Why do personal injury lawsuits take so long?
It can be difficult to predict how long a personal injury case will take to settle or go to trial, as each case is unique. However, many cases do take longer than people expect. There are a number of reasons why this may be.
As an initial matter, your personal injury attorney will perform a thorough investigation of your case. This will involve obtaining all evidence of your accident, such as police reports, witness statements, and photographs and videos of the accident. Conducting this type of investigation will allow your attorney to put together the best possible claim for damages.
Many personal injury cases involve complex injuries. For this reason, most attorneys will make a strategic decision to wait until your medical treatment has ended or until your physician has a reasonable estimate of the type of treatment you will need to begin settlement negotiations. This way, the full scope of your future medical costs can be included in your claim.
Once the case has been investigated and you have either finished treatment or have a comprehensive treatment plan, your personal injury lawyer can put together a demand letter to be sent to the other party’s insurance company. In this letter, your attorney will set forth the basis for your claim as well as what you are requesting to settle it. This starts the process of settlement negotiations. If a settlement cannot be achieved, the next phase begins: filing a lawsuit.
Once a lawsuit is filed, the defendant (person that you are filing a claim against), will usually be served with the paperwork within 30 to 60 days. He or she will then have between 30 to 45 days to file a response. This means that it may be as long as 3 months before the defendant/his or her insurance company files a response.
After a response is filed, the discovery process begins. This involves an exchange of information between the parties. Discovery is governed by the rules of court, with time guidelines for each phase. Again, the discovery process can take months, and will extend the time that it takes for a case to go to trial. If any hearings before the court need to be scheduled, those hearings have to accommodate both attorneys’ and the court’s schedule.
Throughout the pre-trial process, settlement discussions are usually ongoing. This may include going to mediation, where a neutral third party attempts to settle the dispute.
Finally, if the case goes to trial, it will often be scheduled as far out as 1 to 2 years after the accident. This is due to the court’s schedule, each of the lawyer’s schedules, and the various court deadlines that the attorneys must adhere to throughout the pre-trial process. A trial may last for as little as a few days or as long as a few weeks. Most personal injury cases settle before trial.
In sum, personal injury cases take so long for a number of reasons: to perform an investigation, to allow time for a victim to complete treatment, to work through settlement negotiations, to go through the pre-trial process, and due to court scheduling.