If you have been in an accident caused by someone else, you have lots of questions about whether or not you have a case, how to hire an attorney and how to pursue a personal injury case.
After you decide that you do indeed have a case, you have identified an attorney, and you’re ready to file a lawsuit, your next question is likely:
How long will my personal injury case take and how much will it cost?
The short answer is this: a personal injury case could take anywhere from eight months to two and a half years to pursue. The costs could range from less than $100 to more than $10,000.
Personal Injury Case Timeline
Let’s break down the process of filing and pursuing a personal injury case so you can see why the time and cost range is so broad.
As I described above, there is a vast range as to how long a case can take. The primary reason for this is because the value of the case and the ultimate resolution is driven by your process of recovery. To put it in simple terms, we don’t know what your case is worth (and the case cannot be settled) until you are are as good as you’re going to get- in terms of physical recovery.
I’ve previously described how much a personal injury case is worth. As you can see from that entry, one of the primary factors in determining the value of a case is the amount of medical bills incurred from the date of accident until the time of settlement. While there are a number of other factors that need to be addressed, there is certainly no way to resolve the case until you reach maximum medical improvement.
What is Maximum Medical Improvement?
Maximum medical improvement is a legal concept that is defined as “the point at which there can be no further reasonable expectation of improvement.”
This does not mean you are done treating. It also does not mean you are not going to get worse, although we hope that is not the case. Rather it means you are as good as you are going to get.
Once you reach that point, we can determine a number of things.
- We can determine what your medical bills to date are.
- We can determine the level of pain and suffering you have experienced to date.
- Also and perhaps most importantly, once you reach this point, we are able to determine what the future looks like both in terms of medical needs, potential missed time from work, and pain-and-suffering.
When you consider the above it becomes fairly clear why these cases can take so long. Pursuant to the American Medical Association Guidelines for Permanent Impairment Sixth Edition , a person has a permanent impairment after having documented complaints of pain for six months. Essentially this means, unless you have a very minor injury, you do not reach maximum medical improvement for six months. As such, except for the most minor of injuries, it will take at least six months before we can even begin to consider settlement of your claim.
In light of same, let’s assume your doctor places you at maximum medical improvement in six months and releases you from care. We then establish what the damages are to that point as well as what they are likely to be in the future.
Based on many years of experience, I am very familiar with almost every type of injury one can suffer in a personal injury claim. I draw upon this experience to present various scenarios to your doctor and get him to sign off on same. In this fashion I am able to document and value the amount of medical care you will receive in the future. In doing so, I am able to recover sufficient additional money to protect your future needs. Once you’ve reached this point, I am able to prepare a settlement demand on your behalf.
The above described is what is known as the pre-litigation phase.
Phase 1: Pre-litigation
During this prelitigation phase there is almost no time investment in the case on your part. Your sole obligation is to treat with your doctors and heal as well as you can. During this pre-litigation phase, up until the doctor releases you from care, you can expect the following. You and I will conference on a regular basis. I will review and analyze your medical records. I do both of the above to make sure the doctors are addressing all of your needs and concerns.
Once the doctor releases you and says you can return to him on an as needed basis, I will talk to you about whether you agree with his assessment. If you do not, we will send you to other doctors and get second and even third opinions if necessary. However, if you agree with the doctor, I then gather and consolidate all the records and bills and prepare a settlement demand.
A settlement demand is not simply the presentation of a number to the adjuster. Rather, it is a carefully crafted document with a number of attachments and exhibits including medical records, medical bills, incident reports, pictures of the scene, pictures of the damage, etc. It addresses your damages both economic and noneconomic.
I draft this with your input and you and I review. Upon your approval I submit this to the claims adjuster. Upon receipt, the claims adjuster then has 30 days to respond with an offer. Almost certainly, the settlement offer we receive will be unacceptable. As such, we begin the process of negotiation- going back and forth with demands, counter demands, offers, and counter offers. Sadly, it is much like buying a car- with your case being the car.
From the time the demand package is sent to the adjuster until the negotiations are completed, it usually takes about 60 days. If the negotiations are successful and the parties agree to settle, the claims adjuster will send a release and a check to complete the process. This will take approximately 15 days.
As such, in a case it runs very smoothly and routinely, as you can see from above, we are looking at a process that takes approximately 8 months.
Time: Less than a year. Most of the time spent during this phase is on medical treatment, consulting with an attorney and gathering medical records.
Money: Less than $500, for attorney consultations and medical records requests.
Phase 2: Litigation
Unfortunately, the vast majority of cases do not proceed in this organized fashion. Either you do not reach maximum medical improvement within the relatively short time referenced above, you do reach maximum medical improvement but we do not see eye to eye with the claims adjuster on the value of the case, or the defendant/insurance claims adjuster refuses to take responsibility for their negligence. If this occurs, we file a lawsuit.
We do this because, in Tennessee, the statute of limitations is one year. This means you have one year from the date of the accident to either settle your case or file a lawsuit. If you fail to do so, your claim will be barred.
In the event we are forced to file a lawsuit, that is, we cannot resolve it through initial negotiations, you enter into the litigation phase. The following is designed to help you understand what transpires at this part of the case.
The first thing I do is draft a complaint to file. A complaint is the document that is filed with the court that actually starts a lawsuit. It is a description of what the other party did wrong and how it injured you. In short, it puts the defendant on notice of our claims. Procedurally, I draft this document and file it with the clerk of the court.
Once I file it, I then have a private investigator find the defendant and serve them with the complaint. As an aside, filing a complaint costs approximately $300. Retaining a process server to serve the complaint costs approximately $100.
Once the defendant has been served he or she will send the complaint to his insurance company. The insurance company then hires a defense attorney to fight your claim.
From the time lawsuit is filed until the time we get to court takes about a year and a half. When you add it onto that one year pre-litigation period, you now see why I indicate an outer limit of about 2 ½ years. That is not to say some cases don’t more or less time. However, it is a good estimate.
While I will work many hours during this litigation period preparing your case for presentation to a jury, most of that goes on behind the scenes. Of course, there are certain things you will be directly involved with. At this point I would like to discuss both.
As to what you can expect your involvement to be, you will likely be required to answer written discovery. These are questions the defendant will submit to you seeking information about various topics such as the accident, your injuries, and your financial damages. Additionally you will be required to provide documents pursuant to a request for production of documents.
You and I will complete all of this discovery together. Expect it to take combined several hours of your time.
Additionally you can expect to have your deposition taken. This is a question-and-answer forum where a defense attorney sits you down and asks you in detail all of the same things you’ve already addressed in written discovery. See blog entry by Attorney Ashley Galmish Preparing for a Deposition.
While this is a time-consuming process, it is not a difficult one. Further I will be with you for the entire process. You can expect preparation and attendance of deposition to last approximately 8 hours.
While you are undergoing the above, I am doing a great amount of behind the scenes work. This includes but is not limited to preparing written discovery for the defendants to answer, conferencing witnesses, retaining experts and preparing theories of the case. Additionally I will be taking depositions of the defendant, other witnesses, doctors and experts.
While all of the above is an expensive process, one that can cost many thousands of dollars, it is important to remember that I advance all of the costs. If you do not recover on your case, you are not obligated to pay me back. Further, should I do all the above and we take this case to trial, upon prevailing, I can get most if not all of the above costs paid by the defendant.
Now in light of the above, there’s another point I want to make. Just because you enter the litigation phase does not mean you will go to trial. Even at this point, most cases (95%) still settle.
It is very common after the above discovery has been performed to continue settlement negotiations. In fact, they are even more effective at this point because we now know so much more about both parties’ positions of the case. Frequently we will go to mediation to attempt to resolve your case.
This is a formal confidential settlement conference where we sit down with a mediator, an impartial third party, and we attempt to reach a settlement resolution. This is a very effective way to resolve the case and is very frequently successful
Now assuming all of the above occurs and we still don’t resolve your case, the final option is trial. In selecting a personal injury attorney, you always have to enter into it expecting to go to trial, even though you likely won’t.
What to Look for in Selecting a Personal Injury Lawyer
- It is very important to retain someone who has tried a large number of cases.
- It is essential that you have an attorney with sufficient experience to properly handle your case in a courtroom.
- It is vital that the attorney you select has the financial resources to represent you.
I’m proud to say after three decades of practicing law I’ve been in trial very successfully literally hundreds of times. I would further say there are not many attorneys who can similarly boast.
Further as you can see from the above, these matters can be very expensive. As such, it is important that you find an attorney who has sufficient financial resources to properly represent you. Believe it or not, I have people come to me all the time who say their attorney told them they would have to pay their costs if he was going to try the case. I find this outrageous.
Once you hire me to represent you, I will represent you to trial. I am a trial attorney. I have never withdrawn from a case because the task was too daunting or the price too high- and I never will.
Assuming your case goes to trial, I will invest upwards of a month in preparation. You can expect to spend a full day before the trial preparing for it, then another three or four days at the trial itself.
While this is time-consuming and while it is expensive, often times is simply necessary. If you are not willing to take your case all the way to court, or your attorney is not willing to do so, there is no way to obtain a fair result. A dog can bark as much as he wants but if you know he isn’t going to bite you, you have no fear.
Similarly, an attorney can posture as much as he wants but if the defense attorney or insurance company knows he’s afraid to try your case or can’t afford to try your case, it will dramatically lower your recovery. Or as a former mentor of mine used to say “sometimes you have to show your fangs.”
Time: As many as 5 to 10 full days over two years.
Money: As high as $10,000 or $15,000.
Investing in Your Personal Injury Case
This broad range of costs and possible outcomes in your case make it very important for you to find and retain an attorney who will do two things for you — seek recovery only in the event that you win and invest the time and money into your case that you deserve.
Those two characteristics will give you the best chance of winning your case, making it a wise investment instead of an unaffordable expense.
If you are struggling with a personal injury lawsuit, we can help you navigate the process so that you can recover the maximum amount and stop worrying about the expense.