Jeff Marion | July 27, 2023 | Personal Injury
You may have heard that the wheels of justice turn slowly. Unfortunately, that’s often the case for a personal injury lawsuit.
The journey from accident to settlement can seem endless, and it’s completely normal to feel frustrated and wonder, “How long is this actually going to take?” Or maybe, “What exactly is taking my lawyer so long anyway?”
The reality is that there are many factors that help determine how long it takes to settle a personal injury claim with an insurance company. Depending on those factors, your case could settle in just a few weeks—or it could take a couple of years.
In this blog post, I’m going to take a closer look at just what those factors are, help you understand the personal injury claims process, and give you a more realistic and reasonable expectation for when you might actually see some results. But if you have specific questions about your own case, or you’re looking for someone to represent you, please reach out to me using our contact form or by calling (716) 589-6655.
The Big Picture: How Long CAN a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take to Settle?
There’s no quick answer to how long it will take to settle any one particular personal injury case. But it’s helpful to look at the big picture and consider a typical range.
If you (or your personal injury lawyer) were to file a lawsuit, today, in Western New York, it would probably be about 18 months (give or take) before you’d get your day in court.
And that’s on top of all the things you’d need to do before you’re ready to file that lawsuit, such as:
- Waiting to see whether your injuries get better, worse, or stay the same
- Gathering evidence about the incident (police report, video, eyewitness testimony, etc.)
- Gathering an analyzing your medical records
- Speaking with experts (doctors, crash reconstructionists, life care planners, etc.) if your injury is catastrophic, or involves an unsafe product
- Whether the insurance carrier is willing to seriously negotiate with your attorney.
So, in other words, IF your case goes all the way to trial, you can expect a minimum of 18 months (typically) from when you file the lawsuit, and even longer from when the crash actually took place. In the most extreme example, if you waited as long as possible to file your personal injury lawsuit (in New York, the statute of limitations for personal injury is 3 years) and then went all the way to trial, it could take four and a half years or more to get a result.
But there’s a big caveat: most cases do not go all the way to trial. In fact, most personal injury claims are settled without filing a lawsuit, and even those that do require a lawsuit settle before trial.
So, will yours be one of the cases that settles in a few weeks, or one of the cases that will take a long time? Again, that depends on a lot of factors. Let’s look at the four main ones.
Factor 1: Your Attorney
Personal injury lawyers and law firms come in all shapes and sizes (metaphorically speaking), and not all are created equal.
There are “settlement mill” attorneys who, frankly, are looking for the first settlement they can get. They typically take a lot of clients and don’t take cases to trial. They’ll do all the pre-litigation work of gathering evidence, speaking with the claims adjuster, and sending a demand letter to the insurance company, but really they want to close out the case quickly so they can move on to another one. If you aren’t happy with the settlement offer and want to file a lawsuit, they’ll probably refer your case to another attorney.
Other attorneys are more aggressive. They may feel that the personal injury case is worth significantly more than what the insurance company is offering, and they’re willing to go to trial. That doesn’t necessarily mean your case will go to trial, of course. But if your attorney is prepared to do so—and the insurance company knows it—it gives your lawyer more leverage in settlement negotiations.
The “settlement mill” approach might be fine with you if your crash injuries weren’t all that serious, you’re not in dire straits financially, and you’re just looking to get your money back for a few minor medical procedures and a few weeks of missed work. For more serious injuries, though, you’re probably going to want an advocate who is more aggressive and personally invested in your case.
An attorney that’s willing to go to the wall for you is a tremendous asset. But it also means that you might have to wait a bit longer for your case to settle.
Factor 2: The Insurance Carrier
Just like how personal injury attorneys can be more or less aggressive, insurance carriers have different approaches to dealing with personal injury cases.
Some particularly aggressive insurance companies are willing to take any and every claim to court, even cases in which only the minimum insurance coverage limits are at stake. (In New York, drivers are only required to purchase a minimum of $25,000 per injury and $50,000 per accident in liability coverage for accidents they cause.) With these insurance companies, you can get a quick settlement or you can get a fair settlement, but never both. If you want more than pennies on the dollar for your injury claim, you’ll have to sue.
Other insurance companies take more of a wait and see approach. Their first settlement offer will likely be a lowball, but if they see that you won’t take it (and especially if you’ve hired an attorney that has won trial cases in the past) they might decide to cut their losses and make a decent offer. That could be before a lawsuit is filed, or after going through the discovery process for a little while (this is when both sides share evidence and build their cases before trial) and figuring out that they’re not any closer to a winning argument.
The insurance company is also likely to fight harder in big cases with a lot of money on the line, or in complex cases with a lot of gray area and a lot of “good” and “bad” facts for each side.
Additionally, many personal injury lawsuits involve multiple insurance companies. For example, in a car accident caused by another driver, you might have a liability claim against the other party’s insurance company as well as an underinsured motorist coverage claim against your own insurance company. Even if one insurer is willing to settle, another could hold up the process (or it might be better for you to wait for procedural reasons).
Factor 3: The Court
Where you file your case can also make a big difference.
If your court has a particularly long backlog of cases that it needs to get through, that will of course delay the amount of time needed to get a court date for your case. Furthermore, certain courts may push the parties involved harder toward exhausting alternative methods of dispute resolution before resorting to trial. Some judges will even push these again and again before agreeing to set a trial date.
For example, many cases go to mediation at the end of the discovery process. In mediation, you and the insurance company meet with a neutral mediator, who hears both sides of the argument and proposes an acceptable compromise. Both sides then have the chance to accept or decline—and then, if mediation fails, the case could continue toward a trial.
You might also decide to go with a different alternative to a full jury trial, such as:
- Summary jury trial, where you have a more limited amount of time to make your case and can simply give your records to the jury (rather than bringing doctors and other experts to the stand for testimony and cross-examination). This is typically faster and cheaper than a full trial, but, as far as my local jurisdiction goes, results are mixed.
- Arbitration, which is something like a mix of mediation and a jury trial. Both sides present their case, but the rules are less formal than a jury trial. Then a third-party arbitrator makes a final decision that all parties must abide by. You can even do a “High-Low” arbitration where the maximum amount you can recover is capped, you still recover some money even if you lose.
Factor 4: You
Of course, one of the most critical determining factors is simply you. What injuries have you sustained? How has your life changed as a result of the injury? What do you want, or need, from your personal injury settlement?
First, let’s talk injuries. Almost always, an experienced personal injury attorney is going to advise you to wait until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) before filing a lawsuit. If you haven’t already reached the point where no more medical improvements are likely, it’s very hard to get an accurate estimate of your future financial losses (such as future treatments and therapies you’ll need, how long you’ll be out of work, etc.)
Naturally, if you’ve suffered more severe injuries, or we don’t yet know the full extent of your injuries (because treatment is ongoing or you haven’t seen a specialist yet), it will take more time to reach MMI.
There’s also the question of what you personally want out of the case.
Some people want to fight to get the absolute maximum compensation possible, and don’t care how long it takes. Others simply want enough to ensure their bills get paid, they have enough to support their lifestyle, and the at-fault party gets held accountable. And for some clients, time is more valuable than money—for example, if they’re older or dealing with unrelated health issues and just want a low-stress resolution as soon as possible.
A great personal injury attorney will always put the clients’ goals and needs first. Our job is to help you get the best possible outcome for your personal circumstances. Sometimes that means getting you the most money we possibly can. But for other clients, that might not be the most important thing.
A Word of Advice: Long Is Better Than Wrong
Waiting months or years to get your personal injury claim resolved is frustrating, to put it mildly. But it can also be scary, and emotionally exhausting—particularly if you can’t work, no money is coming in, and medical bills keep piling up.
It’s no wonder that accident victims often feel a lot of pressure to take an early settlement agreement so they can just “put it all behind” and worry about something else for a change. Waiting is agonizing. Insurance companies know this, and absolutely use it against crash victims. That’s one reason why initial settlement offers from the insurer tend to fall somewhere between “undervalued” and “insulting.”
But while you might get some short-term relief from a quick settlement, you probably won’t be as thrilled with your decision if you later discover it’s nowhere near what you actually needed for your long-term financial security. You only get one shot to settle. If you sign, you give up your right to sue for more later. Even if you’re not hunting for the absolute maximum amount you can get, you should never take less than you need.
An experienced personal injury attorney will not only help you figure out what that amount is, but they can also protect you financially while your case is still ongoing, and even afterward. For example, a good attorney will work with your medical treatment providers to delay payment of medical bills until after you settle your personal injury case. Then, once the case is complete, they can negotiate those bills and often settle them for less than you owe, meaning more money goes back into your pocket, to help you rebuild your life.
Need Help? Contact Jeff Marion Today
I can’t promise you that getting the money you deserve after your accident will be quick or easy. In fact, if you have more than negligible medical care needs or lost wages, it probably won’t be either of those things.
But if you want to make the process as smooth as it possibly can, and give yourself the best chance at the best possible outcome, talking with an experienced car accident attorney is your best bet.
I’ve been fighting for accident victims in Buffalo and Western New York for more than 25 years. If you’re looking for an aggressive attorney to represent you, or at least to review your case and give you some unbiased legal advice, I’d love to hear from you. You can set up a free initial consultation with me by calling (716) 589-6655 or using the contact form on this website.
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