How long does a personal injury lawsuit/claim take to settle?

Although almost all personal injury cases involve some level of interaction with an insurance company, in addition to some amount of judicial intervention, not all cases are the same.  Generally, we explain to our clients that they can expect a ballpark time frame of 3 years that they will be dealing with their personal injury case.  While there are personal injury claims that are settled quickly- in a few months, it is more likely that your case will last years. Cases that involve catastrophic injuries and/or disputes in the facts as to which party is at fault can take several years before they’re resolved.  The estimated time will also depend on whether your case is going to be resolved in an agreement (or settlement) or if you’re going to proceed to trial, with a jury verdict.

Why do personal injury claims take time?

Even if you suffered serious catastrophic injuries and have strong arguments for liability on your side, insurance companies are in no hurry to pay.  Moreover, defense attorneys are being paid by the hour; the more hours they work, the more they get paid.

Besides third-party interests stated above, we take every step to ensure you will receive the full compensation your injury demands. Unfortunately, insurance companies will not pay more than their policy limits, even if that amount of money is inadequate to compensate you for the injuries you sustained. Tocci Law explores all potential policies and coverage that may be utilized to compensate you for your injuries.

After finding all avenues of potential compensation, we start building your case for liability. You may have suffered serious injuries, the insurance company may have accepted full liability, but the case may still not settle for several years.  Firstly, assignments of liability between the insurance companies are not binding on a jury. This means that even though one insurance company may have “accepted” a portion of liability, does not mean that the jury will agree. It is your attorney’s job to prove liability- first to the insurance company and defense lawyers, and then to the jury if need be. At Tocci Law, we personally investigate your case, and if it will assist your claim, we will hire private investigators. When necessary, we work with accident reconstructionist, medical professionals, and other experts to determine who is at fault. This process alone may take several months, but is usually essential for aiding us, you, and the other side in evaluating your case and establishing liability.

Secondly, even where liability is agreed upon, determining what your damages are worth is another factor.  Both sides may not agree on the extent of the injuries, what they are worth, if one side can prove what they’re worth, if they are a direct result of the accident, etc. Anywhere the other side can save money will be explored.

Before a lawsuit is commenced (started), a claims adjustor will evaluate the evidence your attorney furnishes.  Evaluation of your claims takes time, and as stated above, the insurance companies are in no rush to pay out. If the insurance company makes a settlement offer that you accept, certain paperwork must be turned over; this process usually takes around thirty-days from the date of acceptance.

If the parties are unable to settle without judicial intervention, a lawsuit will be filed. The other side will typically need to be personally served with the lawsuit.  The standard allotted time for personal service in state court in New York is 120 days and 90 days in federal court.  Thereafter, the defendants will have time provided by law for them to furnish a legal answer.  From there, the parties will enter into a process known as discovery.  During discovery, depositions will be taken and documents and records to be used at trial will be demanded and provided.  Often times, the documents or video evidence is not in either party’s possession, and may require a subpoena for another party to comply. All discovery materials will be evaluated and scrutinized.  This all takes time.

Even though a lawsuit is the road to a trial, there is frequently a pitstop at mediation or arbitration. Tocci Law prepares for mediation and arbitration as intensely as we prepare for trial. At times, mediation and arbitration are effective settlement tools. Sometimes, if progress is made at mediation, a second session will be held on a later date in hopes reaching an agreement between the parties.

And if all else fails, and trial is required, prior to the judge allowing the case to proceed to trial, each side needs to make it’s pre-trial motions.  These motions are documents prepared by attorneys that set forth legal arguments in hopes to “settle” portions of the case, or the entire case, before a jury is selected.  In addition, motions will be made regarding which evidence should be excluded, and each side will hand over the materials it intends to use at trial, along with a list of witnesses.  The non-motioning party will have the opportunity to review the other party’s motions and prepare a response.  In some cases, the party who made the motion will be able to reply.  When any of this happens, each side is provided with a certain amount of time to do so. Additionally, all witnesses, experts, and parties will be prepped by the attorney prior to trial.  This takes time as well. 

Upon proceeding to trial, most cases settle before opening statements. If this is not the case, a jury will be selected. The trial itself typically take a couple of days to a week.  However, some trials may last months, depending on the number of parties, the amount of damages claimed, and witnesses and experts testifying. The jury will deliberate and a verdict will (almost always) be reached. But even if a verdict is reached, the losing party still has an opportunity to appeal if it wishes, delaying the finality.

As you can see, each stage of the case takes time, and all together, it can take years before your case is settled.

If you’ve been in an accident, contact us for an initial consultation as soon as possible. When you’re unrepresented, especially if you have sustained serious injuries, insurance companies will often make lowball offers to settle with you. If you accept these offers and they’re not “fair” compensation for your injuries, it is likely you will have waived the ability to seek additional compensation. Call to schedule an appointment, Law Office of Jennifer G. Tocci, P.C. (631) 343-7676.