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May 5, 2024

How Long Does a Personal Injury Case Take?

Short answer: it depends. Personal injury cases are as varied as the circumstances that give rise to them, making the duration from initiation to resolution equally diverse. The timeline of a personal injury case depends on multiple factors:

  • Complexity of the Case: Cases involving complex legal or medical issues, multiple parties, or contested liability typically take longer to resolve.
  • Severity of Injuries: More severe injuries require a longer recovery period, delaying the point at which total damages can be accurately assessed.
  • Willingness to Settle: Cases where both parties are motivated to settle can be resolved more quickly than those that proceed to trial.
  • Legal and Court Delays: The efficiency of the legal process, including the availability of court dates, can significantly impact the timeline.

Initial Consultation to Legal Representation — Immediate to a few weeks

The journey begins with the injured party consulting a personal injury attorney to discuss the case’s merits. This step is typically undertaken soon after the injury occurs, following initial medical treatment. The time to secure legal representation varies based on the individual’s recovery and their search for a suitable attorney.

Investigation and Evidence Gathering — 1 to 3 months

Once an attorney is retained, they will start an in-depth investigation into the accident. This involves collecting evidence (e.g., police reports, medical records, witness statements), which is crucial for building a strong case. The duration of this phase hinges on the complexity of the case and the ease of accessing necessary documentation. However, based on the case, this can take much longer.

Medical Treatment and Recovery — Varies significantly

The length of this phase is perhaps the most variable, as it depends on the severity of the injuries and the injured party’s recovery progress. It’s critical to reach “maximum medical improvement” (MMI) before settling the case or going to trial, as MMI provides a clearer picture of the total medical expenses and the long-term impact of the injuries. This phase can take anywhere from a few months to several years. At times, the injuries are so bad that doctors will be testifying about how they believe the injuries will look in the future.

Demand and Negotiation — Varies

After having a clear assessment of damages, your attorney will send a demand letter to the defendant’s insurance company, outlining the injuries, the liability, and the compensation sought. The negotiation phase follows, where both parties discuss a potential settlement. This phase can be relatively quick, lasting a few weeks to a few months, depending on the willingness of the insurance company to settle and the amount of compensation being negotiated.

Filing a Lawsuit — 1 to 2 years (or more)

If negotiations do not result in a satisfactory settlement, the next step is to file a lawsuit. The timeline significantly lengthens at this stage due to the procedural aspects of the legal process, including the discovery phase (exchange of evidence), pre-trial motions, and potentially, the trial itself. The duration of the lawsuit phase can vary widely, from a year to several years, based on the court’s schedule, the complexity of the case, and any delays or continuances.

Trial — Several days to several weeks

If the case goes to trial, the duration of the trial itself can range from a few days to several weeks. Trials are inherently unpredictable, and their length is determined by the number of witnesses, the complexity of the evidence presented, and the legal arguments made by each side.

Appeal Process — 1 to 2 years

Either party can choose to appeal the trial court’s decision, further extending the timeline of the case. The appeal process involves submitting briefs to the appellate court and presenting oral arguments. This phase can add another year or more to the case’s duration.

While some cases may settle within a few months, others can take several years to reach a conclusion, especially if they go to trial. For plaintiffs, understanding the stages of the process and maintaining realistic expectations can help manage the uncertainty and stress that often accompany personal injury cases.

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