your attorney and the defendant’s attorney may begin settlement negotiations. In some cases, this is where the process ends. In others, the case will move to mediation.
During mediation, both sides will meet with a neutral third party, typically appointed by the court, to present their cases and try to reach a negotiation. Nearly all personal injury claims are settled prior to or during this part of the process. However, if your claim involves large damages or if settlement proves impossible, the case will go to trial.
PERSONAL INJURY TRIALS
If mediation fails, a trial will be scheduled. Depending on the schedule of the court, a trial date may be set for several months in the future. While the trial itself may take only one to two days – though it may take longer – there can be appeals after a judgment is made, further lengthening the amount of time it takes to settle your claim. This process is absolutely worth it in cases involving severe injury and significant damages, but is certainly not appropriate for every personal injury claim. This is just one of several reasons to make sure you are working with a personal injury lawyer who truly has your best interests in mind.