Personal Injury -- Plaintiff Law
Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline
If you've been injured due to an auto accident, medical malpractice, or some other misfortune, you may have questions about what the timeline of your personal injury lawsuit looks like. While every personal injury case is different, this article will walk you through standard steps, from the initial investigation to filing a personal injury lawsuit to settlement negotiations.
Usually, personal injury claims are settled long before they reach the trial stage. An acceptable settlement offer can often be reached before you even need to file a personal injury lawsuit. Because personal injury laws vary by state, it is best to consult a personal injury lawyer in your state to get advice about your specific situation.
Let's say you were injured in a truck accident because the driver was negligent. The first thing you will do is get medical treatment. Medical care could be urgently required, and later, your medical bills can prove your injury in a personal injury case.
The next step is deciding whether to pursue your personal injury claim with a personal injury attorney. Often, personal injury law firms will offer free consultations. There are certain situations where it is highly recommended that you seek out legal advice from a lawyer, such as:
- If your financial claim is large
- If you are negotiating with a sophisticated party, like an insurance company or an experienced defense attorney,
Otherwise, you risk making mistakes that can limit your recovery. Personal injury lawyers have experience with settlement negotiations with insurance adjusters. And because they work on a contingency fee, they will aim to get the highest settlement offer possible.
Once you hire a personal injury attorney, they will conduct an initial investigation into your claim, examining medical records and asking you questions about the auto accident. All the information you provide at this point is strictly confidential because of the attorney-client relationship. At this stage in the lawsuit process, a good lawyer will get a sense of how much your legal claims are worth.
To start settlement negotiations, your attorney will send a demand letter to the party at fault, who will typically respond with a lower offer. As time moves forward from the accident and towards a trial date, negotiations can pick up quickly. So if a settlement cannot be reached early on, your lawyer will file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf.
So how long does a personal injury claim take to get resolved? If the parties don't settle and insist on a trial date and their right to appeal, it may take years.
The process begins with your injury and medical treatment. It could take a year of appointments before you reach what is known as Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). This generally means reaching a point where your injury can no longer be improved by further treatment.
Settlement negotiations can continue before a lawsuit is filed if the statute of limitations has not expired and the claim is still valid. The average time to settle a personal injury case is under one year if the settlement occurs before a lawsuit is filed. Once a lawsuit is filed, there are more chances for settlement as the discovery process unfolds. A settlement could occur at any time as interrogatories, document requests, and depositions uncover important new information about the claim.
Getting a trial date could be a one to three-year wait, as the court process is often extremely time-consuming. If you or the other party wishes to appeal, you may need to wait another year or two for the appeals process to finish. All in all, it may take a few months to a few years, depending on how many steps your personal injury claim goes through.
Claims that are worth more money often take longer, because the parties tend to disagree about the exact value of the claim. However, some states put a limit on the value of certain damages. For example, in Texas, non-economic damages for medical malpractice are capped at $250,000 per health care entity, or $500,000 if more than one health care entity has been sued.
The statute of limitations defines how long you have to sue someone for personal injury. The statute of limitations for personal injury varies by state. In Florida for example, the statute of limitations allows for four years from the date of the accident before you have to file a claim in Florida court. But suppose your accident case involves parties from multiple states. In that case, it could be moved to federal court, where the statute of limitations for personal injury is only two years. In California, the statute of limitations varies depending on the exact claim. For personal injury generally, the statute of limitations in California is two years. But, it is shortened to only six months if the claim is against a county, city, or state government agency.
If you wait for longer than the statute of limitations allows, or do not follow procedures correctly, your claim can expire and you can lose the ability to get compensation.
In quick summary, below is a personal injury case checklist of the steps you can expect to go through when you follow a personal injury lawsuit:
- Get medical attention for your injury
- Hire a personal injury attorney
- Participate in your attorney's initial investigation of police reports, medical records, and other relevant evidence
- Attempt to reach a settlement with the at-fault party
- File a personal injury lawsuit
- Collect additional evidence and information from the defendant in the discovery phase of the lawsuit
- Attempt to settle again
- Go to court on your trial date and get a verdict
- Appeal the court verdict, if one party has reason to believe the court got their decision wrong, either on fault or damages
- Receive a final judgment on the damages due for your claim