What is the Timeline of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
One misconception many people have after a car accident is that they can handle a claim on their own.
This may be true if the person only suffered minor property damage in the crash. However, if they suffered bodily injuries, then a lawsuit becomes much more complex.
It is very easy to get in over your head by trying to bring a claim. For one, the personal injury lawsuit timeline can be much longer than expected—over a year in some cases.
For another, any claim requires legal knowledge to maximize your chances of receiving a favorable settlement. Few people have the time to learn the law and shepherd a case from start to finish, so legal assistance is imperative.
Below, we look at the typical personal injury lawsuit timeline so that our clients have a better idea of what to expect.
Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
There are different steps or stages to the typical personal injury lawsuit. The order might differ slightly depending on the case, but the typical steps are as follows:
- Reaching maximum medical improvement. You won’t know how much your accident has cost you until you get as well as you can, which is called reaching maximum medical improvement or “MMI.” Of course, some people will return to their old selves. Others will be permanently disabled. But MMI is the point at which you really can’t get any better, and your lawyer will have a better sense of the value of your claim.
- Preliminary research. Your lawyer will need some basic information about the claim and might need to visit the scene of the accident. If there is a novel legal issue, your lawyer needs time to research it.
- Negotiating a settlement. Most cases settle. Your attorney will submit a demand letter, explaining the accident and requesting a certain amount in compensation. The defendant’s insurer might counteroffer for a lower amount, and negotiations can happen for several months.
- Filing a lawsuit. If it looks like negotiations are breaking down, a lawyer will file a lawsuit in an appropriate court. The defendant and insurance company are both served copies of these papers, and the defendant needs to file a response to your allegations.
- Discovery. This is the fact-finding stage in a lawsuit. You can request documents and other information from the defendant. He or she can demand the same for you. You might even sit for a deposition, where you answer questions under oath and in person.
- Mediation. If negotiations flounder, you might try mediation. In mediation, a neutral third party (mediator) helps each side listen to each other and identifies the areas of disagreement. Mediation is sometimes helpful at getting each side to find common ground and reach a settlement. No one can force you to settle in mediation; instead, any resolution is voluntary.
- Trial. When negotiation and mediation fail, trial is unavoidable. Each side can present evidence and witnesses. A judge or jury will decide whether you have proved your case.
If you prevail, then you will receive a judgment from the court. The defendant or his insurer must pay the judgment. Settlement can happen at any time—even on the morning of trial!
Snags Along the Way
Many of our clients need money now to cover medical bills and other expenses. They want to settle as quickly as they can. However, there are some reasons not to rush a personal injury case.
For one, you might get less money if you settle too quickly. Sometimes, it is best to hold out for a fair settlement. Once you agree to settle, you’ll sign a release, meaning you can’t sue this defendant again for the same accident.
In other words, the settlement is all the money you will get from this defendant, so you need to maximize the amount you receive.
Other delays can be caused by complicated discovery that requires expert witnesses. For example, if your case involves a defect in the car, you’ll probably need an expert witness to testify about what malfunctioned. Finding and preparing an expert witness can take time but might prove critical to your success.
Speak to an Attorney Today
Each personal injury settlement timeline is different, and the information above is general. To find out more information relevant to your specific case, please contact Levinson Law Group today.