One aspect of personal injury law that many potential plaintiffs fail to address when they start their claims is the time it can take to reach a settlement or jury verdict. Even seemingly straightforward personal injury claims can take months or even years to reach any kind of result, and the plaintiff may worry about mounting personal expenses and other financial issues as they await compensation for their damages.
Navigating State Laws
The first step in determining how long your personal injury case will take is to ensure your claim meets the statute of limitations. In most states, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years starting on the date the injury occurs, but the statute could be three years or longer in some states. It is crucial to file your complaint within the statute of limitations, otherwise, the defendant can simply file a motion to dismiss due to the missed time limit.
Once a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney serves the defendant with the complaint, the lawsuit process officially begins. The defense has an opportunity to respond to the initial complaint. If little room for argument exists and fault for the plaintiff’s claimed damages is clear, the defendant may move to settle the claim as soon as possible.
Settlement Pros and Cons
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits never reach a courtroom; it is generally in the best interests of both parties to settle the matter as quickly as possible. The longer the case continues, the more expensive each side’s legal fees become. The plaintiff may face economic damages and need a settlement as soon as possible, so he or she could agree to a lower settlement in exchange for a speedier resolution. On the other side of the table, the defense may pay a little more than originally expected if fault is clear and he or she simply wants to move past the issue as soon as possible.
Settlement offers an opportunity to settle a personal injury case quickly, but any plaintiff should recognize the difference between the settlement value of a claim and its potential trial value. A plaintiff can generally win a much more substantial claim by taking a case to trial, but this is a much longer process than settlement. If the plaintiff’s damages are relatively small, settling quickly is usually the best option. If the plaintiff incurred tens of thousands of dollars in damages and suffered severe, painful injuries, moving to a trial can help ensure an appropriate amount of compensation.
Time-Consuming Factors of Personal Injury Litigation
If settlement negotiations fail in a personal injury claim, the case will proceed to the trial phase. The trial preparation stage is complicated and requires a great deal of research, investigation, and correspondence between the two parties. Some personal injury claims may involve more than two parties, further complicating an already complex process. The different sides of the case must exchange all their evidence, documentation, and other materials related to a case in a process called discovery. This can take weeks, months, or even longer for highly complex claims.
The different sides of a personal injury case will also conduct depositions with the participating members of both sides of the case. A deposition is a question-and-answer session taken under oath, and the different sides of the case will likely conduct several rounds of questioning, interrogatories, and other meetings to prepare for the trial.
Some personal injury cases like brain injury lawsuits, spinal cord injury claims, or auto accident claims involving multiple drivers can also involve a great deal of investigation. Expert witnesses may review the evidence available in the case and provide professional insights in different capacities.
A plaintiff’s attorney may call on an expert to testify in support of the plaintiff’s claim for lost future earning capacity. A defense attorney could consult a safety expert to prove the plaintiff was partially negligent for a claimed auto accident. Ultimately, any personal injury case has the potential to escalate into a time-consuming, complicated ordeal that can take months or even years to resolve, but most will settle relatively quickly without ever going to trial.